A year ago, Corey Patton was a little-used reserve on West Mecklenburg’s football team. He said he always dreamed of making a big play on a high school football Friday night.
Friday night, Patton’s dream came true.
He ran 31 times for 148 yards and the game’s only touchdown in North Mecklenburg’s 6-0 win against Hopewell.
The Vikings (2-5) ended a three-game losing streak, and a seven-year losing streak to Hopewell, their arch rival. The winner of the North Meck-Hopewell game annually gets a gold and silver trophy called “The Shield of Victory.” The last time North Meck won it, in 2006, current assistant coach Armard Moore played receiver for the Vikings.
Moore now is 25.
“This was my first year hearing about the tradition and the Shield,” said Patton, who moved into North Meck’s district over the summer. “As much as everyone had been talking about it, I felt like we really needed to win this one. It was the biggest game of the season and it was the momentum we needed for the rest of the season. We couldn’t lose this game.”
It has been a tough year at North Meck. The Vikings lost 35-28 to a good Lake Norman team to start the season and were shut out 28-0 by an even-better Independence team. North Meck beat East Meck 38-7 on Sept. 5 and lost a wild contest to Myers Park 43-42 two weeks later.
The Wednesday after the Myers Park game, quarterback Nolan Beasley – a three-year starter who had riddled Myers Park for 356 yards passing and four scores – broke his wrist during practice.
That was two days before North Meck began conference play against regional power Kannapolis Brown.
“It was a freak accident,” Vikings coach Brad Baker said. “He was running (into the locker room) and got tripped up and a lineman fell on him. He’s been out two weeks and he’s probably got another four.
“Anytime you lose your starting QB, especially on the Wednesday before your first conference game, your offensive game plan changes. But luckily, we’ve got that workhorse in the backfield.”
That’s Patton, a 5-foot-8, 195-pounder who played behind Duke recruit Shaun Wilson last season in the backfield at West Mecklenburg. Patton said he also played some nose guard.
Over the summer, his family moved and Patton said it felt like starting over. But Baker said it didn’t take long to figure out that Patton would play a major role for the Vikings.
“When he walked in, you could see he doesn’t have much fat on him,” Baker said. “He’s muscular and he wanted to find out where the weight room was the first day. You kind of get in your head as a football coach that this kid might be pretty good. In seven-on-sevens, as big and as bulky as he is, he was still making people miss. I was excited about the season for him, and it’s panned out exactly as we thought.”
Baker has rushed 143 times for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s averaging 6 yards per carry.
“My offensive line is opening up some good holes for me,” he said. “My goal was to get 1,000 (yards); it is still get to get 1,000. I just didn’t expect it this fast. I’m like 100 yards away.”
Last week, Patton’s 4-yard run during the first half gave North Meck a 6-0 lead. The Vikings defense, Baker said, stopped Hopewell inside the North Meck 10 on three possessions to help make the lead stand up.
Finally, with 48 seconds left, North Meck was faced with third-and-1 inside its own 20. Hopewell called timeout, hoping to force a punt and then try to steal the victory late.
Baker walked into his huddle.
“I looked at the offensive line and said, ‘We’ve got to have 1 yard to get the Shield back,’” Baker said. “Then I looked at Corey.”
Patton’s 31st carry of the night went for 48 yards. North Mecklenburg ran out the clock and got the Shield back.
Monday morning, the trophy safe on his coaches’ desk, Baker still said he hadn’t come down.
“Everybody was so happy” Monday, he said. “They were like, ‘It’s about time.’ Some of them had been waiting on the team since they were freshmen to do this, and to get it back senior year is amazing. Everybody is happy about it. I’m excited, too.
“When I first got here, I had to work my way up. Other guys who had been here were next in line. I started from the bottom and built myself up. I learned the system. I adjusted to it. And here I am.”