High school football: Wonders, Hornets, Cavs, Raiders are favored on opening night

Published 3:18 am Friday, August 18, 2023

By Mike London

Games for Friday, Aug. 18 …

West Rowan at A.L. Brown, 7 p.m.

Storylines: Hyped as “The Return,” this will be the head coaching debut with the Wonders of Justin Hardin, the son of Bruce Hardin, who guided the Wonders to state titles in 1989 and 1997. The men in green and white haven’t won it all since 1997.

A.L. Brown’s quarterback is CJ Gray, the son of Charlie Gray, a Livingstone College graduate who has coached at a number of area schools. Gray is expected to be well-protected by an experienced offensive line with very large tackles.

West Rowan will rely on Brant Graham, a tall sophomore whom the Falcons believe will give them an excellent QB for three seasons. This will be a big test for him right away at Memorial Stadium. A big crowd is anticipated.

History: For the Falcons, 9-3 in 2022, the whole history of the series is a story line. They are 1-17 all-time against the Wonders, who were 6-5 last season.

West’s lone victory in the series came at home in 2000 and included an improbable comeback to pull out a 25-22 decision. That win was a key point in Scott Young’s coaching tenure and led to the first conference championship in West history.

The most recent meeting of the programs was a 34-20 A.L. Brown win in 2019, the eighth straight for the Wonders since that night in 2000.

A.L. Brown’s most notable victory in the series was beating an undefeated West team in the third round of the 2005 state playoffs.

This will be the first time head coach Louis Kraft has led a team against the Wonders.

What’s supposed to happen?  A.L. Brown is a 12-point favorite.


Carson at Mount Pleasant, 7:30 p.m.

The story lines: Mount Pleasant head coach Daniel Crosby was at the helm of the Carson Cougars not long ago.

Jonathan Lowe, who was hired as Carson’s head coach when Crosby took the Mount Pleasant job, is Crosby’s friend and most of the players on the Carson varsity roster know Crosby well and were coached by him.

Carson will take the field with even more emotion than usual with those DG-43 stickers on their helmets in memory of Dalton Gay.

It also will be an emotional night for Mount Pleasant, with ceremonies planned to rename the Tigers’ playing venue Michael Johns Stadium in honor of the successful  head coach whose long tenure preceded Crosby’s.

Mount Pleasant was very solid in Crosby’s first head coaching season, 8-4, and played powerful Robinson close before losing a conference title showdown.

The Tigers have a host of starters back on both sides of the ball, including standout defensive end Colt Kluttz.

Carson appears to be best at outside linebacker and in the defensive secondary, but it also has an experienced QB (Michael Guiton) and an experienced running back (Jay McGruder) and an outstanding o-lineman in Tristen McBride, so the Cougars have high hopes of building on last season’s 5-6 record.

History: The Tigers have won the last three meetings and lead the series 3-1. Mount Pleasant built a big lead and held off the Cougars 34-28 in 2022.

What’s supposed to happen? Mount Pleasant is favored by about two touchdowns.


North Davidson at Salisbury, 7:30 p.m.

Story line: North Davidson and Salisbury staged a pair of epic games during the COVID-delayed 2020 season that became the 2021 spring season.

North Davidson was still in the 2A Central Carolina Conference then and beat the Hornets 21-14 during the regular season, but the Hornets took the rematch in the playoffs — 24-21  — one of the key steps in a drive to the state championship.

North Davidson, 3A now, was still tough in the fall of 2021, but had its struggles in 2022, finishing 3-8.

Salisbury has enjoyed a tremendous run — 13-3, 9-2, 11-1, 11-2 — and head coach Clayton Trivett who took the reins prior to the 2022 season, should have at least one more stellar season with a stout senior class headed by QB Mike Geter and DB/WR Deuce Walker.

It’s a “White Out” Night for the Hornets. The first 100 fans get T-shirts.

It’s also the WSAT radio Game of the Week on 101.7 FM.

History: North Davidson leads the all-time series 8-5. That includes a 4-4 split in eight meetings from 1977-84.

North Davidson had won all the recent meetings before the Hornets’ huge breakthrough win in the playoffs.

What’s supposed to happen? Salisbury is a 13-point favorite.


East Rowan at North Rowan, 7:30 p.m.

Story lines: Josh Sophia makes his head-coaching debut with the Cavaliers against John Fitz, who is starting his seventh season and is the dean of Rowan’s football head coaches.

North returns QB Jeremiah Alford and RB Jaemais Morrow, exciting, productive players who could break school career records this season.

Alford no longer is aided by his go-to receiver, Amari McArthur, so someone else will have to emerge as North’s new top target.

Robert Caldwell will be an anchor on both lines for the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers will be playing a lot of men both ways and that could be a factor on a hot night against an East team that will have more depth.

Fitz indicated that the Mustangs may play both of their QBs — returning starter Gavin Walker and Will Klingler, who has moved up from the jayvees.

Receiver AJ Goodman gives the Mustangs an experienced target, and the Mustangs expect to be stout on both lines.

History: North won 34-14 in 2022 and has ruled the all-time series 43-16-1. The Cavaliers have taken eight straight meetings since the Mustangs won in 2010.

What’s supposed to happen? With East coming off a 1-9 season, North, 7-5 in 2022, is favored by about three touchdowns.


Union Academy at South Rowan, 7 p.m.

Story lines: South Rowan has expectations to be the best it’s been in a number of years, so a home game against a smaller opponent that went 2-8 in 2022 is basically a must-win.

What is Union Academy? The Cardinals are a 1A charter school in Monroe.

The junior-heavy Raiders may still be a year away from being truly good, but making the step up to being very competitive is a realistic goal for this season.

Brooks Overcash is expected to provide quality quarterback play, tight end Alex Furr is a tall target and Landon Richards is an experienced running back. There’s not a ton of size, but there’s speed at the wideouts and in the defensive secondary.

There also are experienced and tough defensive players on board such as Joaquin Bernal and Conner Richards.

South plans to honor art teacher Jackie Elliott, who died early Wednesday morning.

History: First meeting.

What’s supposed to happen? South is favored by four touchdowns.