by Chris Hunt
Unsatisfied Hopewell has key matchup this week
Hopewell is off to its best start since it won a 2008 conference championship, its first in school history. But although it has two more wins than the N.C. High School Athletic Association minimum for postseason eligibility, coach Chris Rust still doesn’t think his team has done enough to earn one of the league’s four playoff bids.
With four tough games remaining against Mooresville, Mallard Creek, Vance and North Meck, it’s still possible that Hopewell (6-1, 3-0 in the I-MECK 4A) could finish fifth or even worse.
The remaining game that could affect Hopewell’s season the most could be its next one, against Mooresville on Friday, Oct. 15. The Blue Devils are 1-2 in conference play but lost only to title contenders Mallard Creek and Vance. If Mooresville beats Hopewell, it would have three games left against Hough, North Meck and Lake Norman – teams expected to finish in the I-MECK 4A basement.
A victory would put Hopewell in a strong position for the conference race, but a loss would give life to the Blue Devils, who are more than capable of running the table to finish 5-2 in the league with the tie-breaker over the Titans.
“We need the next few games because we could still finish fifth or sixth in the conference,” said Rust. “Mooresville can put some points on the board. They dropped 35 points on West Charlotte, and our defense faces a challenge against a good quarterback (Patrick O’Brien). Mooresville has a lot going for itself because it just finished the tough part of their conference schedule.”
• Throughout the season, Hopewell has displayed a strong rushing game, but the improvement of its aerial attack is one of the biggest reasons it’s won four in a row. Opposing defenses no longer can key solely on Hopewell’s talented stable of running backs because of quarterback Cole Blythe’s rising confidence. After starting three games last season, Blythe said he feels as if he’s entering his second season of play. This year, he got off to a shaky start when he failed to surpass 100 yards passing in his first four games. But since then, Blythe’s thrown for more than 140 yards in each of his last three contests.
Receiver Leroy Jackson has been Blythe’s favorite target. Before the Titans’ 51-13 victory over Lake Norman, Jackson had 14 catches for 254 yards and hauled in all four of Blythe’s touchdown throws. But now Blythe’s spreading the ball around and even found Brandon Bennett for two scores against the Wildcats. Blythe said he’s been feeling much more confident with his receivers since he threw for two scores in a win over West Charlotte, a team Hopewell had never beaten.
North Meck searching for another win
With a 3-4 record (2-1 in the I-MECK 4A conference), North Meck needs another victory to meet the 4A state playoff qualifying standards. It will be difficult to get that win this week in Viking Valley against league favorite Mallard Creek. But the victory could come against Mooresville (Oct. 22), Vance (Oct. 29) and even rival Hopewell (Nov. 5).
• Reserve quarterback Kelly Hall has seen a series or two behind starter Michael Irvin throughout the season. But in a 21-17 win at Hough on Oct. 8, Hall played the entire second half. Still, North Meck coach Mike Bradley was quick to squash any discussion of a quarterback controversy.
“We have two quarterbacks that we have confidence in,” said Bradley. “Mike had kind of a rough first half (against Hough), and we made a change there. But Mike is still going to play, and we need him to be successful. Whichever quarterback we feel we can use, we can live with.”
• Linebacker/running back Jon Harrison’s fumble recovery on special teams sealed the Vikings’ 21-17 victory over Hough. With 1 minute, 53 seconds remaining in the game, linebacker Andrew Yost hammered the Huskies’ punt returner as he bobbled the catch near the 50-yard line. The ball squirted out and landed in Harrison’s hands as he fell to the ground.
“I watched his eyes, and they weren’t looking at the ball,” said Harrison. “(The returner) was looking at us as he ran up field. As the ball dropped, Yost hit him and the ball pops in the air. My first instinct was to get the ball and try to run, but I felt it was a better idea just to fall on the ball. I said, ‘Let’s get the ball down, run out the clock and get out of here.’”
The turnover allowed North Meck’s offense to run the clock out in victory formation, avoiding a potential game-winning drive by Hough, which had no timeouts remaining. It also gave Harrison bragging rights in the Viking locker room.
“I said to myself, ‘Don’t drop it,’ because there are little jokes on the team that I can’t catch,” said Harrison. “It feels good to prove somebody wrong.”
Stilley starts for Huskies against North Meck
Hough coach Bobby Collins started freshman quarterback Josh Stilley against the Vikings on Oct. 8. Stilley had played sporadically behind sophomore Keegan Brennan but looked extremely good against North Meck, showcasing a strong arm and steely composure against a heavy pass rush.
Stilley completed 11 of 20 passes for 138 yards. He found Hough’s leading receiver Brandon Mobley – a Viking last year – for a 43-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Most important, Stilley didn’t throw an interception.
“It was fun to watch (Stilley) play,” said Collins. “He threw the football well and made some tough throws. We thought it was midway through the season, and we wanted to give him a chance and see how he’d do. I thought he played pretty good.”
Stilley also made a good impression on the other sideline.
“I thought he played with poise and he didn’t turn the ball over,” said North Meck coach Mike Bradley. “You don’t often see a freshman step into a game like that and play as well as he did.”
Davidson Day finally wins close one
Patriot quarterback Will Grier said early this season that his junior varsity squad would soon face a tough test. After winning its first six games by a combined score of 306-18, Davidson Day took on a hard-hitting challenge from Charlotte Country Day’s junior varsity program. On Oct. 15, the Patriots squeezed out an 8-6 victory over the Bucs.
Davidson Day scored first on a 10-yard pass from Grier to Aaron Seward. Grier also found Seward for the two-point conversion to take an 8-0 lead.In the final moments of the game, the Patriot defense stepped up, holding strong on the Buc’s failed two-point conversion. Davidson Day’s Jordan Brown and Tory Burrell stuffed Country Day on the conversion and Lamar Briggs recovered the following onside kick to preserve the win.