Game previews: Aug. 21 – 27

Sun Valley at Hough

Game time: Thursday, Aug. 21, 7 p.m.

2013 records: Sun Valley was 7-5, 4-1 in Southern Carolinas conference; Hough was 10-2, 6-1 in MeCka conference

Last meeting: This is their first meeting.

Players to watch: Sun Valley: quarterback Isaiah Hicklin, running back Albert Funderburke, lineman Dom Ventura, defensive end/long snapper Tyler Griffiths; Hough: defensive backs Mark Fields and Corey Bell, running back Van Smith, tight end Carl Tucker

The Skinny: What better way to kick off the 2014 season than with two teams featuring explosive talent in each phase of the game? On the outside, Hough has a clear advantage; they’ve got four Division I commits in Fields (South Carolina), Bell (North Carolina), Tucker (North Carolina) and Smith (Clemson) making the game a shoo-in, right? Not so fast. Despite the veteran talent, they’ve had to replace last year’s star quarterback Josh Stilley and are operating under a new coach, as well. Sun Valley welcomes new quarterback Hicklin (1,800 yards, 13 TDs at Porter Ridge) who’s got a rocket arm and is quick on his feet. Combine that with Funderburke, arguably the county’s best running back, and you’ve got a duo that could be deadly. But if Funderburke and Hicklin want to create magic, they’ll need help from their line, which only returns one starter in center Corey Kills. In a game that could go either way, this is what Friday nights are all about. –Hannah Dockery

Hickory Ridge at Piedmont

Game time: Friday, Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.

2013 records: Hickory Ridge was 4-8, 3-5 in South Piedmont conference; Piedmont was 8-5, 2-3 in Southern Carolinas conference

Last meeting: Piedmont won, 37-20, on Aug. 24, 2013.

Players to watch: Hickory Ridge: running back/receiver Nate Mullen, quarterback Greg Waslo, linebackers Gregg Giddings and Ethan Jones; Piedmont: quarterback Cameron Tripp, linebackers Dalton Craig and Jordan Deese, cornerback Mitchell Woody, running back Aaron Braswell

The Skinny: The Ragin’ Bulls struggled to put it all together last season, winning just four games and they lost several contributors from that squad. They’ve got a huge strength though in Mullen, a future Charlotte 49er, who was all over the field last season at wide receiver where he totaled 792 yards and nine scores and added another 839 yards and six TDs on the ground. But if anyone can stop him it’s the Panthers and their experienced line of Noah Irving, Tyler Scott, Ben Mosley and Jaleel Mungo joined by linebackers Dalton Craig, Jordan Deese and Rhett Byrum. On the other side of the ball, they’re even stronger with Harvard commit Tripp running the offense. And with running back Braswell at his disposal and Cody Leviner a capable target in the air, the Panthers should get off to a hot start. –Hannah Dockery

Anson at Forest Hills

Game time:  Friday, Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.

2013 records: Anson was 6-7, 2-3 in Southern Carolinas conference; Forest Hills was 6-7, 4-1 in Rocky River conference

Last meeting: Anson won, 33-20, on Aug. 23, 2013

Players to watch: Anson: quarterback J’Maine Harris, linebacker Melek Colman, defensive back Lamonte Suggs Forest Hills: quarterback Zaccheus Rorie, receiver Tyler White, running backs AJ Allen and Kendryck Barrino, linebacker Timmy Howard

The Skinny: Despite the Yellow Jackets recording their worst record since 2004 last season, they still managed to go 4-1 in conference play, proving that they’re always a competitive program. But for the first time in four years, they’re starting a new quarterback in Rorie, who has huge shoes to fill after the graduation of four-year starter Jared Lee. Rorie will look to Allen and Barrino to carry the running game while White’s a strong target in the air. They’ll need to win in the trenches first though and will lean on Kendal Rushing and JB Helms to anchor a young line. Expect the Jackets to be physical and fast with a lot of guys on both sides of the ball. Anson will look to senior Harris, who’s coming off a season of 1,250 passing yards and 11 TDs and if the Yellow Jackets want to win, they’ll have to keep him from connecting with a host of capable receivers. –Hannah Dockery

Parkwood at Cuthbertson

Game time: Friday, Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.

