After a long, grinding season, the state championship games are finally here. After a thrilling round of regional finals, several Charlotte-area teams are preparing for the opportunity to hoist a state championship trophy. This year’s state championship games will feature a mix of traditional powers like Charlotte Catholic, Shelby, and Crest, while the 4AA championship will again feature potential soon-to-be dynasty Mallard Creek, who will be gunning for its second straight title.
Class 4AA State Championship: Wake Forest (15-0) vs Mallard Creek (14-1)
The 4AA state championship game will see a rematch of 2013’s title game, as Mallard Creek will battle Wake Forest High School. Last season, the Mavericks had no problem with the Cougars, taking the school’s first title in a 59-21 romp. If you can believe it, this year’s team might be better than last year’s undefeated club despite having a loss early in the season to Butler. Mike Palmieri’s team has been focused all season long, never wavering through an impressive playoff run. The Mavericks have averaged 48 points per game in the playoffs, and quarterback James Smith is the catalyst for Mallard Creek.
In last week’s West regional final, Smith accounted for four total touchdowns against Lake Norman, out-dueling Gatorade Player of the Year Josh Ladowski in a 48-41 thriller. Mallard Creek’s offense is loaded with talent, including wide receiver Vernon Grier and running back Chauncery Bowman. Defensively, Mallard Creek is led by pass rusher Josh Brown and cornerback Nafees Lyon.
Wake Forest’s offense is anchored by senior running back Bryce Love. Love has rushed for 2118 yards and 32 touchdowns thus far in 2014. Quarterback Mack Moore has been efficient for the Cougars this season, completing 61% of his passes for 1476 yards and 23 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. Junior defensive back Ki’Mon Small is a ball hawk for Wake Forest, picking off seven passes this season. Small has also blocked two field goals, giving Wake Forest a big-time playmaker on both sides of the ball.
While this game should be closer than last season’s title tilt, Mallard Creek’s speed and size should flourish on the turf at BB&T Field on the campus of Wake Forest University. Mallard Creek will show they’re here to stay with a convincing victory Saturday.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Mallard Creek 56, Wake Forest 28
Class 4A State Championship: Charlotte Catholic (14-1) vs New Bern (15-0)
Charlotte Catholic returns to the state championship game for the second time in three years Friday, when they face off with New Bern. The Cougars punched their ticket to the title game in an unconventional fashion last week, throwing for more yards than they picked on the ground. Quarterback John Walton displayed why the coaching staff trust him, going 14-16 for 231 yards and three touchdowns against a feisty Vance defense. Catholic’s running game was held in check by Vance, with the Cougars only rushing for 168 yards, led by Jaret Anderson’s 78 yards on the ground. Anderson also scored twice on the ground, while hauling in four passes for 81 yards and another score in the game.
New Bern’s game is dictated by all-everything Mike Hughes. The senior uses his legs and his arm to defeat teams, piling up over 2600 total yards and accounting for 32 touchdowns for the Bears. New Bern’s defense is one of the best in the state, with the Bears sacking opposing quarterbacks 29 times this season. The New Bern defense is anchored by tackling machine Sha’mond Squires, who has been in on an unbelievable 189 tackles this year. Rasheed McCoy has made a living intercepting quarterbacks, hauling in eight interceptions for the Bears.
Points will be at a premium in this game, especially if Catholic’s rushing attack can keep Mike Hughes on the sideline. New Bern can score points in bunches, but they haven’t faced a rushing attack as versatile as what Catholic will bring to the table.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Charlotte Catholic 31, New Bern 21
Class 3AA State Championship: Weddington (14-1) vs Northern Guilford (14-1)
After defeating conference rival Cuthbertson in last week’s semifinals, the Weddington Warriors will have an opportunity to win the school’s first state title in football. Quarterback Grayson Willingham guided the Weddington offense in the 24-21 victory against the Austin Kendall-led Cavaliers, throwing two touchdowns. The Warriors’ rushing attack kept the chains moving, limiting Cuthbertson’s offensive chances, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, led by Mitchel Carson’s 100 yard performance on 18 carries. Senior wide receiver Zach Goins made the most of his chances, hauling in four passes for 106 yards and a pair of scores. Weddington’s pass rushers kept Kendall uncomfortable at times, pulling down the future Tennessee Volunteer six times, led by Lance Moore’s three sacks.
