Both state-championship games at BB&T Field, Winston-Salem
MITCHELL (14-1) vs. WALLACE-ROSE HILL (14-1), 12:05 p.m.
How they got here: Mitchell beat North Moore, 41-20; Mount Airy, 41-14; East Wilkes, 17-14 and Walkertown, 27-23. Wallace-Rose Hill beat Spring Creek, 56-0; Camden, 49-6; East Cartaret, 59-13; and James Kenan, 29-13.
Last state championship for Mitchell: None.
Notes: Look how far a little belief goes. Travise Pitman made it a point to put the NCHSAA championship weekend on the schedule when he became Mitchell’s football coach in 2014. His thinking? If he didn’t believe it was possible, no one would. Flash forward and here are the Mountaineers and Ben Young (2,306 passing yards, 689 rushing yards and 38 combined touchdowns), making their first-ever appearance in a state final. Young is a sophomore who has been the engine that makes the offense go, while other key rushers are Dalton Beaver (882 yards, 13 touchdowns), Cy Thomas (779 yards, 10 touchdowns), Peyton Greene (523 yards, nine touchdowns), Braxton Tehandon (298 yards, seven touchdowns) and Jake Robinson (294 yards, five touchdowns). Young’s favorite receivers are Tre Carson (48 receptions for 991 yards and 10 touchdowns), Alex McKinney (22 receptions for 446 yards and five touchdowns), Brody Smith 920 receptions for 278 yards) and Justin Greene (20 receptions for 244 yards and one touchdown). Beaver is the most indispensable two-way player that Mitchell has with a team-high average of 10.3 tackles a game, followed by Will Atkins (7.7), Jacob Yelton (6.1), Alex McKinney (4.7) and Solomon Duncan (4.2). Duncan and Carson both secured fourth-quarter interceptions in the 1-AA Western Regional championship game. Mitchell’s former school record for single-season victories was the 12 won by its 2011 team. The Mountaineers are the Co-Western Highlands Conference champions (with their only loss stemming from a 41-27 game at Mountain Heritage on Oct. 23). They were seventh in the season’s final Associated Press 1-A rankings, while Wallace-Rose Hill was second. The Bulldogs are the defending 1-AA state champions and have a pair of East Carolina recruits in their backfield – Johnnie Glaspie (1,722 yards, 22 touchdowns) and Keyshawn Canady (1,070 yards, 17 touchdowns). Quarterback Aliza Carter (584 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions) has mostly targeted Alex Lisane (eight receptions for 153 yards and four touchdowns), Glaspie (eight receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns) and Chris Matthews (seven receptions for 59 yards and two touchdowns). The Wallace-Rose Hill defense has recorded seven shutouts and is only allowing 7.6 points per game with the tackling of Javonte Williams (10.2 per game), Desmond Newkirk (8.3), Josiah Bryant (7.5) and Quavion Basyden (7.4). Coach Joey Price has won more than 200 career games and denied Murphy from winning a state-championship (2010) the last time a Western North Carolina team was pitted against Wallace-Rose Hill (a 22-21 game played in Chapel Hill). The Bulldogs are 4-3 overall in state-championship games.
Pick: Mitchell by 1.
ROBBINSVILLE (12-2) vs. PLYMOUTH (13-2), 4:05 p.m.
How they got here: Robbinsville beat Hayesville, 52-21; Winston-Salem Prep, 37-15; Murphy, 20-14 and Community School of Davidson, 30-27. Plymouth beat Creswell, 56-7; Columbia, 48-6; South Creek, 49-6 and Southside, 17-12.
Last state championship for Robbinsville: 2014.
Notes: No mountain football program closes the deal like Robbinsville. The Black Knights have appeared in 14 NCHSAA championship games since 1969 and won 13 of them. This could be the most unlikely contender of them all. Robbinsville was picked to finish third in the Smoky Mountain Conference coaches preseason poll (incidentally, Mitchell was picked fourth by Western Highlands Conference coaches). A group of overachievers in Graham County has a chance to become WNC’s first repeat state football champion in 25 years. Swain County’s run with Heath Shuler as quarterback from 1988-90 is the precedent. Everything up front for the defending 1-A state champions is anchored by former SMC Lineman of the Year Austin Hedrick, who is a 6-foot-3, 310-pound senior. He and the rest of the Black Knights’ blockers protect a couple of 1,000-yard producing seniors in Colton Millsaps (1,340 yards and 13 touchdowns with eight interceptions) and Lane Millsaps (1,559 rushing yards, 386 receiving yards and 18 combined touchdowns). Colby Hemphill (739 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Ian Wiggins (694 yards,12 touchdowns) are other valued members out of the backfield, while Kyler Brooks (21 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns), Reece Postell (17 receptions for 366 yards and three touchdowns) and Chandler Jumper (11 receptions for 182 yards and one touchdown) all have double-digits when it comes to catches. Hemphill’s 13-yard touchdown run with 7:00 to go was the game winner in last Friday’s 1-A Western Regional championship game. Defensively? Robbinsville has won five games by single-digits this season with the handiwork of Paden Welch (9.8 tackles per game), Lane Millsaps (8.8), Elijah Wachacha (8.6), Chad McCoy (7.7), Kyler Brooks (6.7), Hedrick (5.6), Cameron Black (5.3), Chandler Jumper (4.6), Hemphill (4.5) and Postell (4.3). Dee Walsh is the winningest coach in school history. Walsh graduated from Robbinsville in 1975 and had a 20-20 record in four seasons as coach from 1986 to 1989. He returned in 2007 and has since compiled a 124-56 overall record. The Black Knights were eighth in the season’s final Associated Press 1-A state rankings. Plymouth was ninth. The Vikings lost to Robbinsville, 21-18, in last year’s NCHSAA finals. They are the Coastal Ten Conference champions for the ninth time in 10 years and sport a couple 1,000-yard rushers – Chris Kelly (1,520 yards, 24 touchdowns) and Chad Dance (1,213 yards, 13 touchdowns). Plymouth averages 334.7 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Samyr Cooper is a first-year starter who has passed for 990 yards and seven touchdowns with only one interception. His favorite receivers have been Kelly (13 receptions for 209 yards and two touchdowns) and Raequan Purvis (10 receptions for 208 yards and two touchdowns). Raheem Nixon averages 10.3 tackles per game. The Vikings have appeared in four straight NCHSAA 1-A championship games and are 1-2 in their previous three trips with that lone victory coming in 2012 against Murphy (20-15 at Raleigh’s Carter-Finley Stadium).
Pick: Robbinsville by 1.