Shelby coach Lance Ware – whose Golden Lions (13-2) play Clinton (13-1) for the NCHSAA 2A state title on Saturday in Winston-Salem – back in the state finals for the second straight year and the 11th time in program history.
A win Saturday would not only give Shelby its seventh state championship, it also would give the school back-to-back titles for the third time, matching the feat achieved in 1986-1987 and 2005-2006.
What was the turning point for this team? “This year’s team is a lot different than last year’s. I think we came together after a tough loss at South Point (44-39 on Sept. 5). We just did not play very well, especially on defense, and as a staff we did not prepare them very well. That kind of galvanized the team and our players. Since then, we’ve gotten it back on track. The senior leadership has really carried us, and this group has stayed hungry.”
Thoughts about Clinton? “They look tremendously fast, tremendously athletic, and they’re very well coached. They get to the ball extremely well. They do everything well – they kick it well, run it well and play great defense. They look very similar to some of the Shelby teams when we were in the Wing-T in how they play, and they play extremely hard.”
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How’s your team’s health? “We’re pretty healthy. We’ve done a very good job taking care of ourselves. Sixteen games is a long, long season, but we’re healthy.”
Biggest surprise of the season? “The offensive line has really come together. Early in the year, we were really struggling. We replaced four out of five on the offensive line. That’s been very satisfying to see. Our kicking game has also come around – our kicker from last year, Luke Hayek, is at Penn State; right now, Richard Wright is having just as good a season.”
What did your guys learn from last year? “We’ve stressed to our kids that there’s no week you’ll ever experience like this one. There’s no game like this. But the bottom line is that it’s 48 minutes of football. You’ve got to take care of the football. We won the turnover battle last year, and our defense set up our offense with some short fields. So taking care of the ball in the top priority.”