Independence High football coach Hal Brown said Friday’s 48-6 win over Garinger felt especially good for his team. This season, the Patriots have been through a lot, including losing their first seven games.
“It was certainly a nice change for the kids,” Brown said. “I was happy for them. It was important and we were a little more on track for what we had been hoping for and looking for. It was special for them to win because they’ve worked so hard and they needed that.”
Brown once coached on an Independence team that was a national power.
Almost 20 years to the day, in October of 2006, Independence beat East Mecklenburg 54-22 and won its 100th straight high school football game. Brown was an assistant on that team under Tom Knotts, perhaps the greatest coach in N.C. history.
Knotts, Brown and the Patriots would go on to win a seventh straight N.C. state championship that season and extend a winning streak that would eventually reach 109 games, a record for U.S. public schools. But after 10 straight years of double-digit wins from 2000-09, the Independence freight train slowed down. The Patriots were 3-8 in 2010 and won eight games in 2013 and 2015.
And 2016 has been the toughest year of all.
Head coach Scott Young was fired days before the season began amidst parent turmoil and dissension. Brown, named as interim coach, had to piece together a team that was young at many positions and tried to make everything work. It didn’t. Independence lost its first seven games for the first time since 1978. Two weeks ago, on their 50th anniversary homecoming, Porter Ridge trounced the Patriots 44-0. Independence was shut out for the third time this season.
Brown said his team, which was off last week, kept believing and working hard.
“I think we’ve been doing the best we can, players and coaches, moving forward each day and teaching football,” Brown said. “I think we’ve stumbled some and we’ve shown some bright spots and...we’ve seen spurts and series where we have driven the ball like the old days -- boom, boom, boom and march down the field -- and then we’ll tumble and make a mistake and fall back.
“It’s a young group of kids and they’ve not had the opportunity to be together that much.”
Brown, 63, came to Independence 25 years ago when he walked into the Patriots’ lobby one day, on a whim, and ran into a college buddy, then Independence coach Rusty Jester, whom he hadn’t seen in years. Jester offered him a job, which Brown accepted. About 10 years later, Brown was at West Meck when Knotts offered him a chance to return. Knotts was leaving a powerhouse at West Charlotte to build a champion at Independence.
“I kept track of Tommy because we were both from Albemarle and I always wanted to coach with him, but his staff was always full,” Brown said. “He was kind enough to call me when he was coming to Independence. He said, ‘Think about it.’ I said, ‘Don’t hang up. I want to coach with you.’”
So Brown has been at Independence for 16 consecutive seasons. Patriots football is personal to him. Fixing what’s wrong with Patriots football is personal to him, too.
“It doesn’t really surprise me,” he said of Independence’s struggles this season. “I’ve been doing it long enough to know that (football) can be fickle from time-to-time. I’m proud of our kids for sticking to it and learning a lot and coming through it.
“Strange things can happen. Listen, I’m a (Carolina) Panther fan, and I’m watching them this year, going ‘What?’ Well, I love that team and love that coaching staff and I think they’ll be back. And I think the same thing about us.”
I asked Brown if he wanted to be retained as the permanent head coach, a role he’s never had.
“I’m going to do whatever the powers that be think will be best for the kids,” Brown said. “I’m fine with whatever role I can do to help kids. At this point in my career, that is all it’s about for me -- what’s best for those kids.”
▪ Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri won his 100th game Sept. 23 when the Mavericks beat West Charlotte 45-7. But Mallard Creek -- ranked as high as No. 10 nationally when the season began -- has lost twice in five weeks after Friday’s 38-21 loss to Vance.
So should Mavs fans panic?
Not yet. It says a lot that what could be a great defense allowed 38 points to Vance - 17 points higher than any team has scored all season. But Mallard Creek’s front seven is still the best in the state, and Palmieri is one of the best postseason coaches around. He coaches almost strictly for the playoffs.
As they did last season, the Mavericks are flirting with a lower playoff seed and a potential road to the playoffs with many away games against tough opponents. But Palmieri seems to like that, too. Whereas the past two coaches of dominant programs in Mecklenburg County -- Knotts (Independence, West Charlotte) and Mike Newsome (Butler) -- often won pretty, with pretty records and pretty blowouts, Palmieri seems to prefer to get down and dirty. He seems to enjoy close games and tough wins.
