Orange football has had five straight seasons of 10 wins. The only thing missing in that span is a tough, early season test.
In the 90s, when they were the kings of Triangle football, Northern Durham coaches Ken Browning and successor Gary Merrill liked to schedule Garner or Millbrook just to get the Knights prepared for what life in November was truly like.
Tonight, Orange will get a taste of that
It’s been nearly five years since the Orange football team lost a regular season nonconference game. It was August 31, 2012 when Carrboro, of all teams, defeated the Panthers 27-19 at Auman Stadium in Hillsborough.
Since then, Orange has won 21 in a row against nonconference foes in the regular season, a school record. Orange is also riding a 17-game regular season winning streak.
All of that is at risk tonight against the Hoggard Vikings, an opponent that bears a strong similarity to the Havelock team that ended Orange’s season last November in the 2nd round of the 3A state playoffs.
Like Havelock, Hoggard runs the spread, which hardly makes the Vikings unusual in that regard. Just about everyone is running some sort of spread offense nowadays, even Orange.
The Vikings finished 8-6 in 2016 in the 4A /3A Mideastern Conference. But what caught the attention of many football observers along the coast last week was the ease in which the Vikings handled Holly Springs 48-7 at Wilmington’s Scott Braswell Stadium.
Last season, the Golden Hawks defeated Hoggard 24-20 behind 394 rushing yards, including 373 yards and three touchdowns from senior Broderick Taylor.
Last week, Hoggard held Holly Springs to 115 yards on the ground. Granted, Taylor graduated and Holly Springs is rebuilding. But the fact is Hoggard will be the most difficult nonconference test for Orange since the Carrboro team that triumphed in Hillsborough five years ago.
Hoggard may also benefit from good timing. Orange is still working out the kinks in its new spread offense, installed over the summer by new coordinator Steve Burdeau. The Panthers put up 40 points against Northern Nash last week, but most of those touchdowns either came off long punt returns by senior Payton Wilson (244 returns yards, 393 all purpose yards), a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Colin Guentensberger or a fumbled snap by the Knights punter. In other words, Orange didn’t have a sustained drive ending in points until well after the game had been decided.
Orange has played undermanned teams during the early season in recent years, but that won’t be the case tonight. Hoggard senior linebackers McKenzie Frazier, Christian Hollar and Reece Moultan were dominant against Holly Springs last week. The Vikings’ offense scored on seven of ten possessions.
Hoggard also returns starting quarterback Josh Jones, who threw for 2,276 yards and 26 touchdowns while rushing for 645 yards. The top returning wide receiver is Tre Houser, who piled up 1, 028 total yards last season.
Wilson and classmate Marvante Beasley have made this season a personal mission since it is their final chance to win an elusive state championship. Tonight’s game will have a playoff atmosphere, even a week before Labor Day.
This is Orange’s only nonconference home game, one of only four dates in Hillsborough this year. The Panthers play their next three on the road and won’t see the lights of Auman Stadium again until October 6th against Northern Durham.
Plus, there’s playoff seeding. Most teams across the state play 11 games, but playoff records are determined by a 10-game schedule. If a team loses a nonconference game, it can simply be deducted off its record.
Orange doesn’t have that luxury this year since East Chapel Hill isn’t fielding a team. The Panthers will play ten games, and tonight’s game against Hoggard will count in the final playoff standings, win or lose.
For a team that’s won consecutive Big 8 Championships and 17 in a row during the regular season, the Panthers are going into uncharted waters tonight, even at home.