Three Mecklenburg County teams will play for N.C. High School Athletic Association state football championships Saturday: Harding (4A), Mallard Creek (4AA) and Charlotte Catholic (3A).
Here is our ranking of the best high school football state champions to ever come from Mecklenburg County.
5. MALLARD CREEK 2013: The Mavericks’ first state champion was their best, spawning a high school dynasty. The ’13 Mavs outscored opponents 51-10 on average, and they won five playoff games by an average score of 55-16. Very few state champions have won a semifinal 56-14 against a reigning state champion, then won the final 59-21.
In the state final, future N.C. State star Jaylen Samuel scored five times. He ran for 99 yards on nine carries and caught five passes for 114 yards.
4. INDEPENDENCE 2002: Senior quarterback Chris Leak would become national player of the year. This team won by an average of nearly 40 points and outscored playoff teams 207-40. Coach Tom Knotts got a viral illness in the playoffs and wasn’t himself. He missed a 20-7 playoff victory over Scotland Senior but this team kept rolling. Of all the teams I rank here, this one might be low.
Leak finished the year with 5,193 yards and 64 touchdown passing. Star sophomore receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, who would go onto to star at Georgia and play in the NFL, caught 97 passes for 1,492 yards and 27 touchdowns. The Patriots won their third straight state title and finished as high as No. 2 in the national polls.
3. BUTLER 2012: Star quarterback Riley Ferguson missed some of the season with a hand injury, but these Bulldogs were dominant and put a huge exclamation point on the season with one of the more lopsided championship games I’ve ever seen. There was never any doubt.
Ferguson, who would go on to star at Memphis, was second-team All-Observer behind Davidson Day quarterback and national player of the year Will Grier, now at West Virginia. Butler’s defense, like its offense, was outstanding, led by Peter Kalambayi, the Observer’s defensive player of the year, who had 101 tacks and six sacks before going to Stanford. Butler had five shutouts and allowed eight points per game.
Butler beat Fayetteville Britt 56-28 in the state final after leading 42-7 in the first half. The Bulldogs finished their third unbeaten season in four years, won their third state title and finished as high as No. 5 nationally.
2. INDEPENDENCE 2004: This was the biggest Independence team, with Division I-sized linemen, superior skill athletes and All-American Joe Cox quarterbacking the whole thing. The state’s overall talent was down and Charlotte was a down, too, but man, these guys were good. They won by an average of 46 points. The closest game was a 47-19 victory over Richmond Senior in the semifinals.
Cox threw for a state record 66 touchdowns and 4,509 yards, the fourth-most in state history at the time (Leak had the top three) and the Patriots finished 15-0, extending their win streak to 77 games. Cox threw five touchdown passes in a 41-7 victory over Hope Mills South View in the state final. Massaquoi caught a state-record 32 touchdown passes on an offense that topped 50 points eight times. Massaquoi’s 1,834 yards receiving also set a state record.
1. INDEPENDENCE 2001: For my money, Leak – a three-time national high school player of the year (two in his age group, one overall) – is the best prep player ever from Mecklenburg County. And Tom Knotts is the best high school coach from Mecklenburg County. This was their best team, the one from Leak’s junior year. These Patriots won by nearly 40 points per game and began the year with a 77-13 thrashing of an Austin East (Tenn.) team that came in with a national ranking and a state championship win streak. The 2001 season ended with a 49-25 victory over Wilmington Laney in a state final where the Patriots faced a bit of a challenge – and rolled to Leak’s second straight state title.
Independence became the first repeat 4A state champion in Mecklenburg County history and helped change perceptions about the county’s lack of football talent. In the final, Leak completed 13 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns. For the season, Leak threw for 4,522 yards and 57 scores.
Former Observer columnist Tom Sorensen wrote about the 2001 Patriots after a 42-14 victory over East Meck in the semifinals: “You probably have never seen a high school football team as good as Independence. While you wait in line for a hot dog, the Patriots score. While you add mustard, the Patriots score again. ...
“It looked too easy; but it always looks too easy for the Patriots. The Eagles are good, maybe the second-best team in the state, and they were playing for the championship of Charlotte and a berth in the N.C. 4A championship. Attendance was 12,857, which means there were as many fans on each side of the field as there are at most Charlotte Hornets games. The excitable East Mecklenburg fans screamed and the cheerleaders implored, but there was little the Eagles could do.
“Independence is to Charlotte what Florida State used to be to the ACC. Everybody else is Duke.”
6. Butler 2010; 7. South Mecklenburg 1981; 8. Charlotte Catholic 2005; 9. Harding 1952-53 (won 35 straight without a loss and two straight state titles); 10. Mallard Creek 2014.
Other State Champions from Mecklenburg County
Charlotte High 1923, 1929, 1930, 1936, 1937, 1943
Charlotte Catholic, 1977, 2004, 2015
Charlotte Christian, 2017, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2008, 1992
Charlotte Country Day 2010, 2004, 2002, 2001, 1998, 1997, 1995, 1993, 1981-84, 1974-75
Charlotte Latin, 2017, 2016, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2003, 1999, 1996, 1990, 1988, 1987
Davidson Day 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011
East Mecklenburg, 1977
Independence, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006
Mallard Creek, 2015
Providence Day, 2011, 1991, 1986
SouthLake Christian 2014, 2013
Victory Christian, 2014, 2012
West Charlotte, 1995