(Observer Sweet 16 rankings are noted)
Ardrey Kell at No. 6 Weddington, 7:30 p.m. – The visiting Knights have 15 starters back from a team that finished strong a year ago. They face the defending 3AA state champs, led by all-everything Will Shipley. This is a neighborhood rivalry game.
Charlotte Country Day at Darlington (SC) Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate, 7:30 p.m. – Country Day, with RB Quentin Cooper (1,304 rushing yards last year), faces a team that reached the South Carolina private school Division 2 semifinals and has 14 returning starters.
Christ the King at Cherryville, 7 p.m. – New Crusaders coach Daniel Rhodes has 10 returning starters, as Christ the King competes for the first time as an N.C. High School Athletic Association member and plays its first Southern Piedmont 1A conference game.
Community School of Davidson at North Moore, 7:30 p.m. – The Spartans hit the road relying on a tough defense led by LB Baker Westmoreland.
East Mecklenburg at Providence, 7 p.m. – The Eagles were 1-9 last year but have 19 starters back, led by QB Trey Truitt (1,122 passing yards). Providence coach Wes Ward, on the job since late June, has 13 starters back from a 4AA playoff team.
Greensboro Panthers at Charlotte Latin, 7:30 p.m. – The visitors are made up of home-schooled players in the Triad. Latin had a big start last week, blanking Covenant Day, 37-0, behind strong play by QB Jake Helfrich.
Hopewell at Harding, 7 p.m. – Hopewell went 0-11 last year, playing a number of freshmen and sophomores. The Titans have 16 starters back, but they face an explosive Harding offense featuring FBS recruit Maleik Faust at RB.
Independence at North Mecklenburg, 7 p.m. – The Patriots hope to turn the corner this year, with an experienced (16 starters back) team. North Mecklenburg returns eight starters from a playoff team.
No. 1 Mallard Creek at Irmo (SC) Dutch Fork, 6 p.m., ESPN2 – This battle of Carolinas’ powers gets national TV exposure. It’s part of ESPN’s Geico High School Football Kickoff, featuring seven televised games over three days. Dutch Fork, the three-time defending 5A champion, is led by QB Ty Olenchuk, a South Carolina baseball commit. Mallard Creek has a defense loaded with FBS recruits.
North Raleigh Christian at Hickory Grove Christian, 7 p.m. – Former Parkwood coach Lynn Coble takes over at Hickory Grove Christian, which is experienced with 13 starters back.
Olympic at No. 2 Myers Park, 7 p.m. – New coach Brandon Thompson hopes his offense, led by QB Sean Bowles (1,900 total yards in 2018) can keep the Myers Park offense, with QB Drake Maye and WR Muhsin Muhammad III, off the field.
Providence Day at Mount Holly Mountain Island Charter, 7:30 p.m. – Some serious talent here. Providence Day’s defense, led by FBS-level DEs Jacolbe Cowan and Kendrick Bingley-Jones, faces an explosive Raptor attack featuring RB Elijah Burris, who rushed for 2,800-plus yards last season and is a UNC commit.
Southlake Christian at Lake Norman Charter, 7 p.m. – Southlake Christian lost 41-0 last week to Indian Trail Metrolina Christian. Lake Norman Charter’s new head coach is a familiar face, Bob McKay, who coached the team from 2010-13.
South Mecklenburg at No. 5 Charlotte Catholic, 7:30 p.m. – It’s the Sabre debut for new coach Joe Evans, who had head-coaching stints at Independence and Ardrey Kell. The defending 3A state champion Cougars are loaded, led by RB’s Lamagea McDowell and Paul Neel.
No. 3 Vance at Berry Academy, 7 p.m. – Vance features five FBS recruits on defense and seems primed for another big 4AA playoff run. Berry Academy was 0-11 last season but has 16 starters back.
VC/NC Royals at Statesville Christian, 7:30 p.m. – It’s history for the Royals, competing for the first time as a combined team from Victory Christian and Northside Christian. The team is experienced, with 15 returning starters.
West Charlotte at Garinger, 7 p.m. – The visiting Lions have seven starters back from a 7-6 squad that was the school’s first with a winning record in eight years. Garinger has improved steadily over the past two years and could be strong defensively this season.
West Mecklenburg at Rocky River, 7 p.m. – Most of the big-name players off last year’s 9-3 West Mecklenburg team are gone, but the Hawks have nine returning starters. Rocky River’s defense should be stout with LB’s Brian Grier and Kalil Alexander.
Alexander Central at Lenoir Hibriten, 7:30 p.m. – It’s a new era for Hibriten, which lost most of its offensive leaders and longtime coach Clay Lewis, who is now at Chesnee (SC) High. As usual, Alexander Central has a strong ground game, with A.J. Miller and Steven Montgomery.
No. 12 Belmont South Point at Boiling Springs Crest, 7:30 p.m. – RB Naseem Jones rushed for 1,589 yards last season and leads a strong South Point ground game. Crest is unusually inexperienced with only five starters back.
Marvin Ridge at Indian Trail Porter Ridge, 7:30 p.m. – Marvin Ridge is turning to newcomer Sully McDermott at QB as it hopes to rebound from a 6-6 season. Porter Ridge QB Mason Cox steps in for standout Grayson McCall, who graduated.
No. 9 Shelby at Morganton Freedom, 7:30 p.m. – Two perennial powers meet in the Foothills. Shelby is loaded with 13 starters back from a 2AA state championship team. But the Golden Lions have a new head coach in Mike Wilbanks. Freedom returns seven offensive starters, led by QB Jaydon Birchfield, a Navy commit.
No. 16 Rock Hill South Pointe at Rock Hill Northwestern, 7:30 p.m. Saturday – Former South Pointe standout DeVonte Holloman is now the Stallions’ coach, and he has only eight returning starters. But one of those is QB Tahleek Steele, an all-state candidate. Northwestern also has a new head coach, Page Wofford, and he has 12 returning starters.