The Hunt High football team has kept its focus limited to the job at hand — as head coach Randy Raper would say, "One week, one game, one practice at a time," — all season. While the tendency may be there for the Warriors to peek toward a possible third meeting with two-time state 3-AA champion Northern Guilford, they most assuredly are giving Cleveland all their attention this week. And that would be a wise decision.
The Rams exploded onto the N.C. High School Athletic Association football season in 2011, their first year at the varsity level. After a quirky 28-27 loss to North Johnston in an opener that took four days to complete, the Rams lost just three more times, including a 64-7 thrashing administered by Havelock in the 3-A Eastern final, a week before Jim Bob Bryant's Rams won the state 3-A title.
For half the season, Cleveland, more than Hunt, seemed to be the true heavyweight in the 3-AA East. But then Triton clipped Cleveland 43-40 in Erwin and the Hawks took all the acclaim in the Eastern Carolina Conference. But Triton, shockingly, went down 33-0 to D.H. Conley in the first round and, the following week, Cleveland, after surviving 40-33 at West Brunswick, returned the favor to Conley in round 2 by a convincing 47-25 margin.
Now comes the matchup everyone's wanted to see since the Rams and Warriors met in Cleveland's jamboree in early August. The rumored outcome of that scrimmmage was Cleveland scoring five times to four by Hunt. Of course that means nothing now, other than the fact Hunt's vaunted defense knows what it's up against.
The Warriors haven't been as dominant in the second half of the season as they were in the first five weeks. They were fortunate to escape Cardinal Gibbons last Friday night after having a chance to put away the Crusaders midway through the fourth quarter.
But this time of year, it's not about winning big, it's just about winning. And while all the talk before and after that game kept vacillating back to Gibbons missing starting quarterback Shawn Stankavage with a knee injury, what I took away from it was Hunt winning a big playoff game on the road.
The Warriors haven't played in the postseason anywhere but Warrior Stadium since 2008 when most of the current team was in middle school. Then to get a big W over an unbeaten team with revenge on its mind (Hunt eliminated Gibbons in the 2011 third round in Wilson) just spoke volumes about the Warriors.
Of course, that win will mean zilch when the ball is kicked off Friday night. But it's the main reason I ended up taking the Warriors to beat Cleveland after initially considering the Rams.
Maybe Hunt is destined to get one more shot at Northern Guilford and its star running back T.J. Logan. If so, the Warriors will have to do it in Greensboro, which might not be a bad thing.
Hunt 31, Cleveland 29