While the 2014 season ended for all of the region’s high school football teams in early December or earlier, three Lake Norman-area players and a coach got to play in one more game.
That game was a big one: the 78th-annual Shrine Bowl Game of the Carolinas, held Dec. 20 in Spartanburg, which features the top senior players from North and South Carolina.
The players – Mooresville running back Akease Rankin and defensive end Chazmyn Turner, and Lake Norman quarterback Josh Ladowski – joined Mooresville coach Hal Capps on the North Carolina squad, which lost to South Carolina 21-12 at Wofford College’s Gibbs Stadium.
“Their defense was a big contributor to us not getting in the end zone,” said Capps, head coach of the North Carolina team. “Our offense did good moving the ball, but once we got into red-zone territory, we couldn’t block them. It became too physical for us, and that gave us a problem.”
Even though the North Carolina defense held South Carolina to five first downs and forced five turnovers – and with Capps delving deep into his book of trick plays – the Tarheels’ offense couldn’t capitalize on their chances as the Sandlappers won for the third straight year.
“There was a lot of things we needed to work on, and a short amount of time for us to come together,” said Rankin, a Davidson commit who led North Carolina in rushing with 36 yards on seven carries. “In some parts we did, some parts we didn’t.”
Rankin was the recipient of one of Capps’ trick plays, a fake punt in the first quarter, which Rankin turned into a 30-yard gain and a first down.
Capps also went with a couple of onside kicks, another fake punt and a fake field goal, which turned into a 7-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
“It’s one game, and I’m not going down without swinging,” Capps said. “I’ll call trick plays all day long if it’ll give us an opportunity to win the game. If it works, great, let’s keep playing. If they don’t, the defense has to get back on the field.”
Turner had one tackle for North Carolina’s defense, which held South Carolina to 145 yards total offense, picked off four passes – three of those in the first half – and forced a fumble.
“This is mainly a defensive game,” said Turner, a Purdue commit. “You saw that nobody scored until the second quarter.
“I made some good relationships with a lot of the other players on the team. I just hope I can keep in contact with them.”
But the biggest game came from Ladowski, named North Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
Ladowski wasn’t even on the initial Shrine Bowl roster, chosen in October. But when Southern Durham quarterback Kendall Hinton went down with a sprained ankle on the first day of practice, Capps knew who to call.
Ladowski was North Carolina’s most effective offensive threat. He threw for 94 yards, completing 12 of 19 attempts, and ran for 35 yards and a touchdown.
Ladowski’s 8-yard keeper early in the third quarter broke South Carolina’s shutout and North Carolina pulled to within 14-12 by the end of the period. But he also had a fumble early in the fourth quarter that led to South Carolina’s final score.
“We just weren’t executing,” said Ladowski, named the North Carolina squad’s offensive most valuable player. “We had plays called that we could have scored on, we just didn’t execute. Still, this was a great experience.”
As for Capps, this was his second go-round with the Shrine Bowl. In 2001, he was an assistant coach under then-Scotland County coach Mark Barnes.
“It’s been a blessing, and a hard labor of love,” Capps said. “My career can now go on or stop. I’ve been blessed enough to coach in state championship games and lose them, coach in state championship games and win them, coach in the East-West Game, coach in the Shrine Bowl as an assistant and now coach in the Shrine Bowl as the head coach.
“There’s nothing else now, except find a new group of kids. I found a group of 44 this week that I’ll never forget, and they’re in my heart forever.”