The Western Regional finals are ripe with area football teams as Porter Ridge, Weddington and Charlotte Catholic are all still alive and just one win from playing for state championships.
Charlotte Catholic went undefeated and won it all last year. They were tripped up by Charlotte Christian, the legendarily good private school power who went unbeaten and won their second straight title, but have rolled since.
Weddington has been there with many of these same kids, winning in 2016 with current head coach Andy Capone as an assistant. Capone has made a seamless transition and has the Warriors playing great football.
Porter Ridge is still alive in the 4-A bracket, using their unstoppable ground and pound attack to keep advancing. Quarterback Grayson McCall has been special in this postseason run, and is looking to get them back to the championship for the first time since 2012.
Below we’ll take a closer look at how they got there and play 3-and-out with each matchup.
No. 6 Porter Ridge (10-4) at No. 1 East Forsyth (13-0)
Ten key Pirates:
Quarterback Grayson McCall; running backs Jaylen Coleman and Malcolm Hines; receiver Jaylin Daniels; defensive back/return man Kirkland Harris; kicker Jared Wheatley; lineman Connor Henderson; defensive back Colton Richardson; linebackers Davison Carroll and Dylan Burdette
How’d they get here?
Football is the ultimate team sport, but McCall is playing it as well as anyone right now.
He was 3-for-4 for 75 yards when he took to the air, but he spent most of his night on the ground. Against West Meck, McCall ran 13 times for 143 yards and five touchdowns.
The Pirates, who played at times without Coleman and Hines who both went down with injury, ran the ball on 51 of their 55 offensive possessions, gaining 442 yards and six touchdowns.
Without Hines and Coleman fully healthy, sophomore Brandon Perry rushed 12 times for over 100 yards and a touchdown in a dominating performance. Burdette led a spirited defensive effort with nine tackles and the Pirates dominated in their 42-20 win.
East Forsyth went just 9-5 last season, but opened the season with a win and hasn’t stopped. They’ve outscored their two opponents 83-13 in the playoffs.
• East Forsyth opened the season with an 18-point win over Sanderson and a 21-point win over Mount Tabor. Since, only one game (a 16-10 win at West Forsyth) has been within three touchdowns.
• Sophomore quarterback Ty’Shaun Lyles has thrown for 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns, but the Eagles run the ball on more than 70 percent of their snaps much like Porter Ridge. Junior Ahmani Marshall is the guy to watch in the ground attack and has over 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. Robbin Smith has 500 yards and 11 touchdowns. Mizell Hall, Micah Crowell and Nick Childs are three very good receivers and combine for 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns when they get the ball.
• Only two teams have scored as much as 21 points in a game on the Eagle defense, but RJ Reynolds and Grimsley both lost 52-21. The key to the upset could be the Pirates’ ground control game that takes the air out of the Eagle offense and gives Porter Ridge a chance.
No. 5 Weddington (13-1) at No. 3 Mount Tabor (10-4)
Ten key Warriors: Quarterback Whitner Litton; running backs Will Shipley and Wayne Dixie; receivers Max Brimigion and James Shipley; linebackers Eamon Murphy, Trey Alsbrooks and Alec Mock; kicker Ian Williams; lineman Joseph Zovistoski
How’d they get here?
Their run game.
Over the course of the past two games the Warriors have really revved up their run game, leaning on sophomore Will Shipley and senior Wayne Dixie. Last week, in a 42-12 beatdown of previously unbeaten Watauga. Shipley ran 18 times for 166 yards and three touchdowns. Dixie ran 20 times for 131 yards and a score.
The defense allowed Watauga to score the first and last touchdown of the game, but a 42-0 spurt was more than enough.
Brimigion, the all-state receiver, recently picked up an offer from Dayton, but this team is as complete as any.
Mount Tabor made a big in-season turnaround, going from 1-4 to 10-4. In the playoffs they’ve scored 100 points in three games combined, but allowed 63.
• Mount Tabor began the season 1-4, but has reeled off nine consecutive wins. In the playoffs they haven’t necessarily won convincingly, but they’ve moved on with wins over Marvin Ridge (27-14), Erwin (49-28) and AC Reynolds (24-21) last week.
• The Mount Tabor offense averages 29.5 points per game, but the defense has surrendered nearly 20 per game. Meanwhile, Weddington comes in scoring nearly 40 per game and allowing just 12.4.
• This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
No. 5 Kings Mountain (12-2) at No. 3 Charlotte Catholic (13-1)
Ten key Cougars:
Quarterback Chris Walton; running backs Michael Neel, Paul Neel and Lamagea McDowell; receiver/defensive back Adam Robbe; defensive back Brian Jacobs; linemen Kevin Coss, Nick King and Ari Rodriguez; linebacker Liam Barbee
How’d they get here?
Defense and special teams.
The Cougars usually can move the ball at will on the ground, but couldn’t against Huss. So they stepped up on special teams and defense to get a win that wasn’t always pretty but is a win nonetheless.
Jacobs and Michael Neel scored special teams touchdowns. The Cougar defense got interceptions from Jacob Schachte, Robbe and Joseph Satori, while King (two sacks) and Coss (one sack) wreaked havoc on the inside.
Through 14 games the Cougar defense has allowed 89 points (6.4 per game).
Kings Mountain is 12-2 and shut out West Rowan 34-0 to open the playoffs. Since then, they’ve had tougher games with Statesville (35-21) and Northwest Cabarrus (49-28).
• There are two common opponents between these teams in Cuthbertson and Huss. Cuthbertson lost 42-7 to Catholic and 48-19 to Kings Mountain, so that’s nearly a wash at least offensively. Catholic rolled Huss 28-7 last week on a night their offense wasn’t great, but Kings Mountain lost 38-21, their worst defeat of the season.
• Kings Mountain has been able to outscore their opponents the last two weeks in the playoffs, but have allowed 21 and 28 points in those games. If Catholic controls the clock and field position, this one could be over quickly.
• Senior quarterback Kaylon Wade is one to watch. He has already thrown for 3,063 yards and 42 touchdowns and run for 780 and 17 more scores. The 59 touchdowns are the second most for a single season in NCHSAA history.