Columns & Blogs

Richmond’s high school football victory over Butler was big for (lots of) Mecklenburg foes

Last week, Butler lost a 15-point lead against Richmond Senior in the final 90 seconds of regulation and lost 55-54 in overtime.

Raiders and Butler fans began leaving Providence High’s stadium when Butler took its two-touchdown lead late, and Twitter grew quiet, too. But when Richmond rallied and won against the state’s No. 1-ranked team, it seemed the N.C. high school football world went nuts. It was as if everyone outside of Matthews wanted Butler to fall. I knew Mecklenburg County football wasn’t, um, well-liked outside of the borders, but I didn’t know it was this hated.

• By way of explanation, a few folks on social media told me they’re just tired of Charlotte schools winning everything. Since 2000, Mecklenburg County 4A teams have won 11 of 14 state titles. I shared this history with them: It wasn’t always that way.

The N.C. High School Athletic Association started the 4A class in 1959. Garinger won the 4A state title in 1959. It was 18 years until East Mecklenburg won in 1977. South Meck won in 1981, but there was another drought before West Charlotte won in 1995. That all changed when a quarterback named Chris Leak and a coach named Tom Knotts – one of the best prep football players and the best coach the county has produced – ended up at Independence in 2000.

Knotts and Leak started a run of seven straight Independence titles and Mecklenburg County football improved after that run. Bad news for Mecklenburg haters out there: I don’t see it slowing down.

• The middle-school talent level is greater than it’s been in the 26 years I’ve covered sports here. The athletes’ access to personal trainers and coaching from former pros and college athletes is abundant and greater than elsewhere in North Carolina. Charlotte being such a transient city, it seems to attract new athletes each season from different areas. And this Mallard Creek team that could repeat as state champions ? Almost all its starters return next year.

• Just a hunch, but I’m thinking Mallard Creek enjoys flying under the radar. After it lost 28-27 to Butler in late August, the Mavericks – who returned to No. 1 in the state poll this week – haven’t been nearly as discussed or dissected as in the preseason when USA Today ranked them No. 9 nationally. But a team that’s working in 16 new starters and playing a wicked early-season schedule needs time to adjust. I don’t think there’s a better defense in Charlotte, and the offense, which was supposedly a weak spot, is improving. After a slow start, quarterback James Smith has thrown for 1,019 yards and six touchdowns.

Smith’s yardage ranks No. 12 in North Carolina. Coach Mike Palmieri has insisted his team would be better and ready for the playoffs in November. He appears to be right.

• The 2014 playoffs will be very interesting in the 4AA class. Not sure if Richmond Senior stays in the West, where it would likely play Butler again en route to a possible regional final (and maybe Independence, too). This should be a wide-open affair. In 2012 and ’13, Mallard Creek and Butler were heavy favorites. Butler won its playoff games by an average of 28.6 points en route to a 56-28 win over Fayetteville Britt in the 2012 finals. Mallard Creek won by 38.6 points in its 2013 playoff run, culminating with a 59-21 win over Wake Forest Rolesville.

I don’t see anyone running through the 4AA like that this year. But if Richmond goes East, and can get to a final against a Mecklenburg County team, that could create one of the best finals matchups we’ve seen in awhile. Quite often, since Mecklenburg teams began dominating state competition, the finals have been anti-climactic.

• New Olympic coach Keith Wilkes won a state championship at Winston-Salem Carver, so he knows how to coach winning football. Olympic only scored seven points in its first two games, a 21-7 loss to Myers Park and a 28-0 loss to Independence. Wilkes preached patience. Patience rewarded. The Trojans are averaging 35 points per game in a two-game win streak and on Friday will face Providence, which has won three straight. This is the game of the night in Charlotte.

• Forestview junior Moe Neal, ranked by the Observer as No. 2 recruit in North Carolina for 2016, received an offer from East Carolina this week. He also has offers from Wake Forest, Duke, N.C. State, Boston College, Syracuse, Charlotte, Akron, Mississippi State and Georgia Tech.

• Cannon School will dedicate its new Randy Marion Field House Friday at 6:30 p.m., before its game against Winston-Salem Prep. Betty and Randy Marion Sr., donated $500,000 in honor of their grandchildren to name the field house, one of several new facilities on campus, along with a performing arts center, a strength training and conditioning center and enhanced coaches offices and locker rooms.