Porter Ridge has had to endure the off-season with the memory of a 21-14 loss to Davie in the state semifinals.
The 14 points was the Pirates' lowest offensive output of the year, and the loss tarnished an otherwise sterling season. Several key players from that game return and look to make another deep playoff run.
The Pirates offense scored more than 40 points seven times last year, and the defense gave up more than 20 points just twice. On the season, Porter Ridge outscored its opponents 558 to 156, finishing 13-2.
The key weapons in the passing game return, but the rest of the Pirates will look very different.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Senior quarterback Lee McNeil is the key to the aerial attack. He has drawn interest from local colleges including Duke, East Carolina, Wake Forest, Wofford, Charlotte and Coastal Carolina.
Last season he completed more than 63 percent of his passes, threw for nearly 2,500 yards and tossed 37 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. His rating of 122 was one of the area's best, and he accounted for 383 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
He will have help, as his favorite receiver, senior Jordan Oakley, returns. Oakley led the Pirates with 56 receptions for 1,025 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Defenses probably will focus more on Oakley this year, because six of the top seven Pirate receivers have graduated. Oakley is the only returning player to catch more than five passes last year.
The running game will be inexperienced as well. Najee Davis and Calvin Lee are the leading prospects.
Davis, one of only three returning players to catch a pass, finished a partial season with 332 yards and three touchdowns, but recorded 142 yards on 13 carries in one game.
Lee finished last year with 219 yards.
The experienced offensive line will be led by Thomas LaBianca, who did not allow a sack last year.
The defense, which was dominating last year, also faces some uncertainty. The top five tacklers from last season have graduated.
Senior defensive end Justin Oldja, who had 34 tackles and eight sacks last year, will look to help fill the void. Oakley, who also plays defensive back, is the leading returning tackler with 38.
There will be question marks to fill on both sides of the ball, but the Pirates should have enough offense to repeat as Southern Carolina Conference champions, and their defense again should be solid.