Could Mal­lard Creek join In­de­pen­dence in rare air?

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY LANGSTON WERTZ JR. lw­ertz@char­lot­teob­server.com

Just 10 years ago, In­de­pen­dence High School was com­ing off the kind of run of high school foot­ball dom­i­nance that I never thought I’d see again.

From 2000-07, the Pa­tri­ots played in eight straight state cham­pi­onship games and, at one point, they won seven ti­tles in a row. Along the way, In­de­pen­dence once won 109 straight games. The Pa­tri­ots had the great­est coach in N.C. foot­ball his­tory, Tom Knotts, and Knotts pro­duced some of the great­est tal­ent in a gen­er­a­tion.

Now, Mal­lard Creek isn’t quite where In­de­pen­dence was, but the Mav­er­icks are be­gin­ning tomake me think they have a chance to get there.

On Fri­day, Mal­lard Creek, ranked No. 1 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll, rolled up to Cor­nelius and shut down No. 2 Hough 26-10. And that’s not easy to do. The Mav­er­icks had in­stalled a ver­ti­cal pass­ing at­tack un­der new of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor D.J. McFad­den, who was once an All-Amer­ica quar­ter­back for Knotts at In­de­pen­dence. But early in the week, on film, Mal­lard Creek’s coaches saw they could run on Hough. So they put away their new of­fense and went back to their old one.

“We wanted to run it right at them,” Mav­er­icks coach Mike Palmieri said. “They’ve got a lot of good play­ers over there, but on film, we knew we could run it on them. And we do what­ever it takes to win. If we have an ad­van­tage run­ning it, we’ll run it. If we have an ad­van­tage pass­ing it, we’ll do that.”

Mal­lard Creek threw for 3 yards in the game but ran for 419. Quar­ter­back Casey Kelly ran 20 times for 142 yards. He of­ten ran for key third-down con­ver­sions. Tail­back Charles Mincey ran for 176 yards and two scores. And the Mav­er­icks didn’t re­ally hide what they were do­ing.

Like In­de­pen­dence used to do when it was rolling with its ver­ti­cal pass­ing game, Mal­lard Creek just dared Hough to stop it.

“We felt we had an ad­van­tage with our size,” Palmieri said. “They’re re­ally fast, but they’re not real big. And we felt we’d force their sec­ondary peo­ple to tackle. We did that and we made one or two miss and we took it the house.”

Both teams were ranked in top 60 na­tion­ally in at least one poll en­ter­ing the game, and Hough (9-1) was off to the best start in school his­tory, with a team that has at least 15 Divi­sion I re­cruits on the ros­ter. Av­er­ag­ing 41 points per game, the Huskies were held to 31 below their av­er­age.

The Huskies have beaten Mal­lard Creek once in their school his­tory, and they are be­gin­ning to look like the But­ler High of this gen­er­a­tion.

But­ler couldn’t beat In­de­pen­dence when the Pa­tri­ots were hav­ing their run of dom­i­nance. But in 2009, the Bull­dogs fi­nally caught In­de­pen­dence and won three of the next four state cham­pi­onships. Hough may one day have its run, but Mal­lard Creek doesn’t look any­where close to done.

Since the start of the 2009 sea­son, Mal­lard Creek is 64-2 against con­fer­ence com­pe­ti­tion. Fri­day’s win sealed a share of a 10th straight con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship in what’s gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the state’s best con­fer­ence. In 2007 and ’08, his first two sea­sons - and the school’s first two sea­sons - Palmieri’s teams were 3-19. They’ve been 125-13 since. That in­cludes win­ning three of the past five N.C. 4AA state ti­tles along with a fourth state fi­nals ap­pear­ance in those five sea­sons.

And in 2008, the school’s sec­ond year, Mal­lard Creek fin­ished 10-1 but was forced to for­feit nine wins be­cause the Mav­er­icks car­ried a lit­tle-used re­serve player on the ros­ter who didn’t re­al­ize he was play­ing out of district.

Palmieri has told me that his cur­rent fresh­man and sopho­more classes are the best he’s had. I think this 2018 team might be the best he’s ever had, and it could set up an­other run of cham­pi­onships. And if Mal­lard Creek can string to­gether a few more, the Mav­er­icks will pull them­selves up to the rare air that those golden In­de­pen­dence High teams still live in.

And win­ning more rings, make no mis­take, is on Palmieri’s mind.

“It al­ways feels good to win an­other con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship,” Palmieri said. “We’ve got 10. But we’ve got big­ger goals over here. ...We want to be play­ing our best come play­off time and I think we’re on pace to do that.”

EL­E­VA­TOR

r Vance coach Aaron Brand: Led his team to a come-frombe­hind win 21-14 win over North Meck­len­burg Fri­day. It was his 50th win at Vance. Brand, in the mid­dle of his fifth sea­son, is 50-17 at Vance. He was 9-4 in one sea­son at West Char­lotte in 2008.

rGas­to­nia Huss: The Huskies beat arch ri­val Gas­to­nia Ash­brook 46-0 to fin­ish 11-0 for first time and to pol­ish off its first un­beaten reg­u­lar sea­son since 1976. Huss recorded its fifth shutout of the sea­son.

r●ustin Fekete, Com­mu­nity School of David­son: Threw a 70-yard touch­down pass to Ryan Ren­shaw late in the fourth quar­ter for a 24-20 win over ri­val Pine Lake Prep Fri­day.

FRI­DAY’S STARS

Ma­son Boothe, Jake Snapp, Prov­i­dence: In a 45-27 win over ri­val South Meck­len­burg, Snapp ran 25 times for 159 yards and three touch­downs. Boothe was 16-for-26 for 256 yards and three touch­downs.

Tevin Clark, Alexan­der Cen­tral: 16 car­ries for 116 yards and three touch­downs in a 56-22 win over South Cald­well.

