Mike Brodowicz isn’t a stranger to coaching a high school football team to the state championship game.
But as Charlotte Catholic’s first-year head coach, he said that his approach to games this season has been a little different than when he was an assistant.
“It’s easier a little bit – I do a little less coaching and a little more of the managing part of it,” Brodowicz said Monday at a news conference for coaches whose teams will play in this weekend’s state championships. “I’ve got a great staff that makes it possible for me to do stuff like this, and not even worry about football until I’m on the field.”
The Cougars (14-1) will face undefeated New Bern (15-0) for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state title Friday night at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem.
This will be Catholic’s seventh appearance in the state finals, and Brodowicz has been there for most of those. He was an assistant coach under Jim Oddo during the Cougars’ state title wins in 2004 (2AA) and 2005 (3AA), and the losses in the 2012, 2007 and 2006 3AA finals.
But when Oddo retired and Brodowicz took over, he inherited a team that many thought would have a down season. Instead, a win Friday would give Catholic its best record since back-to-back 16-0 seasons in 2004-2005.
“There were a lot of naysayers,” Brodowicz said. “...But our kids rallied around that. It was nice for us to play the underdog this season.”
Double first-timers: Weddington (14-1) is making its first appearance in the 3AA state finals on Saturday, taking on Northern Guilford (14-1) at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.
It’s also a first for coach Tim Carson, now in his fourth season with the Warriors after nine seasons at Parkwood. Over that span, the best Carson or Weddington had previously advanced was to the third round of the state playoffs.
“I credit the seniors from last year, the 16 guys who paved the way,” Carson said. “These guys have just taken it a couple more steps forward.”
Different team, same result? Last year, a talented and senior-laden Mallard Creek team dominated opponents during an undefeated run to the 4AA state title.
While this year’s Mavericks (14-1) team hasn’t dominated, it is back in the 4AA state finals, preparing for a rematch against Wake Forest (15-0) on Saturday in Winston-Salem.
“In the past, we had been so dominant that we were blowing everyone out, and never were battle tested,” coach Mike Palmieri said. “But this team is battle tested. They’ve been put through more adversity.”
Doubling down: For the second straight year and third time since 2004, two Cleveland County teams will play for state championships Saturday.
Shelby (13-2) will go for its second straight 2A state title, facing Clinton (13-1) in Winston-Salem. Meanwhile, in Raleigh, undefeated Crest (15-0) will take on three-time champ Havelock (14-1) for the 3A title.
“It’s as good as it gets,” Shelby coach Lance Ware said. “Everybody’s excited and pulling for each other, and it really has galvanized the community and brought them together.”
Breakthrough year? Crest is making its fourth appearance in the state finals in the past five seasons, and ninth appearance overall. The Chargers won the last of their four state championships in 2004 when they took the 3AA title.
“We’ve been fortunate to reach the state finals four of the last five years,” coach Mark Barnes said. “We’ve also been unfortunate to lose it the last three times. We don’t want this group to do that again.”
Another chance: Since taking over at East Lincoln in 2005, Mike Byus has coached the Mustangs (15-0) to their third appearance in the state finals, facing Washington (14-1) for the 2AA title in Winston-Salem.
“It never gets old,” said Byus, who led East Lincoln to the 2AA state title in 2012. “It’s always exciting to get a chance to do this, because you never know if you’re going to get a chance to do this again.”