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Doubleheaders good in theory, not in practice

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

The idea behind Thursday’s high school football doubleheader at Memorial Stadium was good. It was a great way to allow some area teams to kick off the season a day earlier than the rest of the state, have the stage to themselves and raise funds for Charlotte-Mecklenburg middle school sports.

But a football doubleheader on a weeknight just isn’t a good thing. Too much can go wrong. You can go into overtime, or two overtimes, or have the game stop due to an injury – or you can just have a slow first game.

Sure enough, Charlotte Christian and Sun Valley kicked off at 5:30 and played a nearly three-hour game. That pushed back the start of Independence-South Meck to nearly 9 p.m. By the time the second game ended at 11:14 p.m., many fans had left, along with the energy in the building.

Everyone was ready to go home.

“I think we need to figure something out,” Independence athletics director Kelly Lewis said after the games. “It’s a little bit late. Fortunately, we don’t have school (for students Friday). We have to be there and the teachers have to be there at 8 (a.m.) If this was a school day, we’d have a different problem. We need to think about it and they need to adjust the schedule for next year.”

Lewis said “it was an honor” to be invited and play, and game organizers did a wonderful job making the event feel special, down to pre-game pyrotechnics and post-game MVP awards and trophy presentations. But prep football doubleheaders don’t work, at least when you’re starting in the late afternoon.

Next year, let’s have a triple-header – a Thursday night game, followed by two more Friday and Saturday.

• It’s easy to read too much into Mallard Creek’s 27-21 win at S.C. 2A power Dillon on Friday. Many were expecting the nationally ranked Mavericks, No. 1 in the Sweet 16, would have an easier time of it. But that’s undervaluing how good Dillon is and how tough a place Dillon is to play. Mallard Creek athletics director Karen McKaig, who has seen her fair share of big games, was blown away by the sheer size of the crowd, the pre-game fireworks and how intense it was. She said there were rows of fans lining the fence.

Dillon has won three of the past five S.C. 2A state titles and was very “up” to try to topple North Carolina’s top team. This was a big moment for them. They gave the Mavericks everything they had.

Mallard Creek fans may look back on this game as a turning point. The Mavericks have been close a couple times to getting to the state finals, but were never able to play their best in the biggest games. To be able to rally from a 14-7 deficit in such a hostile environment against such a good team should give the Mavericks the one thing I wasn’t wholly sure they had in years past. They always had more talent than anyone else. Maybe now they have the belief, too.

• Victory Christian coach Dee Brown led his team to its first state championship last season. He told me that he was on the verge of making the Kings a perennial power. Victory Christian won the Division III state title last season and pushed 2011 Division I state champ and 2012 runner-up Providence Day to the limit Friday. Victory Christian led 18-16 and was trying to score a put-away touchdown. Providence Day’s Elliot Beiser, making his first start, intercepted a pass at the Chargers’ 1. Beiser returned the pick 99 yards for the game-winning points with two minutes, 39 seconds to play in a 23-18 win.

Victory led 18-10 going into the fourth quarter and put on the type of performance Brown told me the Kings would. Victory is a team to watch this year.

• Area powers Independence and Butler put on some big offensive performances in the opening week. Independence beat South Mecklenburg 49-0 and Butler beat West Charlotte 80-20, setting a school record in points. Does that mean these teams are headed for a conference championship showdown, and probably a late-round playoff meeting, too? Too early to tell. Independence was impressive on offense but even more so on defense, which was a weakness last year. Independence also cleaned up its play. I saw several games in the past few years where the Patriots would run up double-digit penalties for 100-plus yards.

Butler hit West Charlotte with an explosion of points early and ended the game quickly, but the Bulldogs still struggled with the penalty issue. They ran up 12 for 151 yards.

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