With the calendar turning to December, the NCHSAA football playoffs have entered the final stages. The regional finals will take place this week, and the Charlotte area has several teams left in the NCHSAA Final Four. The 4AA semifinals features a highly anticipated matchup between Lake Norman and Mallard Creek, while the 4A West bracket has perennial contender Charlotte Catholic hosting upstart Vance High School for a berth in the state championship game.
Without further delay, let’s get right to the action.
Mallard Creek (13-1, 5-1 Away) at Lake Norman (13-1, 8-0 Home)
In what may be the most anticipated game in the state, defending state champion Mallard Creek will visit Josh Ladowski and the Lake Norman Wildcats. Both the Mavericks and Wildcats are firing on all cylinders offensively, with each team scoring at least 35 points in every game in the postseason.
Mallard Creek comes into Friday’s game on the heels of a 49-21 blowout against Providence. The Mavericks controlled last week’s game from the start, taking a 7-0 lead just a little over a minute into the game. Quarterback James Smith had little trouble against the Providence defense, scoring five total touchdowns in the game. The Mavericks’ offensive talent has been sensational in the postseason, led by Vernon Grier and Chauncery Bowman. Bowman scored three touchdowns last week, while Grier found paydirt twice against the Panthers. Mallard Creek’s offense remains one of the best in the state, and the defense has done a good job of helping their offense with short fields and helping the Mavs keep a cushion over opponents all season long.
Rob McNeely’s Lake Norman Wildcats have had no problem scoring points in the playoffs, led by Josh Ladowski’s unbelievable stats. Ladowski has scored 15 total touchdowns in the playoffs, accounting for 75 total touchdowns this season. Ladowski’s dual-threat capabilities have been on display as well, with Josh rushing for 498 yards in the postseason. Wide receiver Corey Joyner has hauled in 16 passes for 290 yards and 4 touchdowns in the playoffs. Ladowski’s ability to lead his team in a multitude of ways is not only impressive, it’s extremely fun to watch.
In a battle of two great quarterbacks taking the field, you won’t want to miss out on Smith vs. Ladowski for a berth in the 4AA state championship game.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Lake Norman 42, Mallard Creek 38
Vance (11-3, 5-2 Away) at Charlotte Catholic (13-1, 7-0 Home)
In a battle of contrasting styles, the high-flying Vance Cougars will battle the hard-nosed, ground-and-pound Charlotte Catholic Cougars. After No. 1 overall seed Dudley was disqualified from the playoffs, Vance has taken advantage of home-field in the last two rounds, pulling out close victories against both Ragsdale and Rocky River. Charlotte Catholic took its show on the road last week and made a huge statement with a 49-0 shutout against No. 2 seed Reagan High School.
Aaron Brand’s Vance Cougars have one of the most physically talented teams in Charlotte, and quarterback Omar Baker, Jr. is the catalyst. Baker’s dual-threat capability makes him difficult to slow down, and once you throw in tailback Donnavan Spencer, opposing defenses are left scratching their heads. Junior receiver Myles Dorn has a combination of size and speed that is very rare at this level, and his knack for making a play when it’s needed most gives the Cougars a reliable target down the field. If Vance has had a bugaboo this year, it’s been turnovers. Despite being as physically gifted as they come, turnovers have hurt the Cougars at times this season.
Charlotte Catholic made a huge statement last week, defeating Reagan 49-0. The Cougars’ rushing attack had no problem playing on the road, racking up 382 yards, led by Jaret Anderson’s 217 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Ryan Miller also hit the century mark, rushing for 110 yards and finding the endzone twice on the ground. Miller also hauled in a 10-yard touchdown pass. Alexander Gagnon had a big night for the defense, tallying 9.0 total tackles in the game. The Cougars’ pass rush was able to get to Reagan’s quarterback for three sacks. Catholic’s offense doesn’t mind lining up and gaining four yards per play, in fact, the old school “three yards and a cloud of dust” might apply perfectly to them. Once a defense starts to wear down inside, Catholic’s ability to break a long run has been lethal all season long.
