High School Sports

Prep showdown: Dutch Fork, Mallard Creek readying for ‘certain kind of Super Bowl’

Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts, left, and Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri will lead their teams into a highly-anticipated matchup in August. The game could be played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts, left, and Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri will lead their teams into a highly-anticipated matchup in August. The game could be played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The State

Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, two of the best high school football programs in the Carolinas will meet for the first time.

Mallard Creek, from Charlotte, will face Dutch Fork, from Irmo, S.C. Both teams are nationally ranked in preseason (Mallard Creek is No. 59 by MaxPreps and Dutch Fork No. 65) — and both have plenty of history.

Start with this: Since the start of the 2013 season, the two programs have 129 wins and six state championships between them.

Kickoff is at 8 p.m.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri said. “We want to put our kids in the best situation (against) the best competition we can find early in the season. We’ve always been one of those teams to play anybody. We know what they have there. They’re a great football team with great coaching, so it’s a great test for us.”

Said Dutch Fork’s Tom Knotts: “We’ve talked about it all summer. The best in North Carolina and we think we’re the best in South Carolina. It’s a certain kind of Super Bowl.”

Mallard Creek has won three of the past five N.C. 4AA state championships and has played in four of the past five state finals. The Mavericks are 119-32 under coach Mike Palmieri since the school opened in 2007, and Mallard Creek is 116-13 since the 2009 season began.

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Dutch Fork was 2-9 in 2009, the year before Tom Knotts arrived.

Knotts — who won seven state championships at Harding and West Charlotte — has led Dutch Fork to a 92-21 record since 2010.

The Silver Foxes are 28-1 over the past two seasons, when they won back-to-back S.C. 5A state championships.

In all, Knotts has led Dutch Fork to five state championship games in eight seasons and has won three times. He has 10 state title rings, and this could be the best team he’s had at Dutch Fork.

“We feel like we got everything together on paper. … We think we are tough both on offense and defense,” Knotts told the Columbia State earlier month. “But it’s early.”

Dutch Fork returns quarterback Ty Olenchuk, a Clemson baseball commit who threw for 1,685 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Returning with him is a Division I recruit, running back Ron Hoff. Hoff battled injuries last season but ran 188 yards and two touchdowns in the state finals.

Mallard Creek, like Dutch Fork, returns an experienced team. Palmieri said a dozen starters are back and he’s really excited about the future of his team.

“We played a lot of young kids last year,” Palmieri said. “We started a freshman in the state championship game. ... We love our young kids. We feel this is the best freshman class we’ve ever had here. Our sophomore, freshman class is amazing and we’re excited about the next two to three years here.”

And both coaches are also excited about the chance to play in front of a big crowd at Memorial Stadium. Knotts played there many times while coaching at Harding, West Charlotte and Independence from the early ‘80s until he left for Dutch Fork.

This will be the first time Knotts has coached at Memorial Stadium since Independence beat Butler 42-31 in front of more than 12,000 fans for the 2008 Southwestern 4A championship.

“All of the big games back in the ‘80s, the ‘90s, the 2000s, when I was in Charlotte ... were played at Memorial Stadium, and it was just really fun,” Knotts said. “What a great setting ... Hopefully it’ll be great weather and a nice cool night and it’d be worth it for people to come out and just see the setting, and plus the bonus is two pretty good high school teams going at it.”

WANT TO GO?

Saturday’s Kickoff Classic is a doubleheader at Memorial Stadium. Butler plays Scotland County at 5 p.m. and Mallard Creek faces Dutch Fork at 8. Tickets are $10 online and at the gate.

Watch both coaches discuss Saturday’s big game

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