As hard as it is to believe, the final #FNFrenzy of the regular season is upon us this week. The season has been a grind for all involved, but for many of us, the 2014 campaign has been a blur. Intentional or not, the schedule makers gave high school football fans exactly what they wanted, with the final two weeks of the season determining the championships in several conferences. With only one game remaining before the playoffs, we will take a look at some of the huge matchups taking place on Championship Friday.
Independence (10-0, 5-0) at Butler (9-1, 5-0)
In what might be the most anticipated game of the season, the undefeated Independence Patriots will take on bitter rival Butler. These two teams have been nothing short of dominant this season, with both teams averaging over 40 points per game. The only difference is the Independence defense. The Patriots’ defense gives up a paltry 5.7 points per game, and have shut out six opponents this year. Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins has played about as well as you could ask this season, and Indy’s weapons around him take the load off his shoulders when called upon.
Butler’s game starts with star quarterback Anthony Ratliff-Wlliams. The future North Carolina Tar Heel has been sensational this season, leading Butler’s offense to an astounding 48 points per game. The Bulldogs’ only loss was a 55-54 thriller against Richmond County back on September 19. Brian Hales’ squad got a much-needed bye week after playing 10-straight weeks to open the season. With the extra time to prep, you can rest assured Butler will implement some new wrinkles for the Independence defense.
Simply put, these teams don’t like each other. Both teams are overly talented, and each offense should find the endzone in the unofficial Southwestern Conference championship game. With that said, I expect Indy’s defense to put the Big I back on top.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Independence 31, Butler 27
Mooresville (10-0, 6-0) at Lake Norman (9-1, 6-0)
The #FNFrenzy Game of the Week, as voted on by the fans, will feature undefeated Mooresville taking on crosstown rival Lake Norman for the North Piedmont championship. Both teams enter this game with video game offensive stats, but these two rivals couldn’t be much different offensively. The Blue Devils have a lethal rushing attack, whereas Lake Norman loves to spread the defense out and let quarterback Josh Ladowski carve up opponents.
Mooresville is led by senior running back Akease Rankin. Rankin’s numbers are eye-popping. 1268 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns, and perhaps the most impressive of all his achievements, 10.8 yards per carry. Akease says he models his game after Adrian Peterson, and it shows on the field when he’s running downhill at defenders. Senior signal caller Tommy Bullock has been equally impressive, rushing for over 700 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. Add Tommy’s 900 passing yards and seven touchdowns, and you have one of the best dual-threat players in the area. The third and final piece to Mooresville’s lucrative backfield is Manny Johnson. Johnson has rushed for 595 yards and 11 touchdowns for Hal Capps’ team this year.
On the other side of I-77, Lake Norman plays a completely different brand of football. The catalyst for the Wildcats is senior quarterback Josh Ladowski. Ladowski’s play looks more like something you’d see in a video game than real life. Josh has racked up 2488 passing yards, 30 touchdowns with a 122.0 passer rating. On the ground, Ladowski has added 1281 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns, and an impressive 7.2 yards per carry. Ladowski has topped 100 yards seven times for Lake Norman in 2014. Senior wide receiver Corey Joyner leads a talented group of pass catchers with 59 receptions for 1015 yards and 10 touchdowns. Joyner’s ability to make plays after the catch show up on the stat sheet, where Joyner averages 17 yards per catch.
Just like Indy-Butler, these teams are battling for more than a conference title. Bragging rights and a potential No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs will also be at stake for each team. Look for the scoreboard to get a workout on the Lake Friday night.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Mooresville 35, Lake Norman 27
Charlotte Catholic (9-1, 6-0) at Providence (8-2, 5-1)
In yet another conference championship game, Charlotte Catholic controls its own destiny at Providence. The Cougars are the lone unbeaten team in SoMeck play following a thrilling victory against Ardrey Kell last week. Providence saw its eight-game winning streak snapped against a feisty South Meck team.
Charlotte Catholic’s Jaret Anderson appears to be completely healthy following some nagging injuries the previous few weeks. With Anderson back in the lineup, the Cougars’ rushing attack will once again be difficult to stop. Anderson has rushed for over 1000 yards this year, and having him back 100 percent will only help Catholic. Defensively, Mike Brodowicz’s team will be without pass rusher Connor Miller. Providence’s offense relies on quarterback Caleb York to make plays, so the Cougars will need a huge effort from the rest of the defense to contain Providence.
Providence suffered a letdown last week, losing 20-7 at South Meck. The Panthers were unable to get into a good rhythm offensively, then an extended weather delay only caused further issues for both sides. Quarterback Caleb York has been solid this season with 15 touchdown passes and eight rushing scores. Providence averages 31 points per game, so getting York into a groove will be crucial if they are going to keep up that pace. Running back Brian Mattar has over 1000 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns for Justin Hardin’s club.
Charlotte Catholic is 5-0 all-time against Providence, and with a conference title at stake, look for the Cougars to come out and earn the SoMeck crown.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Charlotte Catholic 28, Providence 21
Hough (7-3, 5-1) at Vance (8-2, 5-1)
Two of the more talented teams in the area will tangle on Friday, when Hough visits resurging Vance. Miles Aldridge’s Huskies will play for the second time in five days after defeating North Meck in a lightning-delayed game Monday night. Vance rolled over Hopewell 32-0 in a game that was called at halftime due to lightning.
Both teams score points in bunches, with Hough averaging 32 points per game, while Vance scores 39 points on average. Hough’s offense has talent to spread the ball to, including North Carolina recruits Carl Tucker and Corey Bell Jr. Corey Sutton and Bishop Ford give the Huskies even more options offensively. Vance will be led by quarterback Omar Baker and tailback Donnavan Spencer. Spencer rushed for a Mecklenburg County record 405 yards against A.L. Brown, giving Vance opponents another weapon to account for on defense. Myles Dorn leads Aaron Brand’s talented group of receivers, and his battles with Hough’s secondary should provide plenty of fireworks in a huge playoff-seeding matchup.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Vance 32, Hough 28
Shelby (9-1, 7-0) at Crest (10-0, 7-0)
The Battle of Shelby pits rivals Shelby and Crest against one another in a battle of conference unbeatens. Both teams have locked up the top seeds from their conference, meaning it’s all about bragging rights for the Chargers and Golden Lions. Visiting Shelby will have its hands full with Crest running back Tre Harbison. Senior safety Dominique Roseboro is a highly touted prospect, and his playmaking ability is a key for Crest’s defense.
Shelby quarterback RJ George is going to provide Roseboro a tall task when the Golden Lions come to Crest. George has thrown 23 touchdowns to just six interceptions for 1862 yards. Shelby’s offense puts up over 42 points per game coming into this contest, and Crest’s defense allows only 4 points per game. Crest has shut out six opponents this season, including its last three conference foes.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Crest 35, Shelby 21