This Mallard Creek team still hasn’t figured it out offensively, but has the winning pedigree and the best overall talent in North Carolina. I haven’t seen Palmieri go home in the playoffs without a title since the Mavericks lost to Butler in the 2012 semifinals. And until I see him do it again -- go home without the state title plaque -- well, I’m not counting out Mallard Creek.
▪ Every year the N.C. 4AA playoffs usually has the best and most competitive field. But this year, the 4A playoffs might give it a run. Vance, which beat Mallard Creek -- the three-time reigning 4AA champion -- is likely to go 4A, as well as reigning state champion Charlotte Catholic, No. 1 Associated Press poll team Greensboro Dudley and unbeaten Scotland County, which features the top running back in the class of 2018, Zamir White.
▪ In its first seven games, Independence scored 54 points. It had 48 Friday as Garinger fell to 0-9 and lost its 50th consecutive game. The Wildcats’ last win was 16-14 over Harding on Oct. 21 2011. The typical 15-year-old freshman at Garinger now would have been 9 or 10 then.
▪ Not sure if it’s the cooler weather or what, but the crowds in Mecklenburg County, and in the region, were fantastic Friday night. One of the best was at Providence for the big rivalry game with Ardrey Kell. There aren’t five rivalries in North Carolina, across all sports, as good as this one. Ardrey Kell won 34-16 and it had plenty of Knights fans there to see it.
▪ There are many big games next week, including one-loss Charlotte Catholic at one-loss West Meck for a potential SoMeck 8 title, but keep an eye on Charlotte Country Day at Providence Day. These two are bitter rivals and it’s Providence Day’s homecoming. The game will feature two of the state’s top freshmen -- Providence Day receiver Porter Rooks and Country Day tailback Tim Newman -- and it’s also a de-facto playoff game.
The Division I private school playoffs will take four teams. Charlotte Latin, Charlotte Christian and Davidson Day are pretty well assured of the first three spots. The fourth spot? It will likely go to the winner of this game.
▪ Ironman award of the night goes to Ardrey Kell’s Jeremiah Gray. He played in the Providence win with a broken arm. Gray and the Knights’ defense held Providence without a first down in the second half.
▪ Cherryville (2-6) is 2-0 in conference play for the first time in 20 years. Cherryville beat Highland Tech 37-6 Friday. ...The top team in the Gastonia-based Big South? Hunter Huss, led by freshman QB Zoe Wallace. South Point, Stuart Cramer and Forestview are all tied for second.
▪ First-year Mooresville coach Marty Paxton’s team went 0-2 while trying to figure out his offense. Think they’ve figured it out. After Friday’s 38-20 win over South Iredell, Mooresville has run off six straight wins, including an upset of Sweet 16 team Kannapolis Brown. In the streak, the Blue Devils’ defense has shut out three teams. Mark your calendars for a showdown with another Sweet 16 team: Lake Norman at home in two weeks.
▪ Been a rough season for Christ The King, but the school has a couple of promising underclassmen. In a 56-12 loss to Victory Christian Friday, freshman Drew Benner had eight tackles. Freshman Connor Sabbath had six catches for 110 yards. Sophomore Ian Bonner had eight catches for 123 yards. Junior QB Jack Hills was 12-for-38 for 253 yards and ran six times for 36.
Friday’s High School Football Roundup
Charlotte Christian 14, Charlotte Country Day 10: Christian (8-0, 1-0 CISAA) stopped the Bucs on the 1-yard line to prevent a big upset in the final seconds. Also in the second half, up 14-7 Christian also stopped Country Day (3-5, 0-1) at the 1. The Bucs settled for a field goal. Christian remained unbeaten and will play Charlotte Latin next week in a game that could decide the CISAA conference championship.
Garrett Shrader threw for 140 yards and a score for Christian. Tim Newman ran 24 times for 75 yards for Country Day.
Myers Park 34, Porter Ridge 27: Porter Ridge scored 21 straight fourth-quarter points in the final seven minutes to get close -- aided by a fumble recovery and a recovered onside kick -- but Myers Park hung out. Mustangs quarterback Jack Davidson completed 16-of-25 passes for 171 yards and four touchdowns. Tailback Aaron Jordan ran 12 times for 105 yards and a score.
