Friday night, weather permitting, Charlotte Catholic and Charlotte Country Day will play for the 56th time. It’ll be the 30th consecutive season the teams have played for the John Cook Cup, named for the legendary former Country Day coach.
Catholic (1-1), No. 8 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 high school football poll, leads the all-time series 28-27. The Cougars have also won five of the past six games, including three in a row. And in the past two games, Catholic has won by a combined score of 77-10.
That’s not sitting too well with the Buccaneers (1-1), a former private-school power that has had back-to-back losing seasons, going 3-7 in 2015 and 5-6 in 2014.
“I’m pretty (ticked) off about it,” said Bucs senior lineman Luca Katz, 17. “I really want to win. I haven’t even beaten Catholic on jayvee, or in any sport. My brother, Marcus, won (the Cook Cup) his junior year and said it was the greatest feeling ever.”
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Second-year Country Day coach Drew Witman, 29, played in this game in high school. His father, Bob Witman, built a state power at Country Day, winning 219 games and eight state championships in 25 seasons.
“I always wanted to be a head coach and do what my dad did,” Drew Witman said. “Once I got done playing, I couldn’t wait to get back in that Cook Cup atmosphere. It’s just a phenomenal experience for the kids. At the end of the day, when you win the Cook Cup is when you truly appreciate it. I want that for my kids.”
Witman starts seven sophomores and two freshmen, and underclassmen are carrying the team. In two games, junior quarterback Wes Bingham (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) has thrown for 323 yards and four scores. Sophomore receiver DeAngelo Epps (6-5, 183) has caught nine passes for 182 yards and four scores. Freshman tailback Tim Newman Jr. (5-9, 165) has rushed 17 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
On defense, junior linebackers Connor Fewin (5-11, 185 pounds) and John Hosmer (5-11, 175) lead the team in tackles. They have 39 combined.
Junior receiver Broadus Roberson said with the infusion of young talent - and young talent playing well -- there is an excitment about the team throughout the school.
“There’s a lot more support than last year,” Roberson said. “People can see the young talent coming in and we are rebuilding. And winning the Cook Cup would give us a lot of confidence through the season.
“(Catholic) is a defending state champion and defeating them would be a huge confidence-booster. We’re very tired of losing to them.”
Those past two lopsided losses, in particular, have kept Witman up late this week.
“I lost this game two years in a row my junior and senior years,” he said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. But it’s not about me. I want these kids to raise that Cup up and take pride in it. ...It’s what makes a person work, to win games like this, and makes me stay here all night and work for these kids and this community.
“The football program is the front porch of athletics and I think it’s part of the front porch of a school. It’s what makes kids grow, to work for something that is hard to get. Competitive sports is hard, winning the Cup is hard, and I want them to know what it’s like to work hard for something and achieve it.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr