CHARLOTTE – The atmosphere surrounding North Mecklenburg High football is changing. The Vikings expect to win.
Last season, they were 2-9.
This season, they’re 2-1 after a convincing 47-8 road victory against East Mecklenburg on Sept. 6. They’ve accomplished in three weeks what took three months to do last season.
“The thing about us, regardless of what anybody thought, is we never accepted losing,” North Mecklenburg running back William Santiago said. “We hate to lose. But with the new coaches and everything else, we expect to win here at North Meck. This year, we’re just bringing new things in – new players, new coaches, new everything. It’s a new atmosphere. It’s a winning atmosphere.”
North Mecklenburg dominated throughout the game. The Vikings were stronger on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Their defense sacked East Mecklenburg quarterback David Allen five times. North Meck’s Cedric Robinson had two interceptions and Xavier Samuel returned another for a score.
Chris Moore and Oliver Webb had two sacks each. Avery Jones had one.
The Vikings’ offensive line opened enough holes to spring Santiago for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. North Meck’s passing game also was effective. Nolan Beasley threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter – a 32-yarder to Stephen Langford and a 69-yarder to TayRey Tabron. Santiago’s first scoring run, an eight-yarder late in the second quarter, gave North Meck a 20-2 lead.
The Vikings clinched the game with two touchdowns early in the third quarter. Beasley’s third touchdown pass, a 13-yarder to Tabron, bumped the lead to 27-8. On the next possession, North Meck defensive back Samuels returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown that made it 34-8.
In the postgame huddle, the Vikings didn’t act giddy. They acted like they could grow accustomed to this winning thing.
“I think (players) have bought in,” North Meck coach Brad Baker said. “We’re starting to believe we’re good enough to hang with people and beat people. We’ve still got a long way to go, but 2-1 does feel good.”
North Mecklenburg last season won 27-20 against East Meck, one of the few bright spots in Baker’s debut season. This season, the Vikings seem like confident bunch. They opened the season with a 28-26 victory at Lake Norman. That was followed by a 42-0 loss against unbeaten Independence, and the rout against East Meck.
“I liked our execution,” Baker said. “We knew with (East Meck) being 0-2, they were going to be desperate. With us being 1-1 and not having a lot of success the past few seasons, we needed it. It was a matter of who wanted it more. We executed well and I think we wanted it.”
Baker, a former assistant at Mooresville High, has helped develop an energetic feel along the sidelines. Vikings coaches are quick to grab a grease board to draw out strategy mid-game, but several times against East Mecklenburg they bellowed to players to “use your head” and “don’t do anything foolish,” emphasizing that football is as much a mental game as a physical one.
The offense is balanced, and bounced back after being shut out by Independence. Beasley, who missed half of last season with an injury, has several good receivers to utilize. Santiago, a senior, handles most of the rushing duties.
“(Against Independence) was a struggle on offense for all of us – receiver, quarterback, running back, I made some mistakes, and the line,” Santiago said. “Today they came out and played their butts off. So much better. It was millions better. I just tried my best to run behind my blockers.”
“Our offense is getting better and better every day. We’re working hard in practice and when it comes to games, we turn it up.”
Baker said he’s pleased with the defensive performance, even in the blowout loss to Independence in which special teams breakdowns and turnovers led to easy scores.
“Our defense has kinda kept us in the two wins,” he said. “I’m pretty happy with where our defense is at. We’ve got a few things to sharpen up.”