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Mallard Creek fierce, favored for state title

Mallard Creek High football coach Mike Palmieri said he knows his team will be viewed as a favorite in next week’s N.C. 4AA state championship game with Wake Forest, but Palmieri said the Mavericks can’t worry about people’s predictions.

“I’m sure a lot of people thought (Friday’s 48-41 semifinal win over) Lake Norman would be a crush,” Palmieri said. “We know Wake Forest has some good players. But most of the time we’re favored and we play with that attitude. We’re used to being the favorite, and everybody expects us to win by 50 points every time. They don’t understand how hard it is to win a football game, especially when you get to the state championship round, but we’re used to it.”

Mallard Creek (14-1) played in its fourth straight N.C. 4AA Western Regional championship Friday and is now in a second straight state championship game. The Mavericks, 79-7 since the start of the 2009 season, are the fifth Mecklenburg County public school to reach back-to-back finals, following old Charlotte High (1916-17, 1930-33 and 1936-37), Harding (1952-53); Independence (2000-07); and Butler (2009-10).

Mallard Creek will try to follow each of those schools as back-to-back champions. Old Charlotte High won back-to-back state championships in 1916-17 and 1936-37. Independence won seven straight from 2000-06.

To do it, the Mavericks must beat Wake Forest again. Mallard Creek beat Wake Forest 59-21 at N.C. State 12 months ago in a game that was never close. Mallard Creek junior quarterback James Smith threw three touchdown passes and Wake Forest lost in the state final for the second time in four years.

Butler beat Wake Forest 44-0 in the 2010 state finals.

Palmieri said none of that history matters now.

“Anytime you get a chance to play in a state championship, it’s a good thing,” he said. “These are two different teams from last year. I’m sure they’re going to be gunning for us. We’re probably a little bit of their motivation this year, but as far as we’re concerned it doesn’t matter who we are playing. We are just trying to win right now.”

Wake Forest beat Garner 27-13 in the N.C. 4AA Eastern final behind 228 yards from running back Bryce Love, who carried 16 times. Wake Forest (15-0) averages 306 rushing yards and 102 passing yards per game. The Cougars have won 20 of their past 21 games.

The Mallard Creek team they will face Saturday in Winston-Salem lost 36 seniors from the 2013 team, including what amounts to 18 starters, Palmieri said. Working in so many new players took time, Palmieiri said, which is why Mallard Creek struggled some early in the season.

“We’ve got some guys healthy now, and we’ve moved a lot of guys around,” Palmieri said. “It takes time to get a young team adjusted, and we had to put guys in the right places. Our coaching staff did a good job and the players did a good job of adjusting to new positions. We took one game at a time to get to this point, and we’ll keep the same mentality this week and try to get to another state championship.”

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