High School Sports

Saturday’s observations: What big wins mean for Mallard Creek, Hickory Ridge

Mallard Creek QB Casey Kelly threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third in the Mavericks’ 20-7 win over Vance Saturday
Mallard Creek QB Casey Kelly threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third in the Mavericks’ 20-7 win over Vance Saturday Special to the Observer

Mallard Creek High School football coach Mike Palmieri said Saturday’s 20-7 win over Vance was his kind of football game.

The Mavericks got another one of the early-season tests he craves. He was able to play a lot of players, including some young players at key positions, and Vance presented Mallard Creek with the type of physical, four-quarter test that Palmieri craves.

“I thought we played some hard-nosed football,” Palmieri said. “We ran the ball well and played some great defense. They’re a good football team and we just did a little more than they were able to do.”

Mallard Creek (4-0, 1-0 I-MECK 4A) is ranked No. 2 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll and beat No. 6 Vance (4-1, 0-1) for the ninth time in 10 tries. Mallard Creek also held Vance to its fewest points in five years, since losing 33-7 to Hopewell in November 2013.

Mallard Creek celebrates a fourth quarter touchdown scored by senior quarterback Casey Kelly in a win over Vance.

The Mavericks’ defense was stellar all night, forcing Vance QB Nigel Summerville into a tough night (11-of-28 passing for 101 yards). On offense, Mallard Creek didn’t get near its 55-point average, but QB Casey Kelly threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for another.

“He was solid,” Palmieri said of Kelly. “He ran it really well and he really controls the game well. He’s a big-time difference-maker for us.”

Mallard Creek’s defense held Vance to one touchdown in a physical 20-7 win at UNC Charlotte’s Richardson Stadium on Saturday. Michael McArver Special to the Observer

This week, Mallard Creek moved into the top 25 of the High School Football America national poll. At No. 22, Mallard Creek is the highest-ranked team from North Carolina.

I’m not ready to declare these Mavericks the state championship favorite just yet, but it appears that it’s going to be hard to prevent Palmieri from coaching in his fifth state championshp game in six years.

“We’re just going to get better and better,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of room to grow. We’ve got a bunch of young kids and new kids in key areas, and the ceiling for this team is pretty high.”

Mallard Creek’s Mavericks celebrate after their 20-7 win over rival Vance at UNC Charlotte Saturday. Mallard Creek Athletics Special to the Observer

5 Carolinas Teams nationally ranked

Mallard Creek was the second-highest ranked team in the High School Football America national poll. Irmo’s Dutch Fork High is No. 18. Mallard Creek and Dutch Fork were scheduled to play a season-opener at Memorial Stadium last month, but the game was canceled by weather.

Hough is ranked No. 61 in the poll, followed by two-time N.C. 4AA state champion Wake Forest (63rd) and Charlotte Christian (81).

Hickory Ridge hopes to start getting ready for winter

Four times in the past six years, Harrisburg Hickory Ridge has had 10 or more wins. So when the Ragin’ Bulls added Sam Greiner as their new coach this year, the expectations, which were already high, went up another notch.

Greiner had transformed a Harding team that hadn’t had any success in what seemed like forever into a N.C. 4A championship team last December. Harding hadn’t won a state title since the ‘50s. So what could Greiner do with a budding Cabarrus County powerhouse that was 23-6 the past two seasons with a pair of deep playoff runs.

The answer? Hickory Ridge started 2-2 this season.

“It’s not 0-4, but it’s not 4-0, either,” Greiner said. “It’s everybody’s Super Bowl going against us in (Cabarrus) County. And our guys are still learning.”

Greiner has had a saying about his team all year, “Winter Is Coming.” It means he’s building this team to be good in the playoffs when it gets cold and yards get hard to come by.

Greiner runs a somewhat complex offensive and defensive scheme that helped turn Harding from 1-10 in his first season there in 2015 to 5-7 and 14-1 last year.

Greiner expects a similar run-up at HIckory Ridge, but given he doesn’t have as much to rebuild, if anything, he expects the ascension to be faster.

“Our guys are still learning,” he said. “And that’s why I say winter is coming. Winter is not here yet, but trust me, we’ll be there by the end of the year.”

The two teams that beat Hickory Ridge are both 5-0. Central Cabarrus is whipping teams by an average of 37-5. Ditto Northwest Cabarrus, winning by an averaging of 39-12.

