High School Sports

NCHSAA football: Mallard Creek coach hopes playoffs bring out best in reigning 4AA champs

Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri said he hopes starting the N.C. 4AA playoffs next week will help his Mavericks focus in on winning a third straight state title.
Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri said he hopes starting the N.C. 4AA playoffs next week will help his Mavericks focus in on winning a third straight state title. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Mallard Creek High football coach Mike Palmieri said his team is well aware of the potential history that awaits for the Mavericks as the N.C. playoffs begin next week.

Independence won seven straight N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A championships from 2000-06 and Butler won back-to-back titles in 2009 and ’10. Mallard Creek, which won N.C. 4AA titles in 2013 and ’14, can become the second Mecklenburg County team to win three straight as a Class 4A champion. But the Mavericks, who began the year ranked as high as No. 6 nationally, haven’t often looked like the all-time dominant Charlotte team that many observers predicted during preseason.

Mallard Creek lost to national power Duncan Byrnes on a last-second field goal in September, and Hough ended Mallard Creek’s 43-game conference win streak with an interception in overtime last month.

That’s OK, Palmieri said. All along, the Mavericks (9-2) have just been focused on one thing: getting another ring.

“We’re in a good position,” said Palmieri, whose team has lost by a combined five points this season. “We’re two plays away from being undefeated. And there’s a lot of good teams out there. What people think and what people know are two different things. We’ve been a little inconsistent, but I wouldn’t say I’m concerned about it.

“Look around the city, everybody’s played a little inconsistent. We’ve had spurts of being really good and spurts of being really bad. But, like I said, the teams we’re playing are better than what you think and we get everybody’s ‘A’ game. We have to match that level.”

The NCHSAA released its playoff pairings Saturday afternoon and, as always, there are interesting first-round matchups and some interesting potential matchups:

▪ In the 2AA class, Monroe (11-0) received the No. 1 overall seed, and East Lincoln (11-0), the reigning state champion, received the No. 2. That could set up a powerful regional championship game at Monroe on Dec. 4. Monroe and East Lincoln are the only two unbeaten teams in the class’ west pairings.

▪ In 1A, Community School of Davidson -- which ended the unbeaten season of Pine Lake Prep of Mooresville Friday -- received the No. 1 seed. Community School (9-2) also has a favorable draw to the regional final.

▪ In 4A, Vance (6-5) got a No. 14 seed and will play at No. 3-seeded Charlotte Catholic (10-0) in the first round Friday. That’s a rematch of the 2014 N.C. 4A Western Regional championship game, or state semifinal, which Catholic won by stopping a 2-point conversion attempt.

▪ And in 4AA, East Mecklenburg is in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Eagles will play at Mallard Creek Friday. South Meck, which beat Ardrey Kell 51-24 Friday, will play Ardrey Kell again next week.

For Mallard Creek, the 4AA draw could be potentially tough. If the Mavericks get past East Meck, they could face Butler in the second round and MECKA conference champion Hough in the third, if the higher seeds win out.

“We don’t ever get an easy draw. You know that,” Palmieri said. “It’ll be a tough task, not just with Hough and Butler, but there are a lot of good teams out there. But we’re excited about it and feel we have as good a chance as anybody.”

Palmieri said the Mavericks have discussed what it would mean to win a third straight state championship.

“We talked about it (Saturday), about what’s at stake,” he said. “I have confidence in the kids and coaches in this program. We’ve been doing this for a long time and have a lot of experience, and hopefully we’ll play our best.

“They know what they can achieve and a lot of them are going for their third ring (individually), so there’s nothing to hide. We know it’s a long road and we will take it one game at a time, like we always do, and it work it like that.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; @langstonwertzjr

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