There’s a simple reason Mallard Creek beat Lake Norman on Friday:
The Mavericks out-Ladowskied the Wildcats.
Led by dual-threat quarterback James Smith, Mallard Creek jumped ahead early, then held off a second-half Lake Norman comeback for a 48-41 victory in the N.C. public schools 4AA Western Regional final.
Smith, a junior, accounted for 409 yards offense four touchdowns for the Mavericks (14-1), who advance to next week’s NCHSAA 4AA state championship game in Winston-Salem.
There, the defending 4AA state champs will face undefeated Wake Forest (15-0), a 27-13 winner over Garner in the Eastern Regional final.
Smith threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns – 86 yards to Vernon Grier, 74 yards to Mahlon Medley and 7 yards to Kyle Horton – and ran for 129 yards and a 39-yard TD in the first half. Medley also had a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Smith had 241 yards passing on a perfect 8-for-8, and 102 rushing yards in the first half as Mallard Creek bolted to a 34-14 halftime lead.
Junior running back Chancery Bowman added 212 rushing yards and a touchdown, all but 18 yards coming in the second half. His 65-yard touchdown run staked the Mavericks to a 41-14 lead with 11 minutes, 31 seconds left in the third quarter.
That’s when the Wildcats (13-2) – or namely, quarterback Josh Ladowski – finally got into gear.
Ladowski, named the N.C. Gatorade player of the year Thursday, was held to 100 yards passing and 31 rushing yards in the first half. But he started finding running and passing room in the second half.
Ladowski, a senior, had three of his four touchdown passes over the final two quarters, as well as one of his two touchdown runs to pull Lake Norman within 48-41 with 1:57 remaining. But Mallard Creek came up with the onside kick attempt.
Ladowski threw touchdown passes of 34 and 10 yards to Corey Joyner, 20 yards to Dylan Galbo and 11 yards to Luke Miller. He also had touchdown runs of 3 and 34 yards.
Ladowski finished with 263 yards passing, making 17 of 41 attempts with an interception. He also ran for 144 yards.
Grier had four catches for 122 yards for the Mavericks, and Galbo made six receptions for 129 yards for the Wildcats.