Charlotte Latin quarterback Bates Jones said it feels great to be in the N.C. Independent Schools championship game.
“I feel like we’re one of the top teams in our conference (Charlotte Independent School Athletic Association), and we deserve to be here,” said Jones, 16, whose team will play Davidson Day Friday night at 7. The game will be played at Charlotte Christian.
Just a few weeks ago, it didn’t appear Jones and Latin would get a chance to win their first state title since 2009. The Hawks lost 24-7 by Charlotte Christian and then trailed 26-0 to Providence Day the next week before losing 33-21.
“Our low point was the Providence Day game,” Jones said, “and then we started picking it up.”
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Davidson Day (11-0) beat Latin 38-36 at Charlotte Latin the week after the Providence Day game, but needed a field goal with two seconds left to escape with the win.
Despite their three-game losing streak, the Hawks began believing they could turn their season around – but they couldn’t afford a regular-season ending loss against rival Country Day.
Latin won 49-14 and then upset Christian 14-7 last week in the first round of the playoffs. That ended Christian’s hopes of a fourth straight state championship game and set up a matchup between old friends.
Davidson Day coach Chad Grier played at Charlotte Latin under coach Larry McNulty in the 1980s before playing at Richmond and later at East Carolina. When Grier started the program at Davidson Day in 2010, he called McNulty “one of the most inspirational men” he’d ever met and hoped to build a program like his mentor’s.
Davidson Day won three state championships in lower classifications the first three years the team was eligible. Last season, the Patriots lost in the Division II state final. After moving up to Division I, Davidson Day is 11-0 for the first time and Grier – coaching his fifth straight state final – is facing his coach in the biggest game of his career.
“We pull for each other,” Grier said. “But we both want to win and both prepare our kids the best we can. If I lose to somebody, just let it be him. Win, lose or draw, after the game, he’ll be family to me, and me to him, and we’ll get on with getting on. But it’ll be an absolute battle like the last one was. It’s going to be a great game.”
Like his quarterback, Latin’s McNulty is impressed by how his team bounced back after such an abrupt fall in the middle of the year. Latin started the season 5-0 and looked impressive. Now, as McNulty said last week, Latin “has risen from the ashes.”
“It’s a credit to the kids,” he said. “I’m really proud of these guys. We’ve only got three senior starters on (offense and defense).”
McNulty said after the win last week against Christian his players weren’t overly emotional. He said that surprised him. Latin had lost seven straight to Christian and hadn’t beaten the Knights since 2011.
But Jones said his team was thinking about bigger goals.
“It’s always fun to beat a rival like that,” he said. “We celebrated, but not too long. We realized we still have a state championship game to play, so we had to focus in on the Davidson Day game.
“They’re a good team. We have to execute well, but if we do what coach is telling us, if we carry out the game plan, we’ve got a great shot at winning the title.”