Porter Ridge is coming off its best football season ever.
Last year, the Pirates won the Southern Carolina Conference, finishing 13-2 and advancing to the state semifinals before losing by a touchdown to Davie County.
This season, despite losing all three starting linebackers and all but one of its top defensive backs, there are plenty of reasons to believe this season is Porter Ridge's best chance at a state title.
"We have some new guys on defense, and we are young, but the more game experience the better they will get. We trust them a lot," said Porter Ridge Coach Blair Hardin.
The defense has held up in the opening games, which featured a 55-26 win against Monroe, a 63-14 victory against Piedmont and a 59-20 win against Forest Hills.
Their performance has put the Pirates at 14th in The Charlotte Observer Sweet 16. Through the first three games they have averaged nearly 500 yards.
The Pirates' two senior leaders, quarterback Lee McNeil and wide receiver/defensive back Jordan Oakley, are the key to the attack.
Last year, McNeil passed for nearly 2,500 yards, had 37 touchdown passes and threw just seven interceptions. Oakley, the only starter to return for the secondary, recorded 51 tackles and three interceptions.
Oakley also caught a team-high 56 balls for 1,025 yards and 17 touchdowns, ran for 137 yards with three more scores and had seven kickoff returns for 153 yards.
The two have been playing together since fourth grade.
"We have always been friends and have a great connection. We have really good timing," McNeil said.
The two often stay after practice working on fade routes, over-the-shoulder catches and getting in sync.
So far this year, McNeil has completed 33 of 44 passes for 657 yards and eight touchdowns. He has added 82 yards and another two scores on the ground.
Oakley has a team-high four receiving touchdowns and 10 catches for 173 yards.
"Lee always throws a good ball; it is the right pace and where it should be. It makes it easy for me to have the ball delivered in the right spot and on time," Oakley said.
This year, the pair has connected on four scores so far.
Oakley is drawing interest from Furman, Davidson, Elon and others. McNeil was unhappy with his performance in the season-opener - he threw two interceptions - but has made no mistakes since.
"We ask Lee to do a lot, and he almost always makes the right decision," Hardin said. "He is a good, smart football player."
McNeil is being recruited by Coastal Carolina, Duke, Elon, East Carolina, Furman, Davidson and Wake Forest, among others.