Davidson Day 50, Statesville Christian 6: Davidson Day (6-2) bounced back from Monday’s loss to Charlotte Latin. Sam Howell threw four touchdown passes. Nolan Groulx caught three touchdown passes and ran for another. Statesville Christian (7-2) got 100 yards rushing from Canaan Cox on 24 carries and 91 yards rushing from Brennan Settle on nine.
West Meck 34, Olympic 33: Down 33-20 in the fourth quarter and staring down a big upset, West Meck (7-1, 4-0 SoMeck 8) rallied. Earlier this season, the Hawks were up two touchdowns on Vance in the fourth quarter and lost the lead. They lost in overtime. This week, West Meck got the win after quarterback Richard Latimer ran around left end and was smacked hard at the goal line but held on. The PAT won the game and kept West Meck in first place in the SoMeck 8. Olympic (2-6, 0-4) lost its fifth straight game. Three of those losses are by seven points or fewer.
West Charlotte 12, Hopewell 0: West Charlotte (2-7, 2-2 MECKA) won for the second time in three weeks under interim coach Josh Brown. It was West Charlotte’s first shutout in seven years. Hopewell (1-8, 0-4) was shut out for the third time in a row and fifth time this season.
Harding 42, Berry 13: Harding (3-5, 1-3 SoMeck) ended a four-game losing streak against their rivals. Berry and Harding are about a mile apart on Alleghany Street, not far from uptown Charlotte. Berry (1-7, 0-4) lost its fourth straight. Earlier this week, Harding sophomore running back Quavaris Crouch received a scholarship offer from Michigan.
Concord First Assembly 56, SouthLake Christian 7: First Assembly (7-1) won its third straight game easily. The Eagles led 21-0 after the first quarter, 27-0 at halftime and 42-7 after the third quarter. SouthLake fell to 3-5.
Friday’s Top Performers
Jack Brigham, Milan Howard, Charlotte Catholic: Brigham rushed 22 times for 115 yards and four touchdowns in a 33-7 win over rival South Meck. Howard ran 19 times for 139 yards.
Chauncey Caldwell, Mallard Creek: Quarterback threw for a touchdown and ran 18 times for 185 yards in a 38-21 upset loss to Vance
Davis Cheek, Kusegi Cureton, Butler: Cheek was 17-of-18 passing for 305 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-0 win over Rocky River. He also ran 22 yards for a score. Cureton, whose nickname is “Little,” had a huge night: six catches for 151 yards and two scores.
Luke Hefferly, Jaylen Irwin, Ardrey Kell: Completed 20-of-30 passes for 314 yards and four scores, and he added a rushing touchdown in a 34-16 win against arch rival Providence. Irvin, a receiver, caught six passes for 170 yards and two scores.
Kingsley Ifedi, Vance: He was 10-of-22 passing for 202 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-21 win over Mallard Creek. He also ran for two touchdowns.
Donsel Jetton, Mooresville: Rushed for 200 yards in a 38-20 win against rival South Iredell.
Aedon Johnson, Davidson Day: He had two interceptions in a 50-6 win against Statesville Christian. He returned one 80 yards for a touchdown.
Jarrett Nagy, Hough: Rushed for 124 yards and one touchdown in the Huskies 21-7 win over Kannapolis Brown. Nagy had 105 yards in the first half, but came out of the game on Hough’s first series of the second half with an injured left hand.
Tristin Quick, Butler: He recorded two sacks and three tackles for a loss in Friday’s 41-0 win over Rocky River.
Beau Snuggs, Charlotte Christian: Two interceptions in Friday’s 14-10 win at Charlotte Country Day.
Sage Surratt, Lincolnton: Senior had five touchdown receptions in a 48-0 win over Bunker Hill. With 64 career touchdown catches, Surratt is 12 off the all-time career record of 76 held by former Independence standout Mohamed Massaquoi. Surratt could play as many as eight more games.
Justus Woods, Charlotte Christian: 20 carries for 73 yards in a 14-10 win over rival Charlotte Country Day. Woods also caught two passes for 79 yards and a score.