Any question about how good and how competitive the Big-8 Conference is this year surely was settled last Friday night, when Orange won 59-50 at favored Cleveland High School.
At the same time in Durham, Southern was knocking off Big-8 rival Cardinal Gibbons for the second time in six weeks. The Spartans won 45-28 on Oct. 11, and the second time around defeated the Crusaders 33-28.
Last week’s results set up yet another rematch between Big-8 teams, with No. 6 seeded Orange (12-1) playing at 7:30 p.m. Friday at No. 2 Southern Durham (11-2). That gives the Big-8 two teams in the state quarterfinals.
Southern defeated then-undefeated Orange, 55-41, in the finale of the regular season, winning the inaugural Big-8 championship along with the game.
That previous meeting was the closest conference game all season for Southern, which averaged scoring 57 points a game against Big-8 teams.
“We knew Orange was a good team that wasn’t going to bow down to us,” Southern coach Adrian Jones said.
The Big-8 started the playoffs with five teams, four with at least eight wins: conference champion Southern, runnerup Orange, third-place Cardinal Gibbons and fourth-place Northwood. Chapel Hill made it in with a 4-8 record, mostly on the basis of its 3-4 record in such a tough conference.
Seeded No. 10 in the 3A playoffs, Northwood (8-3) drew a road trip and lost in the first round at Eastern Alamance.
Chapel Hill had to face Southern in the opening round and lost 40-6; Southern then beat Cardinal Gibbons 33-28 in the second round.
Southern is facing a Big-8 rival for the third straight week of the playoffs. The Spartans haven’t played a team outside their conference since a 39-27 win Sept. 27 against Northern Durham in Durham County Memorial Stadium.
“I don’t like that we had to play a Big-8 conference schedule all over again. But it is what it is, and we’ve got to prepare to get this win,” Jones said.
Southern scored more points on Orange by far than any previous opponent. The Panthers had given up barely 8 points a game prior to their loss at Southern. Including a 49-28 win at Cardinal Gibbons in week 10 of the season, Orange has given up 136 points in its last four games – 34 a game.
Last week’s 50 points given up to Cleveland was the second most yielded by Orange this year.
“We just had to outscore them,” Orange coach Pat Moser said. “We just couldn’t stop them. We were lucky to outscore them.”