On Saturday, Hickory Ridge scored 33 straight points to beat Independence 33-7 at UNC Charlotte. Hickory Ridge should be favored in its next two games with Garinger and Indian Trail Porter Ridge, but Greiner will get a good look at his team with back-to-back games with regional 4A powers Myers Park and Butler in back-to-back weeks Oct. 12 and Oct. 19.

“We’re right where we want to be,” Greiner said. “Our record isn’t. But I’d rather be 2-2 and the guys understand what we need to do to be succcessful. Both teams we lost to are good. Central Cabarrus will have a chance for a state title run and Northwest Cabarrus is gigantic and well-coached.”

Greiner said his junior varsity is 5-0 and notes that most of those players are new, so the only system they know is his. He understands it’s going to take a little while for the varsity to completely make the switch.

But he emphasizes this: They will.

“Everybody’s not fully bought in,” Greiner said. “We have 130 (junior varsity and varsity) players. The JV is getting good. But the whole team doesn’t get graded on the JV. That’s the future. But our other guys are getting there, not there yet. But I like being in an area where there might be a little light (and expectations) on us in the beginning and maybe not a good start for us, but now we have to come out of the darkness and be there when winter comes.

“And winter is coming.”

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Saturday’s Top Performers

Chris Massey, Jordan Horn, Harrisburg Hickory Ridge: In a 33-7 win over Independence, Massey had five tackles, two pass breakups and an interception. Horn had five tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and four QB hits.

Logan Cruce, Hickory Ridge: Seven carries for 124 yards, a score in the Independence game. He also had two catches for 44 yards, a touchdown and a 2-point conversion.

Casey Kelly, Mallard Creek: Senior quarterback was 11-of-24 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a score in the Mavericks’ 20-7 win over Vance. Teammates Joshua McIntyre (five carries, 58 yards) and Caleb Bryant (two sacks) had good games.

Joseph Morris, Vance: 19 carries, 92 yards against Mallard Creek.

Saturday’s Roundup

First-year Hickory Ridge High coach Sam Greiner led Harding High to its first state championship since the ’50 in the 2017 season. Matt Morrow Special to the Observer

Charlotte Catholic 21, Monroe 14: Catholic, No. 5 in the Sweet 16, got a scare on the road Saturday. The Cougars (4-1) were tied with Monroe at 14 heading into the fourth quarter. Catholic drove 80 yards to score with 9 minutes, 50 seconds left on a 2-yard run from senior quarterback Chis Walton. Monroe (3-2, 0-1 Southern Carolina) was driving to potentially tie the game in the fourth quarter. Catholic, which won its fourth straight game, stopped Monroe on downs with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left. A Redhawks screen pass from Trey Shepherd to JahTwan Stafford on fourth-and-4 at the Catholic 8 was 1 yard short.

Hickory Ridge 33, Independence 7: Hickory Ridge (3-2, 1-0 Southwestern 4A) scored 33 unanswered points, including 21 in the fourth quarter, after a slow start Saturday. Independence had a 7-0 lead and was driving late in the second quarter before Hickory Ridge cornerback Chris Massey got an interception and returned it 65 yards for a score. Independence still led 7-6 before Isaiah Littlejohn’s 10-yard run with 2:33 left in the third quarter gave Hickory Ridge a 12-7 lead. And in the fourth quarter, Logan Cruce got an 11-yard pass for a score and had a 9-yard run for another. Ick Cirino’s 28-yard run ended a three-touchdown final quarter. Independence fell to 3-2, 0-1 Southwestern 4A.

Saturday’s box scores


Independence 7 0 0 0 -- 7

Hickory Ridge 0 6 6 21 -- 33

I -- Antwan Watson 40 run (Ryan Howe kick)
HR -- Chris Massey 65 interception return (run failed)
HR -- Isaiah Littlejohn 10 run (run failed)
HR -- Logan Cruce 11 pass from Dylan Ellis (kick failed)
HR -- Cruce 9 run (Cruce run)
HR -- Ick Cirino 28 run (Stubbs kick)

Vance 0 7 0 0 -- 7
Mallard Creek 7 7 0 6 -- 20
MC -- Nick Treco 25 pass from Casey Kelly (Tim McCutchen kick)
V -- Power Echols 3 pass from Nigel Summerville (Ryan Richardson kick)
MC -- Coleman Jeffcoat 15 pass from Kelly (McCutchen kick)
MC -- Kelly 2 run (kick failed)