Outside of the state’s biggest cities, it’s rare that one county has two teams playing in the North Carolina public school state football championships.
That’s not the case in Cleveland County, which is making a habit of sending at least two of the county’s four teams to the state finals.
Both Crest and Shelby – a 6-mile drive between the two schools – are in the N.C. High School Athletic Association state championships for the third straight year and fourth time since 1994.
“The playoffs bring the two communities together,” said Shelby Golden Lions coach Lance Ware, whose team will go for its third consecutive 2A state title Saturday. “We’ll pull for them, and they’ll pull for us.
“That shows a lot of the pride we have in the football tradition for the whole county. Shelby’s had it for a long time, and it’s really taken off at Crest.”
Shelby (14-1) is making its 12th state final appearance Saturday, taking on Kinston (15-0) at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.
The Golden Lions are going for their eighth title overall, having won back-to-back 3A titles in 1986-1987, a 2A title in 1998, and back-to-back 2AA championships in 2005-2006.
Meanwhile, the Crest Chargers (15-0) are playing Southern Durham (12-3) for the 3AA state title Saturday at Chapel Hill’s Kenan Stadium.
Crest, which won the 3A championship last season, is going for its sixth state title overall in 10 appearances. It won the 4A title in 1994 and 1996, and back-to-back 3AA titles in 2003-2004.
Add the other county schools, Kings Mountain and Lawndale Burns, to the mix, and Cleveland County – with an estimated 2014 population of 97,076, according to www.census.gov – has put two of its teams in the state finals in the same year six times, with 13 titles in 24 appearances.
“You certainly want to pull for the county teams,” said first-year Crest coach Will Clark, who was the Chargers’ defensive coordinator under Mark Barnes last season.
“It speaks a lot about the communities. When we’re not butting heads, we’re right in there together. Football means a lot to those communities.”
Cougars’ Brodowicz more confident: In 2014, first-year Charlotte Catholic coach Mike Brodowicz led the Cougars to their first 4A state championship game appearance.
This year, it’s a more-confident Brodowicz that has undefeated Catholic (14-0) back in the 4A title game, and more ready to face Greenville Rose (12-2) on Saturday at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem.
“I don’t feel like I have to prove myself,” said Brodowicz, who took over for longtime coach Jim Oddo after the 2013 season. “Following Coach Oddo and his legacy, there was always some pressure. I was confident in my ability, but I had to prove it.
“But after going 14-2 and playing in a state championship game – even if we lost – we felt that our vision was the right way to do things, and the kids bought into it. They don’t question things anymore.”
Lineberger going for 3rd ring: South Point coach Mickey Lineberger already has two rings from the Red Raiders’ state championship wins in 2003 and 2009, and should have a third after playing on the winning team in 1979.
Lineberger will have a chance at that third ring – and his first as head coach – when South Point (13-2) faces Rocky Mount (13-2) for the 3A state title Friday night at Kenan Stadium.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Lineberger, who also has a state championship ring from the Red Raiders’ 3A baseball title in 2011. “I’ve been in coaching now 39 years, 33 of those at South Point. I’ve been offered a whole lot of jobs, but I’ve always felt this is where I need to be.”
Mavericks battle-tested: While Mallard Creek already has back-to-back 4AA state titles, Mike Palmieri believes that this year’s team may be the most battle-tested team he’s had in nine seasons as the Mavericks’ coach.
Mallard Creek (13-2), which plays Greensboro Page (13-2) on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium, lost a close road game to nationally ranked Byrnes (S.C.) earlier in the season, lost an equally close game to MECKA 4A rival Hough, and took three straight road games to make it to the state finals.
“We’ve played like 11 tough games this year,” Palmieri said. “Last year was good, but this year was a little harder. We’ve learned how to win – we’ve learned how to persevere, to stay even-keeled and let the game come to us, and make plays when it’s time to make plays.”
Third time the charm for Redhawks? Johnny Sowell has been coaching at Monroe for 30 years, and has seen the Redhawks fall short in state championship game appearances in 1989 and 2013.
Could this year’s undefeated Monroe team (15-0) – which faces Bunn (13-2) for the 2AA state title Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium – be the one that gets over the hump?
“They’ve got the potential,” Sowell said. “Those kids haven’t missed a beat. We’ve had teams that had their ups and downs, but this team hasn’t been like that. We’ve preached ‘next man up.’ We haven’t been fully healthy in the playoffs, and the kids have responded to that.”