Charlotte Catholic senior running back Milan Howard made his teammates a promise after the Cougars lost 21-10 to Greensboro Dudley in the 2016 N.C. 4A state semifinals.
Howard fumbled with six minutes left as his team was driving for a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. Dudley’s Awstyn Williams returned it 84 yards for a put-away touchdown in a 21-10 win.
“Everybody knew I was down,” said Howard, who is 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds. “I didn’t enjoy that feeling of losing and I dedicated myself 100 percent and decided I was going to become faster, stronger, smart and be able to do whatever I needed to do to make my team win.”
This season, after spending his summer working like he had never worked before, Howard ran for 2,008 yards 26 touchdowns.
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Catholic finished the season unbeaten and won its fifth state championship Saturday, beating Havelock 28-14. Howard ran 29 times for 160 yards and was named the game’s most valuable player.
“This feels amazing,” Howard said from his team’s locker room. “It’s great. Everyone is happy this time.”
Howard said Catholic’s plan remained the same: run the ball, hit hard and play great defense. Sure enough, Catholic ran 58 times for 272 yards. And because the Cougars kept the ball for 31 of the game’s 48 minutes, Havelock’s powerful offense did a lot of watching.
Havelock (14-2) came into entered the game averaging 52 points and had its lowest point total of the season. The Rams had gone 12 straight games without scoring fewer than 40 points. But Catholic held Havelock to 76 yards rushing and limited quarterback Zach Sabdo to 207 yards and one touchdown.
Coming into the game, Sabdo had thrown for 4,057 yards and 45 touchdowns.
“It was hard to win,” Howard said. “That was a great team, and they hit, but our game plan was to come out and run the ball and that’s what we did and we came out with a win.”
Howard said he had thought often about a moment like this, about how winning a state title might feel , but he said it felt different, better than he ever could’ve imagined.
“This is something I’ll remember forever,” he said. “It’s something that I really wanted and really worked for, and it kind of shows you that if you work hard enough, you can pretty much do anything.”
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↑Harding: The Rams won their first state championship in football since 1953.
↔Forward passing: I can’t remember watching Class 4A finals when teams passed so infrequently. Both 4A finals felt like games from the ’80s. Not saying it was bad. Just different.
↓Weather: Man, it was cold. A snowstorm blew through Winston-Salem Friday and Saturday and brought with it some bone-chilling weather. Attendance, not surprisingly, was sparse at the 4AA and 4A finals.
↑Harding ironmen: Harding really doesn’t have much depth and the starters play heavy minutes. Quarterback Braheam Murphy plays a lot of defensive back, for example. Running back Quavaris Crouch plays a lot of linebacker.
Saturday’s #BIG5 Performers
Nasjzae Bryant, Mallard Creek: 20 carries for team-high 106 yards in the Mavericks’ 21-0 loss to Wake Forest in the N.C. 4AA final.
Quavaris Crouch, Harding: Six tackles on defense, plus 23 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns for the MVP of the N.C. 4A state final. Harding beat Scotland County to win its first state title since 1953.
Chase Foley, Charlotte Catholic: The Southern Carolinas Defensive Player of the Year, a Lehigh recruit, had a game-high seven tackles in the Cougars’ win over Hibriten. He was named Catholic’s defensive player of the game on a day when the Cougars shut down one of the state’s best offenses.
Lamagea McDowell, Charlotte Catholic: 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore is the future of Catholic’s running game. He had 18 carries for 64 yards and two touchdowns, plus a two-point conversion in his team’s state championship win.
Miles Simon, Lenoir Hibriten: He caught two long touchdown passes and recovered an onside kick with 69 seconds left in a 16-14 win over East Duplin. Hibriten won 16-14 in the N.C. 2AA state finals, capturing the school’s first state championship.
▪ Mallard Creek’s offense struggled throughout the playoffs and it caught up with the Mavericks in the finals. Mallard Creek, which had 112 total yards offense Saturday, scored 29 points total in its final three games. Wake Forest appeared vulnerable to the pass, but Mallard Creek’s timing just seemed off. Not having star receiver Lovelle Williams (broken ankle) didn’t help, but Mallard Creek became the second straight shutout victim for a very good Wake Forest in the 4AA finals.
Wake Forest beat Greensboro Page 29-0 in the 2016 championship.
▪ Mallard Creek’s game was much closer than the score indicated, however. Wake Forest scored three touchdowns in the final five minutes. The first one, though, came after a botched snap on a punt gave Wake Forest the ball at Mallard Creek’s 17. The Mavericks -- who began the year with 19 new starters - were punting from midfield.
“In order to win a championship,” Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri said, “you can’t make those mistakes. But I’m proud of this group of guys. I’m not hanging my head and these kids ain’t hanging their heads. We have come a long way with the group we have. We played a really good football team and we played them toe-to-toe as far as I’m concerned.”
▪ Harding High’s Quavaris Crouch showed why he’s considered one of the nation’s best high school football recruits in the class of 2019. He’s big at 6-2, 230 pounds and he’s fast. He can run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. But he’s got a suddenness about his game that you have to see to believe.
He has incredible vision and can choose the proper running lanes in an instant. Then, he can bounce to the spot he sees in one motion or sometimes, by stopping to let the defense slide by, and then hit fifth gear in an eye-blink. He’s the best Mecklenburg County running back I’ve ever seen. And he’s got a year left.
▪ Not too many coaches in Mecklenburg County, in any sport, have had the start that Mike Brodowicz has had as the coach at Charlotte Catholic. Saturday, he won his second state championship in three years. In four seasons, his record is 58-4 with three state appearances and three undefeated seasons.
Catholic’s 2017 roster included 16 seniors. Don’t be surprised if the Cougars are playing well into December again next season.