Northern Guilford’s offense will give Weddington a handful Saturday night, especially if the Nighthawks can get C.J. Freeman going on the ground. The junior back has rushed for 1908 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. Quarterback Cam Harris is no slouch, either, putting up over 3100 total yards and scoring 41 touchdowns for Johnny Roscoe’s club. Receiver Mook Reynolds has had quite the season, catching 47 passes for 1134 yards and 13 touchdowns. Reynolds averages a tick over 24 yards per catch this season, something Northern Guilford will look to take advantage of in this game. The Nighthawks won three straight titles from 2010-2012, and this year’s team is more than capable of earning another championship.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Weddington 35, Northern Guilford 31
Class 3A State Championship: Crest (15-) vs Havelock (14-1)
Crest returns to the state championship game this year facing three-time defending champion Havelock in the 3A final. The Chargers defeated South Point in an old-fashioned 13-7 slugfest last week. The Chargers’ defense has been nothing short of impressive in the playoffs, holding every Crest opponent to just seven points. The Crest offense will offer up a heavy dose of Tre Harbison. The junior running back has rushed for over 1600 yards and 33 scores this season, including 154 last week against South Point for a title game berth.
Havelock’s recipe for success involves a lot of ingredients, but the key will be senior quarterback Travis Sabdo. Sabdo has done it all for the Rams, passing for 3582 yards and 44 touchdowns. Sabdo’s best friend has been sophomore running back Tony Sharpe. Sharpe has already rushed for over 2200 yards and 38 touchdowns, both school records for a sophomore. Wide receiver Matthew Boykin’s senior season has been a good one, with Boykin hauling in 62 passes for 1220 yards and an impressive 16 touchdowns. Shondel Granison anchors the Rams’ defensive front, and he has reeled in opposing quarterback 12 times this season. The Rams have combined for 37 sacks in 2014.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: 23, Crest 14
Class 2AA State Championship: East Lincoln (15-0) vs Washington (14-1)
2012 2A state champion East Lincoln will look for it’s second title in three years when they battle Washington. The Mustangs are led by junior quarterback Chazz Surratt. Surratt has been out of this world for East Lincoln, throwing for 3820 yards and 49 touchdowns, and by using his legs for another 1024 yards this season. Senior Damarius Valentine and Sage Surratt give the Mustangs one of the most lethal receiving duos in the state, combining for 127 receptions and 2364 yards. East Lincoln’s offense has had no trouble in the playoffs, averaging 42.5 points per game in the postseason.
Washington will bring it’s ground-and-pound offense to Winston-Salem, and the Pam-Pack are primed for a state title. Sport Sawyer’s team has rushed for over 4200 yards this season, led by senior back Markel Spencer’s 2041 yards and 27 touchdowns. Xzavier Clark has added another 847 yards and five touchdowns for Washington this year. Javon Whitney heads Washington’s receiving corps with six touchdowns on 14 receptions this year. Washington’s best chance defensively will be containing Surratt, and the Pam-Pack are good at getting after quarterbacks. Washington’s defensive front has hauled in 59.5 sacks this year, led by Eric Peartree’s 9.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hurries.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: East Lincoln 28, Washington 21
Class 2A State Championship: Shelby (13-2) vs Clinton (14-1)
Defending 2AA state champion Shelby is back for a second straight title game, and they’ll face the Dark Horses of Clinton High School. Shelby’s R.J. George has provided the Golden Lions with consistency under center, completing 55% of his passes for 2579 yards and 28 touchdowns. Running back Chad Reid has been consistent as well, rushing for 1352 yards and 16 touchdowns. Reid averages a healthy 5.9 yards per carry and 90.1 yards per game. Shelby’s defense is led by freshman Dax HOllifield’s 105 total tackles. Clay Huskey and Chavon Miller have combined for 33 total sacks, and both have benefited from playing with a lead in most games. Senior defensive back Demerio Houston has been special this year, intercepting 13 passes and recovering a fumble. Houston iced last week’s semifinal game against Mount Pleasant with a pick-six.
Clinton’s offense relies on the rushing attack, led by sophomore Ryheem Skinner’s 2043 yards. Skinner has found the endzone 26 times for the Dark Horses this year. Junior Rayquan Faison has carried the ball for 15 touchdowns with a healthy 5.4 yards per carry average. Clinton has been reliable in the playoffs, scoring 41 points per game in the postseason. Clinton’s Lajuan Ashley leads Clinton with three interceptions this year. Clinton’s defense will rely on Wade Summer and Kavon Dessus to slow down Shelby’s offense to keep the Dark Horses in this game.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Shelby 28, Clinton 13