On the bus ride back from West Mecklenburg Friday, after his team scored 43 points in the second half to upset the Hawks, Harding High football coach Sam Greiner answered his cell phone, but couldn’t hear a thing.
Behind him, beside him, in front of him, the Rams’ players were celebrating a 50-47 come-from-behind win that was Harding’s third victory in four weeks. Harding, which has had two winning seasons in 26 years, finally has something to talk about.
Harding (5-6, 3-4 SoMeck 8) beat a West Meck team (8-2, 5-2) that’s ranked No. 13 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll and heading to the N.C. playoffs in two weeks. With this win, Harding might be going, too. The Rams have their most wins since 2007 and could be in for their first playoff berth since 2010.
“I feel great,” Greiner said. “These kids deserve this. Every time I start doubting, these kids come through for me. All I want to do is give them a taste of something great. That’s all I want.”
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Harding has only 25 players and opponents often scheme ways to wear down the Rams , usually by playing fast. Greiner borrows a slogan from the military - “We’re the few, the proud” -- to describe his team, and he constantly talks about their heart.
That heart was on display Friday, down 20-7at halftime to one of the most offensively explosive teams in Mecklenburg County.
“At halftime,” Greiner said, “I’m saying, ‘Just play with everything you got. You might not ever get to play again. Give everything you have and I promise you’ll be happy.’ We scored 43 points in the second half. God put us in a blender and made something special.”
Rams star tailback Quavaris Crouch scored twice, but the player of the night was senior Jaquan Rankins, who has scored 18 touchdowns in five weeks. He scored four times Friday, once on a kickoff return, twice on runs and once on a 35-yard reception from quarterback Braheam Murphy, a junior who moved into Greiner’s home last spring. That pass, with 48 seconds left, won the game.
Greiner said Murphy, who threw for more than 250 yards and two touchdowns, played the game of his life.
Actually his whole team did.
“When we got here, I saw something special in these kids,” Greiner said. “I love these kids. I really do. Pulling out the greatness in them is the key. At the end of the day, if you do that, they’ll be happy. We’re 25 deep. They keep being resilient. It’s about moving mountains. ...We keep chipping away and that mountain moves farther and farther away.”
Greiner has been letting his hair grow out. He promised his team if they made the playoffs that the Rams could shave him clean. One of the things the players were saying on the bus ride home was “Cut my hair! Cut my hair!”
And they just might get a chance if the Rams get an at-large bid when the seedings are revealed next Saturday.
“I don’t see how they won’t put us in the playoffs,” Greiner said. “It looks like we have a shot. We might be the last seed, but nobody wants to play us. We’re dangerous. We’re fighters. We’re warriors.”
▪ Vance junior linebacker Jaydon McGhee tore his ACL on Sept. 10 when the Cougars went to South Carolina and thrashed St. John’s 77-28. Cougars coach Aaron Brand thought that McGhee was a can’t-miss Division I prospect and was so proud of the work he’d done in the offseason.
McGhee recently had surgery on his knee and attended his first game since his injury Friday when Vance whipped Hough 41-17 to win the MECKA conference championship. Brand made sure to share the moment wtih McGhee, whose father, Fred, is a member of Vance’s sideline crew.
“He’s been really influential in what we’re trying to do,” Brand said. “He would send us messages and he’s been so strong through the surgery. He’s never been through that before. When I got to see him before the game, it kind of lit a fire under me. I was excited. I care about wins and losses, but it was more gratifying to have him out there. I was happy he had a chance to be a part of it.”
▪ Lake Norman beat North Lincoln 42-14 and is 11-0. It’s the Wildcats’ first unbeaten regular season. After winning 11 games in his first three seasons, Lake Norman’s Rob McNeely is starting to show that he’s one of the region’s best coaches.
In the past three years, his teams are 39-10. In 2014, the Wildcats reached the N.C. 4AA semifinals before losing to eventual state champion Mallard Creek 48-41 at home. Many people thought that, in that special 2014 season, Lake Norman had simply rode along the coattails of a rare talent in quarterback Josh Ladowski. Doesn’t appear so. From here, it looks like there’s another western N.C. power brewing, just this one is outside of Mecklenburg County.
