Columns & Blogs

A lesson for Mallard Creek from a favored team

Last weekend, Mallard Creek football coach Mike Palmieri and offensive coordinator Joe Cox drove to Columbia to watch the S.C. 4A Division I championship game.

In 2004, Cox was an All-American quarterback at Independence High, where he set North Carolina passing records and won state championships for coach Tom Knotts. Knotts is now coach at Dutch Fork (S.C.), which won the 2013 S.C. 4A Division I state title. Dutch Fork was a big favorite last weekend to repeat as champion against Hillcrest High.

Dutch Fork led early before losing starting quarterback Tate Fant in the second quarter. Hillcrest scored the final 41 points in a shocking 47-17 win.

Cox and Palmieri – whose Mallard Creek team is favored to beat Wake Forest Saturday in the N.C. 4AA final – returned with an important lesson for the Mavericks.

“We told them that the team we went to go watch in South Carolina is a great program with a great coach and was favored to win a football game,” Palmieri said. “But football’s football. If you don’t do your job, it doesn’t matter who you play.”

Mallard Creek beat Wake Forest 59-21 in last year’s N.C. 4AA championship, and the Mavericks led by as many as 52 points. Mallard Creek is nationally ranked in several polls and can repeat as state champion. But Palmieri said it won’t come easy, and believing other people’s predictions isn’t the way to win.

“We told the kids, ‘You have to focus,’ ” Palmieri said. “You can’t take anything for granted. In the second quarter (Knotts’) QB got hurt. But we’ve been through everything with this program. Our kids know. Our (reserves) prepare for everything.”

• Palmieri said he and Knotts haven’t talked about a potential Dutch Fork-Mallard Creek matchup, but he would welcome it.

“Hopefully it’ll happen soon,” Palmieiri said. “If it ever happens, we’d love to go down there. They have such a great program down there. It would only make us better.”

• Palmieri said he’s been surprised by his program’s fast ascent. Mallard Creek has reached four straight N.C. 4AA Western Regional championship games and now two straight N.C. 4AA finals. He will return at least 15 starters for 2015.

The school was 2-9 in 2007 when Palmieri fielded the Mavericks’ first team. In 2008, Mallard Creek was 1-10 but had to forfeit nine games because of an ineligible player. Since then, however, the Mavericks are 78-7 and have won 41 straight conference games. Mallard Creek’s last conference loss? Halloween of 2008 against West Charlotte.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of good people around the program,” Palmieri said. “It’s about the kids buying in and having a good administration. A lot of people think it’s just X’s and O’s. It’s more than that. It was our goal to be the best team in the city, but I was on a five- or six-year plan to just put a program in place.

“Our success has been unbelievable. We’ve been fortunate to win a lot of games, to win a state championship last year and have a chance to play for another.”

• Time Warner Cable will televise Saturday’s state finals. The games from Winston-Salem will air on channel 323; those from Raleigh will air on Channel 324.