2013 records: Parkwood was 8-7, 2-3 in Rocky River conference; Cuthbertson was 4-8, 2-3 in Southern Carolinas conference

Last meeting: Cuthbertson won, 24-14, on Aug. 23, 2013

Players to watch: Parkwood: linebacker Treven Parker, wide receivers/defensive backs Max Robinson and Brandon Massey, running back/defensive back Tre Butler; Cuthbertson: quarterback Austin Kendall, receivers BJ Muckelvene and JT Cauthen, defensive ends Connor Gerlits and Nick Karas

The Skinny: Union County’s been waiting for this game since early June, when Kendall announced that he’d be taking his talents back to Cuthbertson after leading Charlotte Christian to a NCISAA state title. It’s a move that sparked new energy in the Cav program as Kendall will look to connect with Muckelvene and Division-I prospect Cauthen who has a nose for the end zone. And as good as the Cav offense should be, their defense will be smothering with Gerlits and Karas making an impact up front and tackling machines Juwan Funderburk, Jack Generoso and Zach Carver at linebacker. Sure, the Cavs are loaded but don’t overlook Parkwood after we made that mistake last season. They’ve got weapons in receiver Robinson and linebacker Parker, who recorded 126 tackles last year, and coach Lynn Coble is on a mission to turn the Rebel program around. After making it to playoff regionals last season, they’re out to prove it wasn’t a fluke. –Hannah Dockery

Lexington at Monroe

Game time: Friday, Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.

2013 records: Lexington was 1-10, 1-4 in Central Carolina conference; Monroe was 13-3, 5-0 in Rocky River conference

Last meeting: Monroe won, 41-7, on Aug. 23, 2013

Players to watch: Lexington: quarterback Nick Shuping, receiver Cedric Liles, cornerback Daniel Reid-Bennett; Monroe: running back Chase Byrum, quarterback, Zephaniah Wall, middle linebacker Eric Heath, defensive lineman Jaqueis Alsbrooks

The Skinny: Lexington’s struggled the last three seasons, going 8-25. Monroe, on the other hand, has gone 34-12 with three conference titles during that stretch so we’ve got a good idea of where this matchup is headed. Wall continues his duties at quarterback where he burst onto the scene last season and is even more comfortable controlling the offense with experience under his belt. Coach Johnny Sowell loves to run the ball and expect more of the same with a speedy Byrum looking to improve from his 1,560 yards and 20 TDs from last season. The key for the Redhawks will be their defense, which will have to get over losing most of their line and secondary. They’ve always been a nightmare for opposing offenses but it could take a few games for them to get comfortable. Lexington will rely heavily on quarterback Shuping’s ability to connect with Liles as they’re short on guys who can run the ball and even with Monroe’s youth, they’ll probably struggle to put points on the board. –Hannah Dockery

Central Academy at North Stanly

Game time: Friday, Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.

2013 records: CATA was 3-8, 0-5 in Rocky River conference; North Stanly was 9-4, 6-2 in Yadkin Valley conference

Players to watch: CATA: running back/linebacker Deshawn Morrison, defensive end Naim Donaldson, quarterback Quay Threatt, running back Jack Heda; North Stanly: running back Antonio Williams, running back/defensive end Lacey Riggins, quarterback Matt Price, linebacker Nick Chandler 

The Skinny: Like last year, the Cougars are young and will lean on a few skill guys to carry the bulk of the weight, namely Morrison who’s a game changer on both sides of the ball. He recorded 136 tackles last season and ran for nearly 1,000 yards and nine TDs so he’s got a lot of pressure on his shoulders especially when the Cougar offense is operating under new QB Threatt and a line that features a lot of young faces. North Stanly had a breakthrough year last season winning the most games in a decade thanks to North Carolina commit Williams. He and quarterback Price were a dangerous duo and are back for more this season along with the majority of last year’s squad. If CATA wants to get off on the right track this year they’ll need to contain Williams – a tough task – and will look to Morrison to do so. –Hannah Dockery

West Montgomery at Marvin Ridge

Game time: Friday, Aug. 22, 7 p.m.

2013 records: West Montgomery was 14-2, 8-0 in Yadkin Valley conference; Marvin Ridge was 2-9, 1-4 in Southern Carolinas conference

Players to watch: West Montgomery: defensive tackle Gabe Ellis, receiver Cameron Moore, quarterback Garrett Ward; Marvin Ridge: defensive lineman John Wells, tight end Hunter Collona, receiver Emeka Emeze, quarterback Kevin Dobos, cornberback Jake Wotell

The Skinny: The Warriors are coming off one of their best seasons in school history after finishing as the Class 1-AA state runners-up. But all their talent from that squad was swiped as they graduated their star quarterback (Caleb Drake, Richmond), outside linebacker (A.J. Collins, Appalachian State) and the majority of their defensive line and secondary so it looks like they’ll need to start from the ground up. The Mavs had the opposite problem, recording their worst record in school history last year. But gone are those days as they’ve brought in new coach Brad Hoover and have tons of guys returning who will look to see the Mavs return to their former glory. To do so, they’ll lean on their strong defense anchored by defensive end Wells and a tough linebacking corps in Justin Kembro, Russell Lombardo and Chandler Casselberry. The key to this game will be how the Mavs’ offense performs but they’re out for vengeance, which gives them an upper hand. –Hannah Dockery

Porter Ridge at Mount Tabor

Game time: Friday, Aug. 22, 7 p.m.

