It's playoff time in Guilford and Davidson counties, and some of the matchups are interesting.
By conferences, they go like this: Central Carolina 3-ALexington (8-2) plays host to North Iredell (8-2), and Central Davidson (5-5) goes to East Rutherford (9-1). Piedmont Athletic 3-A
High Point Andrews (8-2) is home to Eastern Alamance (5-5) and Ragsdale (7-3) treks eastward to meet undefeated Southern Nash (10-0). Central Carolina 2-A
Perennial playoff participant Thomasville (8-2) should have luck with Northwood (4-6).
Everywhere you look in the Piedmont area, it's time to separate the contenders from the others in prep football. And it all happens on Friday night.
Without a doubt, the team facing the biggest challenge in the first round of the playoffs is Dick Cline's Ragsdale team.
Their opponent, Southern Nash, not only is unbeaten in 10 games; it is the second-ranked 3-A team in the state.
Cline is well aware of the size of the task.
``Southern Nash has a loaded backfield,' he says. ``They have three running backs who can run with the best of them, and the quarterback himself is a good runner.'
Southern Nash moved up to second in the state this week after Statesville was upset by South Iredell.
You don't get 10-0 with a one-dimensional team that just plays offense, of course, and the Nash bunch also does a good job on the defensive side of the ball.
``They have a lot of team speed and quickness,' says Cline. ``They fly to the football.'
Though Cline has much respect for the Southern Nash team, he is not by any means conceding anything about the game Friday night.
All three of the Tiger losses were to high-ranked teams in the state, and Ragsdale overcame many obstacles to compile one of the best records in the area.
One obstacle was a lack of numbers.
If this involved the U.S. Marines, you'd say the Tigers had a ``few good men.' Twenty-four, to be exact.
Think about it. Twenty-four players, exactly two units for scrimmages and games. And most of them are average-sized for prep football players.
Certainly the ``star system' is not for Ragsdale.
For example, in beating Southwest Guilford 36-6 last week, the Tigers depended on an all-around team effort.
Eddie Ables, who has been a consistent runner all season, scored twice, on scampers of 13 and 6 yards, and Sedrick Austin got two on sprints of 1 and 12 yards. On the fifth score, quarterback Scott Douglas passed 46 yards to Demetris Simmons.
The game was never in doubt as the Tigers controlled it from the opening kickoff.
All along, Cline has said his team has to win as a unit, as a team, and he doesn't think any different about the playoffs.
He knows what his Tigers have to do to have a good shot against Southern Nash, which is in Bailey between Raleigh and Wilson.
``We're going there with the intention of winning, and we hope we can,' Cline says. ``They depend on ball control, so one of the things we've got to do is keep the ball as long as we can ourselves and play good defense. We've got to execute well.
``Also, Southern Nash is in a run-oriented league and we throw the ball in what we consider a balanced attack. So they'll have to prepare for the pass, and that could be different.'
Playoff experience is not foreign to Cline and the Tigers.
Two years ago they beat Southern Guilford in the first round of the playoffs and then lost a heartbreaker to Burlington Cummings, 21-14, in the second round.
In fact, they had Cummings on the ropes when quarterback Chuckie Burnette of the Burlington team hit a big pass on them.
So the Tigers have been there before.
Still, this has been a special season for Cline and the Tigers.
``We've been tickled to death about the season,' Cline says. ``We lost many of our starters from '89 and we were picked to finish seventh in the conference. With only 24 squad members, we certainly didn't have the big numbers.'
With their ``few good men,' however, the Tigers go on the field every Friday night expecting to win.
And that's the way they'll tackle their task at Bailey, N.C., Friday night.
If you want a deceptive matchup, check out the Thomasville-Northwood game, scheduled on the Bulldogs' home field at 8 o'clock.
The record says Thomasville 8-2 and Northwood 4-6. The facts tell something else.
Let Thomasville coach Allen Brown explain:
Officially, Northwood is 4-6, but on the field, it is 9-1.
``What happened is that they discovered they had an ineligible player during the season and had to forfeit a bunch of games. Thus they went from a one seed to a three seed.
``The record is very deceiving.'
The heart of the Northwood team, says Brown, is quarterback Dee Marsh.
``He's a good runner, quick and strong, and runs the option real well. He's also a good passer from the multiple formations that Northwood runs. They have an explosive offense.'
That brings up the Thomasville strength.
From last week's 41-0 victory over North Davidson, it would appear to be the rushing game. No less than three backs - Rashein Feaster, Lamont Pegues and Miguel Weldon - rushed for 100 yards each, quite a feat, as the Bulldogs compiled 472 yards on the ground and not a single yard via the air lanes.
But fans have come to expect that from Brown's Bulldogs.
The real story in Thomasville is defense. The Bulldogs have shut out five of their last six opponents, and that, friends, is quite an achievement.
Thomasville prides itself on defense.
And the leaders, as usual, have been linebacker Kerry Mock, defensive tackle Lamont McCauley and nose guard Ezekiel Dula, among others.
When the 'Dogs line up against Marsh and his Northwood teammates Friday night, the first order of day will be DE-fense.
After that they'll hand the ball off to Brown's strong group of runners.