The 2014 high school football season, at least in North Carolina, began with a big spotlight on Mallard Creek, the 2013 N.C. 4AA champion.
The Mavericks were nationally ranked in the preseason, and quarterback James Smith was back after earning offensive MVP honors in last year’s state championship’s 59-21 win over Wake Forest – when he threw for 180 yards and three touchdowns. But Mallard Creek lost 28-27 to Butler early, and the spotlight shifted to Independence’s unbeaten season and Lake Norman quarterback Josh Ladowski’s amazing season and to Charlotte Christian’s three-peat and dominance in the private school ranks.
Some people seemed to forget about coach Mike Palmieri’s team at Mallard Creek. But the Mavericks have kept winning. Mallard Creek has won 12 straight, scoring at least 40 points in each win, and when you start talking about state coach-of-the-year candidates, don’t forget about Palmieri. He’s done all this after losing 16 seniors from last season’s team, including a bevy of all-conference and All-Observer players.
I’ve said since July that I think these Mavericks are your 2014 N.C. 4AA state champions. They’ve done nothing since then to change my mind.
• Mallard Creek’s state semifinal at Lake Norman Friday will feature two of the state’s best dual-threat quarterbacks. Lake Norman’s Ladowski, the newly named N.C. Gatorade Player of the Year, has thrown for 3,368 yards and 39 touchdowns. He’s rushed for 1,887 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Mallard Creek’s Smith, a junior, has thrown for 2,969 yards and 31 touchdowns. He’s rushed for 1,026 yards and 21 touchdowns, a team high.
• It’s been a banner year for quarterbacks in the Charlotte area. Cuthbertson’s Austin Kendall, who has committed to Tennessee, has thrown for 4,143 yards, good for 17th nationally. Nation Ford’s Cole Martin threw for 4,000 yards, good for 21st nationally. East Lincoln’s Chazz Surratt has 3,820 yards, which ranks at No. 29 in the nation.
In North Carolina, three of the top four passers for yardage are all from the Observer’s coverage area: Kendall, Surratt and Ladowski. It’s nearly the same for touchdown passes with Surratt (49) first, Kendall (46) second and Ladowski (39) sixth.
• Kendall is the 12th North Carolina public school player in history to throw for more than 4,000 yards. He ranks eighth all-time behind Donnie Davis of Burlington Cummings. Davis threw for 4,478 yards in 1990. Former Independence star Chris Leak holds the public-school record of 5,193 yards in 2002. Former Davidson Day star Will Grier holds the overall state record of 5,785, set in 2012.
• Surratt’s 49 touchdown passes rank eighth all-time and Kendall’s 46 is ninth in public-school history. Kendall and Surratt are juniors.
• Time Warner Cable will televise Friday’s N.C. 4AA Eastern and Western regional finals. Garner plays Wake Forest in the eastern final on TWC Channel 323. Lake Norman-Mallard Creek is on TWC Channel 324. Both broadcasts begin at 7:30 p.m.
• Former Providence Day coach Joe DeLamielleure, an NFL Hall of Famer, will be an assistant coach to Chan Gailey for the Medal of Honor Bowl Jan. 10 at the Citadel in Charleston. The game features some of the nation’s top draft-eligible college players, and the teams are coached by former NFL head coaches.
• ESPNU will televise the first Burger King state champions bowl series Dec. 27 at Florida Atlantic University. State associations from Florida, Utah and Washington have approved member schools to participate. It’s an interesting idea that might gain traction.