The “Road to Winston,” as it is frequently dubbed by supporters of Clinton High School, will reach its end this Friday night.
All postseason long, the path to the NCHSAA 2A State Football Championship to be played next weekend at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem has twisted and turned, following a journey that has led the eastern teams to Dark Horse Stadium on Indian Town Road.
Fairmont, Beddingfield, and West Craven all followed a path that led them to their season’s end at Clinton High School. Now, just one team stands between the Dark Horses and their 11th State Championship appearance: The Northeastern Eagles.
On the other side of the action, Reidsville and West Stokes are set to battle it all at the end of their own respective roads.
The Dark Horses stand at 12-1 overall, including undefeated victors of the East Central 2A Conference. Their lone blemish is to 3A Central Cabarrus, a game that was a defensive struggle that the Clinton led until the latter stages of the game. The Vikings ended their season at 7-5 overall and were eliminated in overtime in the first round of the 3AA Playoffs in a 21-20 overtime loss to Mount Tabor, who was eventually eliminated this past week in the third round by Watauga. Outside of that loss, the Dark Horses have been fairly dominant. Dating back to that game on Sept. 27, Clinton’s closest game was against Wallace-Rose Hill, a 14-7 victory, and Northside-Jacksonville, a 28-14 victory. Flash forward to their level of play in the playoffs, and you wouldn’t know that the Horses struggled in the first two rounds before turning in a complete game effort in the third round. Against Fairmont in Round 1, the game was a defensive battle early. Even though Clinton led that game 14-0 at halftime, the Dark Horses struggled to get things going. That was, until the second half. Clinton got back into form out of the break and mounted a charge for the 35-6 victory.
The next week against Beddingfield, some would say that the Dark Horses were still not in tip-top shape. Despite winning the ballgame 38-22, it took another second-half burst – even then, though, Clinton had to weather a late surge. Clinton led 21-8 at halftime before running out to a 35-8 lead in the third quarter. Beddingfield answered with a pair of touchdowns to make it 35-22, but the Dark Horses tacked on a late field goal and fended the Bruins off for the 38-22 victory.
The Dark Horses finally put together a near-perfect game this past Friday, absolutely dominating both sides of the ball. Their defense put on a hard-hitting display and their offense was quite remarkable both through the air and on the ground. The lone miscue was an odd play on a West Craven punt attempt. The kick hit the back of the helmet of an Eagles player and rolled free on the ground. For whatever reason, a Clinton player touched the ball but didn’t attempt to grab it – as a result, West Craven grabbed the ball and converted that drive for a score. In all likelihood, had that not happened the Dark Horses were in perfect shape to drive the final nail in the coffin. Regardless, Clinton still posted an impressive 47-14 victory.
What’s remarkable about Clinton in the wins is the various weapons they’ve used in doing so. Against Fairmont, the Dark Horses had three players eyeing 100 yards rushing. Freshman Samir Register had 96 yards and a touchdown, J’Daques Wallace had 86 yards and two touchdowns, and Zyon Simpson had 72 yards and a touchdown. They also had 126 passing yards and a touchdown. In week two, Clinton went 8-of-17 for 248 yards and two touchdowns in the passing game. They also added 298 yards in rushing with Davion Smith leading the way with 160 yards followed by Wallace with 68 and Cameron Armwood with 55. Their stats weren’t readily available following the West Craven game, but it was a well-blended attack as Clinton converted two passing touchdowns from Blake Smith and rushing scores from Davion Smith and Jakwan Wilson, as well as a pick-six from Jatiyuhn Wilson. If the Dark Horses can continue to improve and find their stride as they have the past few games – getting better from game to game – then there’s no reason the Horses can’t celebrate their sixth State Championship.
Coming from the bottom of the bracket is the No. 3 seeded Northeastern. They enter the contest at 11-3 overall and finished in a 3-way tie with Currituck and Hertford at 4-1 in the Northeastern Coastal 2A Conference. They are the only remaining team from their conference and will no doubt be seeking to earn some bragging rights. Their losses this year all came in a row, beginning with John A. Holmes 34-28, Havelock 29-3, and Hertford County 33-21. Since then, the Eagles have mounted a 7-game winning streak spanning the end of the regular season and the playoffs. Northeastern’s “Road to Winston” began with Goldsboro in the first round – a game they won 34-14. Their second-round date was with Southwest Onslow. This game began closely, but the second and third quarter saw the Eagles dominate. After a 7-7 deadlock in the first quarter, Northeastern scored 41-straight points in taking a 48-7 lead. The Stallions were able to battle back to a degree, but the end result was still a blowout win at 54-28. This past weeks saw the Eagles hit the road for the first time in the playoffs as they travelled to take on No. 2 seeded Southwest Edgecombe. This battle was a much closer affair and one that seemed like it was going to go in the Southwest’s favor in the early going. The Cougars took a 12-8 lead after one quarter but the Eagles caught flight and took a 14-12 lead at halftime. Southwest went back in front 20-12 but Northeastern rallied and scored 21-unanswered points to take the 35-20 win.
After twisting and turning all across eastern North Carolina, all roads have converged and will reach their end at Dark Horse Stadium this Friday night where the winner will claim the title of East Regional Champion. Awaiting them will be the West Regional Champion which will either be No. 2 seed Reidsville or No. 4 seed West Stokes.
The No. 2 seed in the West is 13-1 overall and were undefeated champions of the Mid-State 2A Conference at 4-0. Their only blemish this season was back on Sept. 27 against East Surry, who beat the Rams in a high-scoring battle, 55-49. East Surry, however, has had a stellar season as they sit at 13-0 and will host Mitchell in the 1AA West Regional Finals this Friday. Since that loss, Reidsville has steamrolled the competition and posted 5-straight shutouts ranging from Oct. 18 against Carrboro through Nov. 14’s first-round game against Forbush. Their “Road to Winston” has also included a 49-13 win against Newton-Conover and a 24-7 win against Brevard. Now, they look to finish the job against West Stokes this Friday.
West Stokes’ Road
The West Region’s No. 4 seed enters Friday’s semifinal at 11-3 overall. They were victors of their conference, the Western Piedmont 2A, with a perfect 7-0 record. Two of the Wildcats three losses came back-to-back at the beginning of the season. In week one, interestingly, they were defeated 12-8 by the same South Stokes team that was ousted by Hobbton 41-20 in the first round of the 1AA East Region back on Nov. 15. In Week 2, West Stokes was defeated 27-20 by Mount Airy, and was also beaten by East Surry 35-10 in Week 4. Since then, however, the Wildcats turned their 1-3 record into the 11-3 team they are today. Their “Road to Winston” includes a 47-0 win over No. 13 North Wilkes, a 26-21 win against No. 5 Eastern Randolph, and a 28-22 win over the No. 1 seed Mountain Heritage. Were their early season losses flukes? Or will they run into a buzz-saw at Reidsville?
The Western Region’s roads have also twist and turned all across the western side of the state and will now converge at Reidsville High School on Friday night. Two great ball games should unfold as all four remaining teams lay it all on the line for a spot in next week’s State Final.
The two Regional Champions will meet up in the NCHSAA 2A State Football Championship next week. Currently, BB&T Field on the campus of Wake Forest University is slated to be site of that game with either an 11 a.m. or 3 p.m. game time. According to the NCHSAA Website, “Finalized game time assignments will be announced after the conclusion of the Regional Round.”
Reach Sports Editor Daron Barefoot at [email protected]