N-C Trying To Limit Mistakes

Home-field advantage is a luxury, and there is no place like home for Newton-Conover. Heading into this week’s playoff game, the Red Devils have won six straight home playoff games and their last 24 games at Gurley Stadium.

“Home-field advantage helps you out — even in the regular season,” Red Devils head coach Nick Bazzle said. “Hopefully, we can get some of the fans in the area who don’t want drive a long way to come to our game, sit on our side and help us out even more.”

Newton-Conover plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Swannanoa Owen in Gurley Stadium in the first round of the state playoffs.

The Red Devils advanced to the state championship game the past two years. They lost last year to Reidsville in the 2-AA state final and won the 2-A state title in 2008 over Tarboro.

“I’m sure everyone still has big expectations for us this year,” Bazzle said. “But this is a different team than the ones we’ve had the past two years. To get to the state game, not only do you have to be a good football team, but you need a little luck as well.”

Newton-Conover (10-1, 6-1) finished in second place in the Catawba Valley 2-A this season and is the only team in Catawba County with a home game in the opening round.

The Red Devils ended the regular season last week with a 35-25 road win at West Caldwell despite a slew of mistakes. Fumble problems almost cost the Red Devils the game, and penalties have plagued them all year.

“It was tough because we have not played a four-quarter game all year,” Bazzle said. “We can’t make the mistakes we have been making, especially against good football teams. We haven’t seemed to learn from them through our first 11 games, but we hope by game 12 we get some of it figured out.”

Owen finished the year 6-5 overall and finished third in the Western Highland 1-A/2-A with a 5-2 conference record. The Warhorses won three of their final four games, including last week’s 69-7 win over Thomas Jefferson Academy.

“They are a typical mountain team — very physical and well coached,” Bazzle said. “They play hard and make few mistakes. We will have to play hard, but we will have our hands full.”

Maiden at Polk County
The Maiden Blue Devils ride a wave of momentum into the 2-A West playoffs. The Blue Devils will also ride an activity bus an hour and a half to Polk County for their first-round playoff game. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m., Friday.

Despite facing an hour-and-a-half bus ride, Maiden head coach Brian Brown knows this trip is not as bad as some other teams face this postseason.

“The good news is that it’s not that far away,” Brown said. “Some teams have to travel for multiple hours before their big game, and thankfully, we don’t have that.”

Maiden finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak, after coasting past Draughn last week, 33-14. Running back Nate Johnson led the Blue Devils with four touchdowns — including a game-changing, 73-yard run in the second half.

The Blue Devils (8-3, 5-2 CVAC) finished third in the league standings this season behind Newton-Conover and conference-champion South Iredell — the only two teams in the CVAC to beat Maiden this season.

Bunker Hill at Shelby
Bunker Hill travels to Shelby on Friday for a first-round state playoff rematch. The Golden Lions beat the Bears 40-9 in the first round of the 2009 2-AA playoffs, but this season is different.

Bunker Hill finished the year 7-4 overall and went 3-4 in the Catawba Valley 2-A conference. The Bears finished the 2009 season 4-8 overall with only two conference wins.

On the other side of the ball, Shelby finished the 2010 regular season 6-5 overall and finished third in the South Mountain 2-A/ 3-A Athletic Conference with a 4-2 record.

Hickory at China Grove Jesse Carson
Hickory travels to China Grove Jesse Carson for its opening-round game of the state playoffs. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Hickory finished the season 4-7 overall and finished fourth in the Northwestern 3-A/4-A conference standings. The Red Tornadoes won two of their final three games this season, losing last week to South Caldwell 26-6.

China Grove Jesse Carson finished the season 9-2 overall and a second place finish in the 3-A Northern Piedmont Conference with a 4-2 record.