2013 records: Porter Ridge was 8-5 in Southwestern 4A conference; Mount Tabor was 8-4 in Central Piedmont conference

Last Meeting: Mount Tabor won, 26-24, on Aug. 23, 2013

Players to watch: Porter Ridge; quarterback Tyreq Huntley, receiver A.J. Barrett, safeties Chase Suznevich and Walker Griffin, running back Alan Chase; Mount Tabor; quarterback Graham Morton, linebackers James Antoine and Jack Raborn, receiver Divine Deablo

The Skinny: This is a game Porter Ridge would love to have back from last season as a missed field goal late in the game cost them a win. This year they get a shot at redemption, but will look a lot different all over the field. On offense they’ve lost their leading passer, rusher and receiver but Huntley, Barrett and Chase – who is running back Grant VanderVoort’s replacement after he, too, was lost for the year due to injury. The defense is without their leading tackler but Griffin and Suznevich anchor a talented secondary. They’ll have their hands full with Deablo, a 6-foot-3 sophomore who is a big-time ACC and SEC recruit that Morton will throw to early and often. New Porter Ridge coach Zach Bevilacqua won’t get days off in the Southwestern 4A, but his opener is no walk in the park either. Whoever wins gets a big boost to start their season, but a Pirate win would be huge. –Andrew Stark

Concord First Assembly at Metrolina Christian

Game time: Friday, Aug. 22, 7 p.m.

2013 records: Metrolina Christian was 6-5 in Metrolina Athletic conference; First Assembly was 2-7 in Metrolina Athletic conference

Last Meeting: Metrolina Christian won, 22-16, on Nov. 1, 2013

Players to watch: First Assembly; receiver Cameron Dunlap, quarterback Josh Orean, receiver/defensive back Conner O’Donnell, lineman Isaac Rivenbark; Metrolina Christian: quarterback Rud Yearick, running back Christian Almeida, receiver Logan Shumate, lineman Carl Brunner, defensive back Jonathan Braswell

The Skinny: The Warriors closed out the regular season with a hard-fought six-point win a season ago. While Metrolina Christian will look very similar only a year better with much the same cast of skill players returning, the same can’t be said for First Assembly who graduated a bunch of their top players. Olean got some time at quarterback and Dunlap ad Rivenbark are certainly dangerous receiving threats, but there are a lot of chinks in the Eagles’ armor. Metrolina is counting on Yearick to direct the offense in his second season starting and he has tons on weapons including Shumate, a shifty and always-open receiver, and Almeida. With Braswell headlining the defense as a three-year starter, the Warriors are hoping 2014 is the year they truly breakout in just their fourth varsity season. –Andrew Stark

Carolina Pride at Union Academy

Game time: Friday, Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.

2013 records: Union Academy was 6-6 in Yadkin Valley conference; Carolina Pride was 6-5 Coastal Athletic conference

Last meeting: This is their first meeting.

Players to watch: Carolina Pride: quarterback Bruce Dixon, receiver/linebacker John Thierfelder, safety Ahmek Henry, linebacker John Digiovanna; Union Academy: quarterback/safety Jake Cadle, receiver/linebacker Logan Pautz, lineman/linebacker Zach Zupetz, running back/linebacker Manasseh Missick, running back Christian Almeida

The Skinny: Both teams are debuting new coaches in the Cardinals’ Robert Forshee and the Pride’s Paul Jackson, so that will be one storyline to watch. In addition, both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks as Dixon will lead the Pride after putting up monster numbers at Hickory Grove a season ago. He’s a big, strong signal caller and will look to beat the Cardinals with his legs and his arm. Cadle takes over for Union Academy and has a lot of receiving weapons including Pautz who is in for a huge year. Plus, the Cardinals have Almeida and Missick who should give them an advantage on the ground. In the end, this is a good opening-week matchup for both teams and will serve as a barometer of where each stands. –Andrew Stark

Weddington at Ardrey Kell

Game time: Friday, Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.

2013 records: Weddington was 11-3 in Southern Carolinas conference; Ardrey Kell was 6-6 in So. Meck 8

Last meeting: Weddington won, 24-7, on Aug. 23, 2013

Players to watch: Weddington: cornerback/receiver Chris Trevisan, linebacker Myles Moore, defensive end/tight end Lance Moore; Ardrey Kell: lineman Mason Veal, running back/linebacker Bonte Freeman, safety/receiver Ryan Jones, running back Josh German, defensive linemen Twazanga Mugala and Raymond Wright

The Skinny: On paper this is a matchup of teams headed in total opposite directions. The senior-laden Warriors dominated the Knights last year as Ardrey Kell was young and probably a season away from being a legit threat. This year they’re certainly a threat as they have nearly everyone back – including 15 starters – and are poised to make a run for the So. Meck 8 title.  On the other hand, Weddington is looking for an identity to start the year when they return only a handful of starters and must replace many of their key skill guys. This one is always a tough, hard-hitting battle and the 2014 version will be no different as Weddington tries to win their fifth game against Ardrey Kell in six tries, but the Knights may be too much this year. –Andrew Stark

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