▪ Hickory Ridge, No. 15 in the Observer’s Sweet 16, is one of the hottest teams in North Carolina. The Bulls beat West Rowan 27-7 to finish the regular season 9-2 and win their seventh straight game.
▪ Concord’s Cannon School got a last-second field goal in the first round of the N.C. Independent Schools Division II playoffs to beat Harrells Christian 11-8. Cannon (6-5), a No. 4 seed, will play at No. 1 High Point Christian (8-1) in next week’s semifinal.
Catholic 42, Providence 21: Charlotte Catholic (10-1, 7-0 SoMeck 8) wrapped up the outright conference championship and won its 10th straight game. The reigning N.C. 4A state champion has won 51 straight conference games. Catholic’s last loss in conference play was a 21-14 loss to Olympic in September of 2009.
Olympic 34, Berry 10: Olympic (5-6, 3-4) won its third straight game to try to get in position itself for an at-large playoff bid. Berry (1-10, 0-7) lost its seventh straight game.
Mallard Creek 49, North Meck 15: The Mavericks (8-2, 5-1) won to finish tied for first place in the MECKA with Vance, but because Vance won the head-to-head game -- 38-21 on Oct. 14 -- the Cougars win the outright title. That likely means the three-time reigning N.C. 4AA champions will have a playoff road filled with away games.
Myers Park 23, East Meck 21: The Mustangs (10-1) finished their first 10-win regular season since 1983. They also tied the school record for regular-season wins. Myers Park won with its defense, making two big fourth-quarter stops on fourth down. Sophomore Elijah Bowick had six catches for 120 yards and his 17th touchdown of the season. He has an offer from Wake Forest and picked up another from Virginia Tech Friday.
Porter Ridge 35, Rocky River 23: Porter Ridge (7-4, 4-2 Southwestern 4A) rallied to win its second straight game. Porter Ridge was 3-19 the past two seasons.
Friday’s Top Performers
DeAngelo Blair-Young, Travis Prince, South Mecklenburg: Blair-Young scored four touchdowns rushing in a 28-6 win over Ardrey Kell that left the Sabres tied for third place with Ardrey Kell in the conference (both at 4-3) behind Charlotte Catholic (7-0) and West Meck (5-2). Prince ran 21 times for 120 yards.
Canaan Cox, Statesville Christian: Ran 22 times for 167 yards and five touchdowns in a 59-12 win over Northside Christian in an N.C. Independent Schools quarterfinal. Statesville Christian plays at Fayetteville Trinity Christian in next week’s semifinals.
Tyler Farley, Caleb Farley, Maiden: In a 65-47 upset win over Lincolnton, Tyler ran 31 times for 201 yards and three touchdowns; Caleb ran 17 times for 305 yards and four touchdowns.
Jeremiah Hall, Kingsley Ifedi, MJ Wiliams, Vance: In a 41-17 conference-championship win over Hough, Hall had three rushing touchdowns, Williams ran five times for 90 yards and a score. Ifedi ran 23 times for 11 yards and two touchdowns. He was 13-of-18 passing for 157 yards.
Sam Hartman, Nolan Groulx, Davidson Day: 31-of-56 passing for 414 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-27 state semifinal loss to Charlotte Christian. Nolan Groulx caught 12 passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Both players return next season.
Jerry Howard, Rock Hill Northwestern: Ran 22 times for 137 yards and a score in a 31-7 win over rival Rock Hill.
Bryden Reed, Charlotte Christian: 2.5 sacks, blocked game-winning field goal attempt by Davidson Day as time expired.
Garrett Shrader, Charlotte Christian: 16 carries for 137 yards and a score, plus 92 yards passing and another touchdown in the semifinal win over Davidson Day.
DeMarkes Stradford, Charlotte Latin: 23 carries, 185 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-7 win over Charlotte Country Day in the N.C. Independent Schools semifinals.
Sage Surratt, Cordel Littlejohn, Lincolnton: In the Maiden upset loss, Surratt caught 13 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Littlejohn was 18-of-33 for 450 yards and six touchdowns. Lincolnton rushed 23 times for 75 yards.