In addition to Georgia bound QB Joe Cox and WR Mohamed Massaquoi, the Patriots start eight players on offense who started in the championship game last year against New Bern. That would explain their 55 points-per-game. On defense, Independence benefits from retaining head coach Bill Geiler, who seems to find it easy to assemble championship caliber defenses.
As usual, maneuvering through the 4AA bracket is no walk in the park. The Patriots should breeze through the first two rounds, but will face stiff competition in every round after that.
Their first challenge should be Freedom, who has overcome a couple early season loses (Shelby and Davie) to win a Northwestern Conference Title. On their way to the third round they will host archrival East Burke in a rematch of the 10-7 game, but the Patriots should handle them a little more convincingly this time around. Regardless, Freedom will drive to Charlotte for the third straight year in a row, and leave winless.
While the battle of the Patriots takes place in Charlotte, an even more exciting match-up will take place three hours away in Rockingham. Scout.com four-star linebacker and All-American Derek Nicholson will lead the defending 4A West Champions to Raider Stadium to take on the most prestigious football program in the Tar Heel State: the Richmond Raiders.
In a game that will contain as much speed as any college game, the Spartans should pull a very close upset over an inexperienced Richmond squad. Richmond's lack of a passing attack (only two games with over 100 yards passing), combined with Mount Tabor's ability to shutdown the run should limit the Raider offense enough for a win.
Independence's balanced offensive attack should be too much for Mount Tabor in a game that arguably could be considered the true 4AA State Championship Game.
The Independence win should set up a rematch of the 2000 4A State Championship game pitting the Patriots against South View. A defensive lead South View squad should provide a huge challenge for the Independence offense, but the Tigers won't have enough on offense to pull out the win.
Before South View reaches Kenan Stadium, they will have their fair share of solid competition. After disposing a depleted Southeast Raleigh team, the Tigers will easily beat Lee County and Cary on their way to the East Finals against the defending East Champions New Bern.
Third time will be the charm for South View as they dethrone the Bears in another close East Final (24-21 in 2002 and 28-21 in 2003). During the game New Bern will show the effects of a tough playoff road that included Enloe, traveling to Hoggard (7-4), and then traveling to Greene Hope (10-1).
Championship Game: Independence 35 South View 10
West Final: Independence 28 Mount Tabor 14
East Final: South View 28 New Bern 21
Sleeper Team: New Bern
Top 5 Best Potential Match-ups:
Mount Tabor vs. Independence
Mount Tabor vs. Richmond
South View vs. Independence
New Bern vs. South View
Independence vs. Richmond