If Mallard Creek wants to become the fourth high school football team in N.C. history to win four consecutive public school state championships, coach Mike Palmieri said his Mavericks must play better in the second half of this season.
After starting the year ranked as high as No. 10 nationally, Mallard Creek has played one of the Carolinas’ toughest schedules and has often gotten in its own way. The Mavericks are averaging more than 100 yards in penalties and have had more than a dozen touchdowns and big plays called back because of the infractions.
“We’re averaging 15 penalties per game,” said Palmieri, whose team is 6-2 and plays at Kannapolis A.L. Brown Friday. “We’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot right now.”
Mallard Creek penalties slowed them down in a 7-3 win over four-time S.C. 2A state champion Dillon to start the season. The Mavericks still managed to end Dillon’s 37-game win streak, then the nation’s sixth longest.
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The next week, against perennial power Butler, Mallard Creek won 35-20 but had 138 yards in penalties. And that’s become a troubling trend.
The Mavericks had 16 penalties for 163 yards and five turnovers in a 17-6 loss to S.C. 3A state champion Rock Hill South Pointe, now the top-ranked team in the Sweet 16 and in the S.C. 4A polls. There were 17 penalties for 156 yards in a 42-21 win over Hough, and last week, the Mavericks were hit with a season-high 19 for 188 yards in a 38-21 loss to rival Vance.
“Last week was the worst game we’ve played in the history of the program, as far mental mistakes and stuff,” Palmieri said. “We’re doing stuff we usually don’t do.”
Vance coach Aaron Brand, who was offensive coordinator at Mallard Creek from 2010-13, said he’s surprised by Mallard Creek’s play, but said he expects Palmieri to correct any problems..
“I think they have the talent to win (a state title),” said Brand, whose Cougars won 38-21 at Mallard Creek last week. “They’ve still got the most talent of anybody around. I just don’t know if everybody knows everybody well enough when it comes down to it. There are new faces and it takes time to get to know people.
“I know Mike runs a good program and I know he’s a stickler for discipline, but maybe some people feel entitled because of what past teams did.
“This team will have to grind like our 2013 team did (at Mallard Creek), and their 2014 and 2015 teams did. But I’ve got a feeling that Mike’s going to help them find a way, too.”
Palmieri said that’s the plan.
“It all falls on me as the head coach,” he said. “I’ve got to figure out a way to get these kids to focus a little more. But I’m still confident. If I don’t feel confidence, who does? We lost two games last year. And we learn from our mistakes. When the playoffs start, everybody is 0-0.”
Wertz: 704-957-7364; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
Four-time NCHSAA state champions
Three teams have won four straight N.C. High School Athletic Association state championships:
Greenville Rose: Won four straight 4A titles from 2003-06
Independence: Won seven straight N.C. 4A and N.C. 4AA titles from 2000-06
Robbinsville: won five straight 1A titles from 1979-83
*Note: Shelby is going for a fourth straight title this season. The Golden Lions won 2AA in 2013 and 2A in 2014 and ‘15.