Four Charlotte Observer-area teams will play in N.C. High School Athletic Association football championships Saturday. For two of them, this will be very familiar.
For the other two, this will be unfamilar territory.
Mallard Creek (4AA) and Charlotte Catholic (4A) have played in 11 previous state championship games. Lenoir Hibriten (2AA) has never been in the championship round, and Harding (4A) hasn’t been this far since 1987.
“But we expected to be here,” said Harding coach Sam Greiner. “And we want to finish the job. It’s not like, ‘Oh my God, we’re excited to be here.’...But if you believe in what we’ve built together, how we’ve overcome so much, man, this game is very small.
“We didn’t have practice facilities, we didn’t have a weight room until recently, no field house, having to pick kids up and figure out bus tickets, figuring out how to get pre-game meals. Everything you can imagine, we’ve tried to overcome. So this right here is not a struggle. It’s a reward, and like I said, we’re going to try to finish the job.”
Harding (13-1) will face Scotland County (13-1) at 7 p.m. at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem. The Rams will try to win their first state title since 1953. Scotland County will play without All-America running back Zamir White, a Georgia recruit who recently won a national player of the year award. White tore a knee ligament during the playoffs.
Scotland’s No. 2 running back, junior Shyheam McQueen, is one of the state’s best in his class and has rushed for 773 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games. Senior quarterback Warren Bell has rushed for 1,983 yards and 25 touchdowns -- just behind White’s 2,086 yards and 34 touchdowns.
▪ In the 2AA finals, Hibriten (15-0) faces an East Duplin (15-0) team that averages more than 45 points per game. Hibriten is led by McKinley Witherspoon, who has rushed for 2,018 yards and 37 touchdowns.
▪ Charlotte Catholic (15-0) will seek its fifth state championship in the 3A finals. The Cougars will face state power Havelock (14-1), which is 3-3 in six previous state finals appearances.
Catholic is making its eighth state finals appearance since 2004, and its ninth overall, led by Southern Carolinas conference defensive player of the year Chase Foley (87 tackles, three sacks) and conference offensive player of the year Milan Howard (2,294 total yards, 31 touchdowns). Havelock quarterback Zach Sabdo has thrown for 4,057 yards and 46 touchdowns.
▪ Finally in 4AA, Mallard Creek is in the finals for the fourth time in five years. The Mavericks (14-0) will face Wake Forest (14-0) for the third time. Mallard Creek won the first two finals meetings, and Wake Forest won the 2016 state championship, beating Greensboro Page.
Wake Forest has won 30 straight games, led by running back Devon Lawrence (1,350 yards, 29 touchdowns) and quarterback Chris James (1,848 yards passing, 22 touchdowns). The Cougars have beaten every team they’ve played this season by 24 or more points.
“They’re very talented,” Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri said of Wake Forest. “They’re one of the best teams in the country.”