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One More Time

New Hanover fans cheer for their team during the Wildcats' matchup with Hoggard last Friday night at Legion Stadium. (Photo by Jeff Janowski)

As if New Hanover and Hoggard's 13-7 drama-filled regular-season finale wasn't enough last Friday, the NCHSAA's seeding system pitted the two teams against each other again in the opening round of the 4A playoffs. StarNews high school sports writer Powell Latimer breaks down tonight's matchup:

Three things New Hanover needs to do to win:

Pass and score: The Wildcats have the most athletic and skilled group of receivers around, and quarterback Bates Taylor has been able to make solid decisions all year. New Hanover's offense is explosive on a level that Hoggard's is not. A shootout favors New Hanover.

Blitz: Hoggard's Achilles heel in the tail end of the season was its passing game. The Vikings struggled to contain the pass rush against both Rose and New Hanover. Hoggard quarteback Christian Poveromo can pick apart a defense given time but when he's having to escape a pass-rush, Hoggard's passing game becomes much less effective. New Hanover blitzed linebackers and cornerbacks from either edge in the first game. They'll need to do that again to keep Hoggard from finding a rhythm.

Take care of the ball: Too often in the 17-game losing streak to Hoggard, turnovers crushed New Hanover's momentum. That almost happened again last Friday, when the Wildcats turned it over four times. And that last Hoggard drive wouldn't have happened if New Hanover hadn't bumbled a pooch punt deep in its own territory with five minutes to play.

Three things Hoggard needs to do to win.:

Control the clock: Hoggard's offense isn't high-flying, and Viking coach Scott Braswell has said repeatedly through the season that they're still looking for playmakers. This offense isn't a home-run hitter, but it can churn out yardage effectively on the ground and with short pass routes.

Pound it in: Hoggard has the most size and strength up front in this game. The Vikings are strong up the middle. New Hanover had to send lots of extra pressure to stop Hoggard's runs, and made a few lucky shoestring tackles. Hoggard's bread and butter is between the tackles, and they can really demoralize New Hanover with five-yard runs.

Takeaways: New Hanover's going to pass, it's not a secret. Jumping one of those deep patterns for a pick could not only change the momentum, but also force New Hanover to limit its playbook.

One thing that could cost New Hanover the game:

Focus on the run too much: The Wildcats did a great job stopping Hoggard's running game last Friday. Their run defense has been solid all year. What has been suspect at times is the Wildcats' pass defense. They've lost three starting defensive backs from the beginning of the year, and the Wildcat secondary can get burned on deep routes (See: New Bern).

One thing that could cost Hoggard the game:

the Vikings have to be consistent with their offense. Every drive is precious. So penalties, like the nine that Hoggard had last Friday, can kill a drive before it even starts.

Bottom line:

New Hanover cleared a huge mental hurdle last week by finally winning. The Wildcats have more offensive weapons in this matchup, and should win again. Prediction: New Hanover 31, Hoggard 24.

Powell Latimer: 343-2261

On Twitter: @StarNewsVarsity