When coach Tom Knotts left Independence High for Dutch Fork (S.C.) in 2008 and Mike Newsome left Butler for A.L. Brown in 2010, it felt like a golden era of Mecklenburg County football was over.
From 2000 through 2010, either Knotts or Newsome won a state championship nine times.
As the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs hit the quarterfinal round Friday, it looks like the good times have come back to Mecklenburg County. Charlotte-area teams are dominating the 4A and 4AA brackets.
In 4AA, Providence will be at Mallard Creek and Hough will be at Lake Norman. In 4A, Rocky River will be at Vance and Charlotte Catholic will go to Pfafftown Reagan.
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Other than Catholic, the quarterfinals feel a lot like a September nonconference Friday, and that’s a testament to a group of new coaching faces in Charlotte who are quickly proving themselves:
• At Charlotte Catholic, Mike Brodowicz, a longtime assistant, replaced legendary Jim Oddo, who had coached there since the ’70s. Brodowicz said again and again how nervous he was, but all he did was replace Oddo well and he also found a way to keep the Big Red Machine rolling after it graduated the greatest player in school history, Elijah Hood.
Catholic has only lost to Mallard Creek, which now is a heavy favorite to win a second straight 4AA state championship. These Cougars look, at least in terms of results, a lot like Oddo’s used to.
• At Rocky River, Jason Fowler said he had a five-year plan. Guess what? He’s in the quarterfinals in Year 5. The Ravens were 3-18 the first two years but are 27-12 since. This year, the Ravens started 0-2 and had a two-game losing streak toward the end of the regular season (losing against state powers Butler and Independence). Now, Rocky River has won three straight and can smell a state championship berth.
• At Providence, second-year coach Justin Hardin has led the Panthers to their best season since 2003. Providence has its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2008-09 and has advanced as deep as it ever has in the state playoffs. Last week, Hardin led his team back from a 21-3 deficit, on the road, against East Forsyth, the No. 1 overall seed. He did it without starting quarterback Caleb York, who broke his collarbone the week prior.
• At Hough, new coach Miles Aldridge came in with a big reputation. His team at Spring Valley (S.C.) last season was 12-1 and Aldridge has more than 30 years experience in high school, college and the NFL. With a wealth of talent and high expectations, Hough started a disappointing 2-2.
Later, the Huskies led Mallard Creek 30-0 and lost 37-30. Since that low point, there has been nothing but highs. Hough has won six straight, including a convincing 42-29 win against then Sweet 16 No. 1 and unbeaten Independence last week. Hough won its first playoff game this year and has tied the school record for wins.
• At Vance, Aaron Brand is a Knotts disciple and like Knotts, he can be somewhat, um, colorful. He’s good and he knows it. He is not afraid to tell you. He promised Vance would win big in August. He has taken a school that had just two winning seasons since 2006 and led it to the quarterfinals.
• At Mallard Creek, Mike Palmieri, who won his first state title last season, has kind of flown under the radar as the season became more about Independence’s dominant defense and its return to glory, and later the Patriots’ rivalry with Butler. Mallard Creek, though, has just won and won and won, and now is in position to visit its fourth straight regional championship game.
From here, it looks like another golden age might be brewing.