In the moments after Mallard Creek’s emphatic 59-21 win over Wake Forest in the N.C. 4AA championship game Saturday night, everybody wanted to take Jaylen Samuels’ photograph.
Samuels was in one after another, standing on a rain-soaked N.C. State field at Carter-Finley Stadium that had been turned to soup by six teams playing three championship games in nine hours. He posed for professional shooters with expensive cameras. He posed for moms and dads and classmates with smartphones. His grin, for all of them, was as bright as his shiny white helmet.
This was his team’s night, and it was his night, too.
Samuels cemented his legacy as his school’s best player and one of the best players in Mecklenburg County history, with a season for the ages. It was only fitting, that in his final high school game, Samuels turned in one of the best individual championship performances, too.
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Samuels scored five touchdowns in the final. The N.C. High School Athletic Association doesn’t keep championship records for total touchdowns, but Samuels had three rushing and two receiving, some where he showed off his speed (4.5 seconds for 40 yards) and some where he showed off his size and strength (6-foot-1, 220 pounds). Only three players – Albemarle’s T.A. McLendon, Northern Guilford’s T.J. Logan and Burlington Cummings’ Jamil Miller – have rushed for five championship game scores in the modern era. No one has more than three TD receptions in a game.
Samuels rushed nine times for 99 yards and caught five passes for 114 yards.
He finished the season with 109 carries for 1,404 yards and 39 touchdowns. How many players do you know who score every 2.8 times they get the ball playing on a high-level team against high-level competition?
A natural tight end, Samuels finished the year with the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in Mecklenburg County history. He had 49 catches for 932 yards and 16 touchdowns. The receiving touchdowns are 10th best in county history. Last season, Samuels had 12 receiving touchdowns, good for 20th best in county history. He has had some career.
Mallard Creek has had a lot of great players – prep All-Americans such as receiver Marquez North (now at Tennessee), quarterback Marquise Williams (North Carolina) and lineman D.J. Humphries (Florida) – but Samuels has brought something to Mallard Creek his predecessors did not. His Mavericks got the state championship, and Samuels got in a whole lot of pictures.
“This is a dream come true,” said Samuels, who has committed to N.C. State, “to play my first home game here before I get here and to get a ring. It’s a blessing. We were well prepared, and we got it done. No one can say we can’t win the big one anymore. We got it done, man, and we’ll get a ring.”
• I am thoroughly impressed with the job Concord coach Glen Padgett did getting his team back to the state championship in 3A after losing 16 starters from the 2012 state finalist. Concord lost a tough 21-13 game Saturday to three-time state champ Havelock, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a coach handle the loser’s postgame news conference with as much grace and poise and sheer love and admiration for his team’s effort and the opponent’s victory.
Padgett kept saying how proud he was of his players. And he should’ve been. I just couldn’t help but think that Padgett’s team and Padgett’s community should be just as proud of him, too.
• There have been some persistent rumors that Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri would bolt for a job in his native Florida after the season, particularly if the Mavericks won that elusive state title. After the game Saturday, Palmieri said he would “absolutely” be back.
“What I’m planning on doing right now is to take a nice little vacation, a couple weeks, with my family to clear my mind,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of good players coming back, and we’ll start getting ready for next year. Right now, I’m just trying to take all this in.”