The key to this game will be the line of scrimmage. If Vance is unable to slow down Charlotte Catholic’s rushing attack, it will be a long night for Aaron Brand’s club. If Vance is able to establish a running game with Spencer and Baker, the Cougars will stand a strong shot to pull an upset and reach the state title game.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Charlotte Catholic 35, Vance 26
Weddington (13-1, 5-1 Away) at Cuthbertson (11-3, 8-0 Home)
A Union County rematch will determine a state championship contender Friday, when Weddington travels to Cuthbertson to face the Cavaliers. In the first meeting between the teams, Cuthbertson pulled out a 42-38 victory behind Austin Kendall’s 447 passing yards and 4 touchdowns.
Weddington enters Friday’s game on the heels of a 28-23 victory at No. 1 seed Asheville, a victory in which the defense did it’s part to help the Warriors advance. The Warriors’ defensive unit racked up 5 quarterback sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, and a defensive touchdown when Mark Tyulyu raced into the endzone on one of those recoveries. Offensively, Mitchel Carson carried the load for Weddington, rushing for 102 yards on 15 carries. While Carson was unable to reach the endzone, his 6.8 yards per carry average kept the chains moving for the Warriors in a tough road playoff game. If the Warriors are going to pull out a victory against Cuthbertson, they’ll need a strong rushing game and a furious pass rush to make star quarterback Austin Kendall under duress.
Speaking of Kendall, the University of Tennessee commit has been nothing short of sensational in the postseason, throwing for 938 yards and 12 touchdowns in the postseason. Kendall has also scored twice on the ground in the playoffs. In last week’s victory over Statesville, Kendall went 20-28, 223 yards, and 3 touchdowns in another almost-flawless performance. The Cavaliers’ rushing attack got the job done as well, picking up 196 yards on the ground with a healthy 5.6 yards per carry average and three touchdowns. The Cuthbertson pass rush wreaked havoc on Statesville’s offensive line, sacking quarterback Travis Ramseur nine times for a total of 59 lost yards. Junior Peter Ausiello had a monster game, pulling down the Statesville signal caller five times.
Similar to the Lake Norman/Mallard Creek tilt, points will be aplenty as a state championship game berth is decided. Sprinkle the rivalry factor in this game and this just might be the best game of the night.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Cuthbertson 38, Weddington 34
Crest (10-4, 6-0 Away) at Crest (14-0, 9-0 Home)
In a battle of old-school, line-up-and-go football, South Point will make the trip out highway 74 to visit Crest. These teams love to line up and run the ball while playing good defense.
South Point eliminated another South Piedmont team last week when they defeated East Rowan. The Red Raiders’ triple option attack was working like a well-oiled machine, rush for over 500 yards against the Mustangs. Tanner Muse led the way for South Point, picking up 157 yards with an outstanding 13.1 yards per carry. Running back Ryland Etherton did some heavy lifting for the Red Raiders, rushing 29 times for 138 yards in the game. Quarterback Jaquan Brooks provided the third head of the South Point rushing monster, racking up 101 yards on just 10 carries. Tackling machine Yale Loucks was all over the field again, picking up 16 tackles on the night.
Crest held another playoff opponent to just seven points last week, dominating Forestview in a 52-7 romp. Quarterback Willie Green used his arm and legs to defeat the Jags, going for 175 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns. Tailback Tre Harbison scored twice while picking up 72 yards on the ground. Preston Huskey made the most of his opportunities, hauling in four passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. Crest pass rushing specialist Chris Willis hauled down Forestview’s quarterback twice in the victory.
This game probably won’t feature a ton of passes, and the team that can establish dominance at the line of scrimmage will have the upper hand in the 3A semifinals battle.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Crest 24, South Point 21
Class 2AA Predictions
East Lincoln 31, Franklin 14
Class 2A Predictions
Mount Pleasant 21, Shelby 13
For more Mallard Creek football photos, visit http://jonathanaguallo.smugmug.com/Football/Mallard-Creek-Football.