NC3: Northeastern Coastal with trio of playoff football teams


Northeastern's Traveon Freshwater (with ball) has been a key contributor to NHS on both sides of the ball this season.


Owen Hassell
Sports Editor

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Northeastern football’s loss at Hertford County might not have set well for the Eagles, but it did begin a series of events to benefit the Northeastern Coastal Conference.

Now the league has three champions, and those three have advanced to the postseason’s third round. 

“I thought we had a good league,” said Edenton coach Paul Hoggard, who with the Aces are the third piece of the title puzzle. “There were some good teams and the competition was good, and it showed itself with a tri-conference champion.”

And so the Aces (11-2) get a rematch at NHS in the 2A state playoffs on Friday while the Bears have won two 2AA contests to set up a meeting at East Duplin.

For a conference that’s had some lean years and criticism of lack of depth from other parts of the state, the three Northeastern Coastal schools are OK to do a little gloating.

After all, there are only four leagues throughout the state with three teams alive, and the NCC is the lone one among the 2As.

“I’m excited that this area is getting better,” Northeastern coach Antonio Moore said. “We’re getting there and people are going to see it.”

For Northeastern, getting there has become expected.

The Eagles (11-2), who have either earned a share or won outright the past four NCC crowns, have 10 or more wins for the seventh-straight year and with a victory Friday would reach a regional final for the fourth time since 2010.

However, an outright conference title this fall for NHS, seeded first in the 2A East, could have well meant it would stand today as the league’s lone remaining playoff member.

Since the teams had all beat each other — the Eagles past the Aces and Edenton topping Hertford County — they all got conference champion seeds. Another factor was the Bears’ enrollment placing them in 2AA compared to their fellow NCC winners in 2A.

Add to it an upset of sorts when Hertford County (9-4) won at High Point Andrews, and now the conference could have at least two regional finalist and state title contenders.

Bears coach Terrance Saxby cited the late season meetings with Northeastern and First Flight, both decided by a point, that have his club playing its best football at the right time.

“We were in situations where the games could’ve gone either way, and the kids kept fighting and believing,” Saxby said. “It put us in a position where we wholeheartedly believe.”

All three coaches believe those battle-tested ways were shown through difficult non-conference schedules, one that put Hertford County at an undesirable 2-3 before reeling off seven of its last eight, the lone defeat to Edenton.

Three of those out-of-league foes are still playing, too, in 3A Rocky Mount (who beat the Aces), 1A Plymouth (Edenton and Northeastern defeated the defending 1A state champs) and Virginia’s Lake Taylor, who is one of two blemishes on the Eagles’ record.

Northeastern, who beat 3As Wilson Hunt and Northern Nash on the road this season, is even eyeing 4A schools to play upon the next realignment period since the NCC drops to six teams in 2017-18 with the Aces’ move down to 1A.

Hoggard says he blocks out any discussion on the strength of teams in certain regions and basically anything else not related to Edenton. What he does know is where eyes usually go to when it comes to high school football in the state.

“In the 4A deal, you’ve got Charlotte, Raleigh and basically the middle of the state,” said Hoggard, who won a 4AA state title while leading Richmond County. “Western North Carolina is its own separate entity, and most of those schools who do well are 1A. Then you’ve got the eastern part that’s spread out a bit.

“It has a lot to do with the area we’re in. Western North Carolina would say the same thing. It all has to do with the bigger cities and how close you are to them. You can go to the college level, and East Carolina feels it doesn’t get the same recognition as State and Carolina.”

The Simmons Ratings, a website devoted to win-loss records and strength of schedule to determine power rankings for the state’s high school football teams and conferences, has the Northeastern Coastal Conference as the second-best in 2A behind the East Central and 25th in the state throughout all four classifications.

All pieces of evidence Saxby will show to anyone questioning the abilities of teams in the northeast corner.

“It shows that a lot of people don’t really know,” Saxby said. “If you don’t come to the area and see the teams that play, then you don’t know what we have here. It’s proven. We’ve always got teams represented in the second and third round like a Northeastern or Plymouth. I don’t get into it, but I’m just happy that we are all representing our conference and representing the right way.”

Hoggard recalls an almost impossible feat: when his 2008 Richmond team was one of four from that squad’s conference all in state championship games. The Raiders beat Fayetteville’s Jack Britt for the 4AA title and two more Fayetteville schools in Douglas Byrd and 71st tangled in 4A.

As for the NCC, it’s a guarantee one of the three (NHS or Edenton) plays for a regional championship and a place in the 2A state title game.

It can highlight an overall successful 2016 for many NCC programs: Northeastern boys basketball, Edenton baseball and Currituck volleyball made regional finals while First Flight boys soccer won a state championship earlier this month.

For Moore, who is also an NHS alum, it’s another shot for the region to earn respect.

“I just want more for this area,” Moore said. “As a coach, a teacher and a fan, we have good kids in this area who play football. We have good sports in this area. Basketball, football, soccer, it’s a good area, and we get disrespected all the time. I always say no one claims us but Virginia. We’re right on the border.”