WEDDINGTON – The word balanced seems to be a good way to describe the Weddington football team’s offense.
The Warriors feature a prolific passing game that has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns this season. The run game isn’t bad either, churning out 22 touchdowns and featuring 1,000-yard rusher Will Shipley.
But when the aerial attack appeared grounded by heavy wind and a mist in the second round of the state 3A playoffs against South Iredell, the ground game busted through in a big way.
Shipley ran for a career-high 171 yards and scored twice as Weddington moved into the quarterfinals for the sixth straight year with a 33-6 road win over the Vikings.
Weddington (12-1) plays at unbeaten Watauga on Nov. 30.
“It wasn’t great weather but you can’t use that as an excuse,” Weddington coach Andy Capone said. “And we seemed to just not be able to get clicking, and the (run game) was huge for us because we are not always going to throw the ball effectively.
“And I told them earlier in the year when we get into the playoffs, we are going to have to be able to run the football.”
The Warriors scored first when Shipley took a handoff from quarterback Whitner Litton on their first play from scrimmage and sprinted down the sidelines for a 44-yard touchdown run. Weddington took a 10-6 at halftime lead when junior kicker Ian Williams connected on a 52-yard field goal, marking the fifth time this season Williams has connected from 50 yards or more.
Williams also converted on field goals of 30, 29 and 37 against the Vikings despite winds reaching up to nine miles per hour in some parts of Iredell County.
“It’s huge to have a talent like him,” said Capone of Williams, who has made 81 percent of his field goals this season. “It helps so much. And he has done a really good job of dealing with the weather. We have been pretty solid with our field goal unit, with our long snapper and holder and putting them through the uprights.”
Litton has thrown for 1,726 yards this season but managed just 79 against the Vikings. Capone said a big part of Litton’s struggles were the changing defenses South Iredell was throwing at his team by varying its defensive front with three to four linemen.
The Warriors counterpunched in the second half by adding an extra tight end and having Shipley play out of the Wildcat formation. Weddington rushed for a season high 291 yards while Shipley ran for more than 100 yards for the fifth time this year.
“He is as dynamic as they come,” Capone said of Shipley. “Anytime he touches the ball, he can make something big happen. And to have him in there and Wayne (Dixie) is huge because they are both great backs.”
Dixie, a senior, complimented Shipley by rushing for 89 yards on 12 carries and scored on an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter.
The defense continues its opportunistic ways as the Warriors intercepted the Vikings four times. Eamon Murphy had two picks, while Max Brimigon and Alec Mock each added one apiece. Weddington has forced seven turnovers in its two playoff games this season. Murphy led the team with 11 tackles and Mock added 10 tackles in the win against the Vikings.
“Lately they have been coming in bunches,” Capone said of the forced turnovers. “And when the ball is in the air or rolling on the ground, they are going after it and it also helps our offense with good field position.”
The weather is expected to be a better for the Warriors when they travel to Watauga. Temperatures will be around the mid-50s with wind reaching no more than 5 miles per hour. There is also about 20 percent chance of rain. Capone knows, however, the weather can change drastically at this time of year, and he wants his team prepared for anything.
“Obviously you can’t create wind but we have practiced in wind and in rain,” Capone said. “But the farther you go along (in the playoffs) the kids understand what is at stake. What you can say to them is you can either win in the cold and the rain, or go home upset in the cold and the rain.”