The third round of the 4-A N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs will feature two undefeated teams.
Leesville Road (12-0) will travel to Garner (13-0) on Friday night. This will be one of the highly anticipated games of the season with the Cap Eight champion facing the champion of the Greater Neuse.
Garner is in the playoffs for the 26th consecutive year, and won its only state title in 1987. Leesville Road has never had an undefeated season until now. The winner advances to the East regional final.
Here are five things to watch for in Friday's game:
The running backs
This is where both teams excel on offense.
Leesville Road has featured running back D.J. Hunt and run-first quarterback Braxton Berrios in the playoffs. Hunt has run for 455 yards in the two playoffs victories, and Berrios has 353.
Garner also has a powerful duo in running backs Demetrius Fairley and Juwan Moye. Fairley rushed for 224 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Trojans to a 55-35 win over Wilmington Laney last Friday. Moye ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
You can expect the Pride and Trojans gain plenty of yards on the ground. Whichever team gets a two-score lead will have the chance to run the ball to control the clock.
Can Leesville Road defense slow down Garner?
So far, no one has been able to. Fairley and Moye are dynamic runners who have a good mix of speed and power. That sounds familiar to Leesville Road fans since Hunt and Berrios can be described the same way.
Garner averages 48 points per game, so this one should be a shootout even if the weather will be cold.
The Pride can't overlook quarterback Vincent Jefferies, who has thrown for 1,253 yards.
Leesville Road's defense allows just 17 points a game, but the Pride have only played one high-scoring team in Wakefield this year, and the Wolverines went for 58 points in a losing effort. Garner can put up just as many, if not more, on the scoreboard if given the chance.
The Pride have been so dominant running the ball that they haven't had to really answer this question yet in the playoffs. In their win over Broughton, Berrios threw the ball just two times. That number increased to eight against Wake Forest-Rolesville last week. The number should continue to rise against Garner, especially if the Pride fall behind.
Berrios was efficient against the Cougars by throwing three touchdowns, two of which came off play action.
Garner has just as good a defense as WF-R, and the Trojans might decide to blitz Berrios more than the Cougars did.
If Leesville Road can complete enough passes, the Pride will be in position to win the game by the second half.
Can Garner make another comeback?
While the Trojans have scored 97 points in the playoffs so far, Garner did need to come from behind against Wilmington Laney after trailing by one point after the first quarter. In the season finale, the Trojans had to erase a 23-7 deficit to beat Harnett Central.
If the Trojans fall behind to the Pride, they will face their most difficult challenge this year.
That's because when the Pride get a lead they have yet surrender it this season. Leesville Road averages 54 points a game, and instead of sitting on a lead, the Pride increase it with almost every possession.
That's what the Pride did in their playoff victories over WF-R and Broughton.
What Garner can rely on is that it hasn't panicked when its fallen behind in the first half.
Which defense will create turnovers?
This might be the most unpredictable factor of the game. Fans of Leesville Road and Garner have watched both teams capitalize on turnovers. But that's against other teams where the opponents haven't been as potent on offense.
In the past four weeks, the Pride and Trojans have had an advantage on offense, and that's mostly because both teams don't turn the ball over often.
With the four combine runners not putting the ball on the ground, one turnover - say in the second half - could be the difference in who wins and stays undefeated.
Leesville Road has an experience core of defensive backs while Garner has impressive linebackers. One of the units should play a major role.