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Best high school football conference? Big South 3A has top postseason record in state entering regional semifinals

By Richard Walker

The Big South 3A Conference enters the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association with the best record of any league in the state.

Former North Gaston HIgh standout A.J. Blue is show on the sidelines beside his North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora (left) during a Tar Heels’ 2013 win at N.C. State.

The good news is that at least one team will advance to the regional semifinals. The bad news is the league is assured of losing at least one of its four playoff teams on Friday.

That’s because South Point will host Forestview in one playoff game featuring league schools. The other matchups have conference champion Crest hosting North Davidson and league runner-up Kings Mountain visiting Greensboro Dudley.

It’s not the first time the league or the area has thrived in the state playoffs.

In fact, since the Big South 3A Conference was born in 2001, it has recorded at least one postseason victory each season, had a winning overall playoff record in eight seasons and has had four seasons with eight of total postseason wins.

But, this fall, the league has outdone itself.

It leads the state in number of playoff teams left in the playoffs and has the best record (8-1).

It’s done so well that it has a chance to threaten the state’s all-time best postseason playoff win total of 15 that includes a previous local league.

In 2010, the old Tri-County 1A Conference first won 15 playoff games (against seven losses) as Wallace-Rose Hill won the 1A state title and Pender County was 1AA runner-up.

In 2015, the South Mountain 2A/3A matched that win total and had a better record (15-4) as Crest (3AA) and Shelby (2A) won state championships, Kings Mountain was the 3A West runner-up and East Burke advanced to the regional semifinals in 2AA.

Future Appalachian State kicker kicker Julian Rauch is lifted by his Ashbrook teammates after his game-wining kick in the 2002 state championship game at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.

In Big South history, each of the league’s previous best playoff seasons has resulted in at least one team advancing to a regional final.

In 2002 when the league went 8-4, future three-time Appalachian State national champion kicker Julian Rauch accounted for the winning point in four of Ashbrook’s five playoff victories, including a late field goal in the 19-18 win over Greensboro Dudley for the title.

South Point advanced to the Western 3A final in 2002 with many of the same players that won the 3A championship in 2003 by a 27-10 score over Northeast Guilford to highlight a 9-4 postseason record by the league that also saw Ashbrook advance to the third round of the 4A playoffs.

In 2007, league went 9-5 overall as a North Gaston team featuring future University of North Carolina fullback A.J. Blue advanced to the 3A state final. Blue, who set many high school quarterbacking records that still stand, and North Gaston lost 62-36 to Western Alamance in the title game. Two other teams – Ashbrook with future UNC wide receiver Jheranie Boyd and South Point – advanced to regional semifinals in Class 4A and 3AA, respectively.

And in 2013, Forestview and future Syracuse running back Moe Neal advanced to the Class 3A Western final while South Point advanced to the third round in Class 3A and Huss to the third round in Class 2A.

So far in 2021, five NCHSAA leagues have three or more teams remaining in the playoffs.

While the Big South 3A has four teams, the Northern Athlatic 4A, Southern Carolina 4A, Queen City 3A/4A and Central Carolina 1A/2A each have three teams still alive.

In the Northern Athletic (8-3 record), Knightdale, Millbrook and Rolesville remain alive in 4A and Milbrook and Rolesville meet this week.

In the Southern Carolina (7-1), Cuthbertson, Porter Ridge and Weddington remain alive in 4A and Cuthbertson and Weddington meet this week.

In the Queen City (7-2), Chambers, Hough and Mallard Creek remain alive in 4A and Hough and Mallard Creek meet this week.

And in the Coastal Carolina (6-2), Salisbury is alive in 2A and North Rowan and Thomasville are alive in 1A.

Crest’s Tre Harbison picks up yardage for Crest in the 2015 3AA state title game at North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium.