by Aaron Garcia
This week, Union County Weekly crowns its annual Super 7 football champions from the 11 teams competing in the county. As was the case all year long, coming up with the final rankings was no easy task. So here, for your scrutiny, is how things shook out.
1. Porter Ridge (13-2)
Thankfully, the Pirates made this an easy choice.
Porter Ridge showed it was ready for prime time from the initial kickoff of its 49-7 dismantling of Monroe in the season opener, and the Pirates never slowed down. Junior quarterback Lee McNeill orchestrated the Pirates’ balanced Spread-Option attack, which averaged 36 points per game and topped 35 points eight times. The offense – paced by running backs Demarrell Alexander and Javonte Truesdale, along with receivers Jordan Oakley and Jordan Van Beek – gave opposing defenses fits and truly showed that Porter Ridge was a program to be reckoned with.
But a team that only lost one on-the-field matchup – the Pirates forfeited a 52-14 win over Forest Hills for violating the state’s eight-quarter rule – doesn’t succeed just by scoring. The Pirates held eight opponents to seven points or less and allowed a paltry 10 points per contest behind one of the county’s most rugged defensive units.
The Pirates might have fallen a game short of the Class 4A state championship game, but their entire body of work should go down as one of the most impressive seasons in Union County history.
2. Sun Valley (10-3)
There are a few indelible images that seemed to characterize the Spartans’ season. Maybe it’s diminutive junior Jadarrius Williams carrying defenders across the goal line. Perhaps its junior quarterback Ryan Smith’s joyful exuberance after a big play, or receiver Jody Fuller’s extended hands outreaching a defender for a ball. Whichever you choose, it was a special year for coach Scott Stein’s squad, which finished the season with a 10-3 record.
The Spartans only lost to one county opponent this season (No. 1 Porter Ridge) and played in games spanning the state, from Wilmington to Asheville, with one of the area’s toughest schedules, which included wins over Charlotte Olympic and Class 4AA semifinalist Charlotte Vance. In fact, the only thing separating Sun Valley from an undefeated season was a measly 17 combined points in its three losses.
Although backup Kevin Saxton performed admirably in his absence, just imagine what the Spartans could have accomplished if Smith didn’t sit out with concussions in defeats to Asheville High and Asheville A.C. Reynolds. The latter team sent them home in the second round of the playoffs.
3. Piedmont (11-2)
In every way but its conclusion, this was the season Piedmont faithful had been waiting for. The Panthers put it all together this season and emerged as one of the county’s best, notching an 11-2 record just two years removed from a 1-11 campaign.
The Panthers employed a throwback rushing offense to power their way to 10 consecutive wins before falling to Rocky River 1A/2A rival Charlotte Berry in the second round of the Class 2AA state playoffs. Running back Jacob Oakley ran for more than 1,600 yards behind a mammoth offensive line anchored by Division-I recruits Stewart Hinson, Lucas Fisher and Jacob Brewer. But a time-chewing offense certainly needs a stingy defense to limit opposing opportunities, and the Panthers had just that, evidenced by the team’s four shutouts this season.
4. Marvin Ridge (9-3)
After winning their first six games of the season, the Mavericks looked as if they were the team to beat in the county. But back-to-back losses to Porter Ridge and Sun Valley to open Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference play put Marvin Ridge in a hole that proved to be too deep.
Nevertheless, the Mavericks were extremely dangerous this season despite transitioning to a pass-based Spread attack, fueled by receiver K.J. Brent, a South Carolina recruit. But injuries became as common as big plays for the Mavs, and that’s saying something. Coach Scott Chadwick regularly shuffled his lineup to compensate for missing starters, and in the end, the bumps and bruises took their toll. But a strong nucleus returns next year, which means Marvin Ridge will have another crack at the top spot.
5. Monroe (9-5)
The Redhawks made a good case this season for why polls don’t really matter. After losing three of its first five games, Monroe appeared to be on the ropes. But a deeper look revealed that the Redhawks suffered some major injuries in the early going, and once stalwarts such as Eric Horne rejoined the lineup, the Redhawks rolled, winning seven of their next eight games, en route to a third-round playoff appearance.
The Redhawks proved to be perhaps the county’s most versatile team this fall as coach Johnny Sowell manipulated his lineup like an alchemist turning lead into gold. The only real constant was that Monroe was going to utilize its superior athleticism in all phases of the game, which made the Redhawks very tough to beat. It will be hard to replace players such as Jamison Crowder (a Duke recruit), Ricardo White, Qwadarius Duboise, Jalen Sowell, Horne and Chris Thomas. But as Sowell proved this season, Monroe will find a way.
6. Weddington (9-4)
With a little help from the state-association rule book, Weddington won its first eight games of the season after Charlotte Ardrey Kell forfeited a win because it used an ineligible player. But matchups against the county’s best were a different story as the Warriors dropped three consecutive games against Porter Ridge, Sun Valley and Marvin Ridge to close the regular season.
But that simply wouldn’t have told the story of how great the Warriors’ season was.
Quarterback Drew Podreberac, who surpassed 2,100 passing yards on the year, provided a fiery persona to a Weddington team that made major strides this season and added itself to the short list of Class 3A contenders. But more than that, the Warriors exuded a toughness not seen in previous editions, a characteristic that permeated throughout the Warrior team and was evident in every stage of the game, especially in the Warriors’ first-round upheaval of Marvin Ridge in the Class 3AA playoffs.
And that’s how this Warrior team should be remembered.
7. Forest Hills (8-5)
As was the case with rival Monroe, Forest Hills got off to a slow start, losing three of its first four games. But that’s not unusual in Marshville – not because coach John Lowery’s team starts slow, but rather he regularly schedules one of the toughest non-conference slates around. This year it proved to baptize some of the first-year Yellow Jackets with fire. Forest Hills eventually won six of its final seven games, including a season-finale rivalry matchup with Monroe.
On the season, Forest Hills accumulated 2,520 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns behind Deyonta Vinson (1,467 and 13 touchdowns) and quarterback Jared Lee, who passed for 602 yards and rushed for 323 as a freshman. But it was the defense that made the biggest difference; after surrendering an average of 35 points in the first four losses, the defense stiffened and allowed only 16 points per contest during the team’s six-game winning streak, which included a first-round playoff win over South Iredell.