New Bern standout and North Carolina State commit Bra'Lon Cherry is extremely underrated. Cherry lined up all over the field for the Bears – playing wide receiver, cornerback, and kick returner. He made a great leaping catch for in touchdown in second quarter and defensively more than held his own against Hillside’s star receiver Trevion Thompson. The 6-foot, 180-pound playmaker also had a kickoff return for a touchdown that was called back due to a penalty. He is one of those classic under-the-radar guys who has all the tools to become a very good college football player.
Khris Francis is one of my favorite players in the state of North Carolina’s 2013 class. The North Carolina commit has a great demeanor on the field and is a leader. Hillside lost four starters on the offensive line from last year’s squad. This year’s offensive line features four sophomores (who will be very good down the road). Inconsistent play a quarterback, along with New Bern’s defense putting eight and nine players in the box did not help his cause. However, the future Tar Heel still managed over 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Even with them game out of reach, Francis played as if the game was still 0-0, punishing defenders until the contest was over.
New Bern offensive lineman Christian Matau was impressive. The East Carolina commit is athletic for a big man and very physical. He did a nice job both pass and running blocking. Matau has good feet and is very agile. At 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, Matau is very strong and has a college-ready body. I’m surprised he did not generate more interest from Division I programs. He will play center at East Carolina and should be a good player for the Pirates down the road.
I thought Korrin Wiggins played well. As is the case on offense, Hillside has some young players on defense. The North Carolina commit intercepted a pass on the first drive of the game also had some big hits. The thing that stuck out to me the most is how much bigger Wiggins has gotten. He has added at least 15 pounds of muscle since last season and physically looks like he could contribute early in his college career.
New Bern running back Jachin Watkins ran hard. The UNC-Charlotte commit had 10 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown. Watkins is a physical runner who is tough to bring down. The 6-foot, 220-pound Watkins has a very strong lower body and gets a lot of yards after contact. He is definitely a nice pickup for the 49ers and will likely play early when he gets to Charlotte.
Few teams have backup running back as good as Donte Williams. The 6-foot, 210-pound Williams passes the eye test, but also was impressive on the field. One of the top running backs in the 2014 class, Williams, had nine carries for 65 yard and also returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. He has the power and speed that college coaches love. The junior already has nine offers and many more will likely come his way.
In the 2014 class, it will be hard to find receivers better than Trevion Thompson. However, Hillside entered the game with a quarterback making his first start on the varsity level. While Thompson’s numbers (4 catches for 44 yards) may not be impressive, there were times during the game that he was wide open and the pass was off-target. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Thompson did make one of the most impressive plays of the night, although it was called back due to a block in the back. Thompson split two defenders after catching a quick out and raced 50 yard for a touchdown. It one play he showed the strength, speed, and elusiveness that make him one of the top receivers in the 2014 class. Thompson has 11 offers, a number that will likely double by the end of the season.
The game was sloppy – 23 penalties and seven fumbles (three were lost).
This could be said about a lot of high school quarterbacks, but if New Bern senior quarterback Josh Taylor was a couple of inches taller, he would have several scholarship offers. The 6-foot, 170-pound Taylor has started for the Bears since his sophomore season and is fun to watch. Taylor finished 11-17 for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
Both teams have the potential to be very good and it is a long season. New Bern’s Bobby Curlings and Hillside’s Antonio King are two of the best coaches in the state. I would not be surprised if these two teams saw each other again in the playoffs.