Weddington’s strong blend of defense, offense has led to a 5-1 record
Being the proud owners of a surprising 5-1 record is nothing new for the Weddington football team. Last year, the Warriors jumped out to a 6-1 mark headed into the meat of their conference slate. But after finishing 2011 with a 7-5 record, Warriors coach Tim Carson is hoping history won’t repeat itself.
Judging by how the Warriors have come about their wins this season, there’s a good shot it won’t.
Entering the season, the Warriors, by their own admission, were a bit of an unknown. Gone was a solid senior class that, despite losing four of its final five games, led Weddington to a huge first-round playoff upset over frontrunner Belmont South Point last year, a win that sent shockwaves throughout the state.
With only three returning starters on defense, and four on offense, Carson said he didn’t really know what to expect out of his 2012 team.
“It’s been a process,” Carson said. “We didn’t know where we were at as far as the coaches, either. We didn’t know until we started facing other teams.”
The players who have been in the program for years, however, found plenty of optimism this summer. For starters, having Carson for a full offseason (he was hired late in the summer of 2011) made a huge impact on the team’s preparation, said linebacker Heath Moore.
“When everyone started coming to practice and everyone started doing what they were supposed to do, we could tell our team was going to be good,” Moore said.
It didn’t take long for Carson to see some encouraging signs. In the season-opener against Cuthbertson – a program many thought could be one of the county’s top teams this season – the Warriors made a statement with a 41-28 win.
“(Our players) heard the hype (around) Cuthbertson,” said Carson. “That irritated them a little bit – it irritates everyone who plays against anybody who’s got some good hype. (Our team) came out and played well and proved to themselves they could play some football.”
The Warriors have gone on to win four of their next five games, with the lone setback being a 28-23 loss to Charlotte Ardrey Kell in a contest they nearly came back and won.
For Carson, much of the early success has been a product of the Warriors’ stingy defensive play. Carson said that while the Weddington offense was busy breaking in new starters, the defense was able to take much of the pressure off by holding opponents well below their scoring averages.
Charlotte Olympic, for instance, averages 35 points per game but only managed 16 against the Warriors. Kings Mountain scored just 12 points while averaging 24. And Forest Hills, which typically scores 30 points, was held to 19 by Weddington.
“We knew for the first couple of games (the defense was) going to have to carry it, but we knew (the offense) would eventually pick it up,” said linebacker Chase Roten, who has 23 tackles and two sacks on the season.
While the Warriors have just the third-best points-allowed average in the conference at 17 per game – Porter Ridge is first at 10.1, while Marvin Ridge is second at 12.8 – the Weddington defense has developed a hard-nosed reputation. The front seven are a hard-hitting lot backed up by a ball-hawking secondary led by safety Billy Ryan (42 tackles, five passes defended). When the ball’s in play, it’s common to see all 11 players converge on the football like a pack of duck-hungry hounds.
“We do our jobs and play our positions,” said Moore, who leads the team with 53 tackles and four sacks. “We just try to hit people – hard – and set the tone so people know they can’t out-muscle us. We have some strong kids on defense that will definitely hurt you.
“I feel like everyone is going full-speed, trying to hit someone. That makes everyone go full speed. It kind of motivates everyone to do everything they can do as hard as they can.”
Added Roten: “If I had to describe our defense, I’d say we’re insane – every single person on defense. If you’re not (insane), you can go play on offense, I guess. That’s our policy.”
Make that a pack of crazy, motivated hounds.
Of course, the Warriors hardly are relying solely on their defense. That offense that the defense was buying time for at the beginning of the year is taking shape as a powerful group in its own right. Led by running back Gavin Black, who’s threatening to become just the second 1,000-yard rusher in school history and currently leads the county with 989 yards to complement his six touchdowns, the offense is averaging 31 points per game. Backup Michael Dario also has been more than effective with four rushing touchdowns.
Carson said the offense’s success has started up front with the line. The coach credited center Thomas Haney, guards Hayden Crooks and Christian Swope and tackles Sam Rhoten and Dio Protopapada for giving Black ample running space.
“They’re all seniors up front,” Carson said. “As long as they keep working, Gavin is going to get some yards.”
“Now, (Gavin) does some of it on his own, too – don’t get me wrong,” Carson said. “He’s done a great job. But your backs aren’t going to be successful without a good line in front of them. It’s been a good combination of both of (those things). We’ve got a good running back and also a good line up front.
“Gavin’s got good vision. He’s done a good job of (making sure that) when the hole’s not there, he’s going to bounce and try to make something happen. He’s been special there.”
Black said he’s more than willing to share the praise with his blockers.
“(The offensive line) is doing a great job this year,” said Black. “They get a push for me. If they don’t do their jobs, I can’t do mine.”
Carson also said the team has received strong play from its two quarterbacks: starter Jeff Welch (738 passing yards, seven touchdowns, four interceptions) and backup Craig Twele, who filled in for Welch (concussion) and passed for 95 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the win over Olympic.
“Both of them have the qualities to go in and lead the team,” said Carson, who added that Ryan Black has given both Welch and Twele a home-run threat at receiver; Black has 251 yards receiving with three touchdowns and another score on a punt return. Zach Goins (eight catches, 169 yards, three touchdowns) has also been a solid target.
But again, for all the defensive success and the offensive growth, the Warriors are exactly where they were at this time last season.
And Carson hopes that’s where the similarities end.
“I told the kids, ‘We’re in the same spot we were last year right now – same record, same situation’” Carson said. “I’m trying to ask the kids right now, ‘Where are you going to go from here? Are you going to try to beat what the team last year did?’ We can’t have that fall off in conference games and try to reach for that conference championship. That should be everybody’s goal.
“That’s the kind of approach I’m trying to take is, ‘Let’s go do better than we did last year. How do you want to be remembered at this school?’”