Casey Kelly, Mal­lard Creek: Mav­er­icks’ quar­ter­back ran 20 times for 142 yards and a touch­down in a 26-10 win over Hough, ranked No. 2 in the Sweet 16. Mal­lard Creek is No. 1.

CharlesMincey Jr., Mal­lard Creek: Ran 14 times for 176 yard sand two touch­downs in win over

Hough.

Michael Neel, Char­lotte Catholic: Ran nine times for 111 yards in a 39-24 win over Marvin Ridge that clinched the out­right South­ern Caroli­nas cham­pi­onship.

Zach O’Bryan, South­Lake Chris­tian: In a 55-0 win over Hick­ory Grove in the first round of the N.C. In­de­pen­dent Schools’ play­offs, O’Bryan had five tack­les, a 10-yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turn for a touch­down, a fum­ble re­cov­ery and a blocked punt.

OB­SER­VA­TIONS

This week saw three high

school foot­ball games marred by bench clear­ing fights dur­ing games or ugly fights af­ter games. The N.C. High School Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion forced four area teams - East Meck, Hick­ory Ridge, In­de­pen­dence and Rocky River - to end their sea­sons, and give up any post­sea­son el­i­gi­bil­ity. I’d ex­pect the same for Greenville Con­ley and South Cen­tral, who got into an ugly fight Thurs­day.

The swift and se­ri­ous ac­tion by the state should help make teen play­ers think twice about their ac­tions in the fu­ture. These six teams will lose money, lose Se­nior Nights, lose chances to set in­di­vid­ual and school sta­tis­ti­cal records and build mem­o­ries. They re­move those same op­por­tu­ni­ties for their op­po­nents. And we don’t want school of­fi­cials to start talk­ing about play­ing games on Satur­day­morn­ings. I remember that was dis­cussed in Char­lotte once, about the same time metal de­tec­tors were needed at games to de­ter vi­o­lence.

I spoke to sev­eral coaches this week and the same sug­ges­tions kept com­ing up:

Fewer peo­ple on the side

lines, par­tic­u­larly for­mer play­ers and hang­ers-on who can some­times build up emo­tions in pre- game.

Se­ri­ous penal­ties for play­ers

ap­proach­ing play­ers on the other team dur­ing pregame (both teams should stay on their ends).

Tighter trans­fer rules to pre

vent play­ers from play­ing their own schools so of­ten, and in the same year.

Coaches say there should be

se­ri­ous fines for stu­dents rush­ing the field af­ter games.

●●nd they think of­fi­cials have to call games tighter, say­ing too many overly ag­gres­sive ac­tions are not be­ing flagged early, lead­ing to re­tal­i­a­tion later.

We all love high school foot­ball. Let’s clean it up.

I’ve said all sea­son that this

Char­lotte Chris­tian team could be­come a top 10 Meck­len­burg County team of all time with a state ti­tle win. The Knights beat Prov­i­dence Day 28-12 in the Divi­sion I semi­fi­nals Fri­day and will have a shot next week at home against Ar­den Christ School. Prov­i­dence Day, a well­coached team stocked with some high-ma­jor re­cruits, has scored 44 points in the past two weeks on Chris­tian. In the pre­vi­ous eight, the Knights al­lowed 14.

I’m think­ing it’ll be more of the lat­ter next week. Book the Knights for a ti­tle - and a spot in his­tory.

FRI­DAY’S ROUNDUP

No. 12WestMeck­len­burg 31, Berry 20: West Meck (8-1, 5-0) won its eighth straight game and won a share of the SoMeck cham­pi­onship Fri­day. The Hawks were off from Oct. 5 to Oct. 26 and have turned in two un­even per­for­mances in two weeks - Fri­day’s win over a win­less Berry team and last week’s 11-7 win over a two-win South Meck­len­burg team. Next Fri­day, the Hawks face Prov­i­dence (5-5, 4-1), which has won four straight games and can get a share of the league ti­tle as well as the con­fer­ence’s No. 1 play­off seed with a win. That should get West Meck’s at­ten­tion.

Char­lotte Coun­try Day 45, Covenant Day 5: The Bucs ad­vanced to the N.C. In­de­pen­dent Schools Divi­sion II semi­fi­nals next week at Char­lotte Latin. It’s a re­match of last year’s Divi­sion II state fi­nal that Latin won 33-0. On Fri­day, the Bucs led 29-3 af­ter the first quar­ter and 45-3 at half. Bucs sopho­more QB Rus­sell Ta­bor com­pleted seven passes and three were for touch­downs.

Mooresville 34, West Char­lotte 13: Mooresville jumped out to a 21-0 first-quar­ter lead in the easy win. QB Hunter De­barardino was 18-for-28 pass­ing for 200 yards and two touch­downs. The Blue Devils will try to up­set IMECK 4A cham­pi­onMal­lard Creek next week, which would al­low the win­ner of Hough at Vance to get at least a share of the ti­tle.

Olympic 21, Hard­ing 12: Olympic (3-8, 2-4 SoMeck) ended a four-game los­ing streak with a strong de­fen­sive per­for­mance. Olympic had al­lowed 159 points in its past four games. Hard­ing had its two-game win streak snapped and fell to 2-8, 2-3.

Shelby 41, Bel­mont South Point 25: Shelby won its sev­enth straight game to win the South­west­ern 4A league ti­tle. Shelby QB Isa­iah Bess had a huge game: 17-of-23 pass­ing for 313 yards and four touch­downs, plus a rush­ing score.

JONATHAN AGUALLO Spe­cial to the Observer

Mal­lard Creeks’ Trenton Simp­son (22) finds a hole in the de­fense and picks up the first down against Hough in the fourth quar­ter Fri­day.

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