WEDDINGTON – The Weddington football team last won a state title in 2016 when James Shipley and his star-studded Warrior class defeated Eastern Guilford, 33-20.
Shipley was great that day, hauling in a touchdown pass but there are few adjectives capable of describing his impact in this championship, which he knew would be his final football game ever and last chance on the gridiron with his younger brother and best friend, sophomore running back Will Shipley.
James Shipley, like many of his Weddington teammates, is also a lacrosse star for the two-time defending champion Warriors. He’s within the top 10 of his class academically and will spurn football offers to play lacrosse at Penn.
But, lucky for the Warriors, he saved his absolute best for last on a day Weddington needed it more than ever as they defeated Southeast Guilford 27-14.
The Warriors, who had averaged over 165 yards rushing during the playoffs, were held to 40 yards on 38 carries.
So they took to the air to compensate.
Senior receiver Max Brimigion struck first, putting the Warriors up 7-0 on their very play of their first drive of the night, reeling in an acrobatic 42-yard touchdown catch from Whitner Litton, the game’s offensive MVP who completed 12-of-18 passes for 172 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
That’s when James Shipley started to make his presence known.
He had hauled in just one catch for 12 yards, but Warrior first-year head coach Andy Capone called Black Knight, a tip of the hat to a play Army ran in the Army-Navy game just a week prior.
“When coach called that play I said, ‘What? Are you…what?’” said Will Shipley. “I was like, ‘All right, here we go.’”
The play was a hand-off from Litton to Will Shipley who then passed off to James Shipley who was to throw it back to his brother on a double flea flicker reverse.
But Southeast Guilford had it covered well and got pressure just as James Shipley released the pass.
“I got the ball, saw a sea of orange, closed my eyes and threw it as far as I could,” he said. “Will went up and made a play. That’s what happened. It wasn’t me. I just put it up there and he went up and got it and made the rest happen.”
Will Shipley made a catch in traffic, shredded a defender and ran in the final 10 yards of the 50-yard scoring pass that put Weddington up 14-0.
“Just to see it be successful and have it work out and then chest bump him in the end zone, that’s what it’s all about,” Will Shipley said.
On the Warriors next drive, James Shipley hauled in an 8-yard touchdown strike from Litton for the 20-0 lead that the Warriors would never relinquish.
James Shipley would go on to win the game’s Most Outstanding Player award with a stat line you could only dream of for a final game: 10 catches, 113 yards and a touchdown, the 50-yard touchdown pass to his brother, three punt returns for a 10-yard average, a 37-yard interception and 186 yards of total yardage. He also recorded three tackles and played nearly every defensive snap so, as they say, he left it all on the field.
“That’s a great way for our seniors to go out,” he said in his usual deflective, team-first approach. “It’s the thing we’ve been dreaming about since the sixth grade. We won the sixth-grade championship and we’ve been playing together ever since. It’s like a fairy tale ending, you know? There’s nothing more you could ask for and especially with all of your best friends beside you.”
While Litton, Brimigion and the Shipleys had the offense in good hands, the defense was busy limiting Southeast Guilford quarterback Ryan Douglas and the Falcon offense.
Douglas threw for over 2,300 yards on the season, but struggled against the relentless Warrior pressure. Douglas didn’t complete a pass in the first half and finished 5-for-21 for 126 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
The Falcons averaged under four yards per carry on the ground with Douglas (19 carries, 93 yards) leading the way en route to his team’s offensive MVP honor.
But the Falcons managed just 265 yards of offense as James Shipley, Brimigion and Eamon Murphy picked off passes.
“We’ve been practicing with the highest intensity we could during the week,” said Murphy, the Army lacrosse commit who was named the Warrior Defensive MVP after leading the team with nine tackles and the pick. “We’ve been executing and everyone is doing they’re job. We’re not a one-man-show and I think that’s the biggest thing. Everybody is doing their part and it really got us rolling.”
To his point, Alec Mock (4.5 tackles, including one for a loss), Bryson Parker (three tackles), Joe Zovistoski (2.5 tackles including one for loss), Ryan Goldstein (2.5 tackles and one for loss), James Shipley, and Trey Alsbrooks (1.5 tackles and the Warriors only credited sack) all starred on defense.
Goldstein had the hit of the night when he leveled a Southeast Guilford ball carrier five yards behind the line, but the Warriors were bringing pressure all game.
“We knew we had to stop the quarterback,” Capone said. “He was a good dual-threat guy and we knew kind of what they wanted to do and these big passes and who they wanted to hit. I think the pressure hurt them a lot. Our front four is very, very good.”
The title is Weddington’s second in the past three seasons and is the third trip to the finals in the past five seasons.
“It’s been an honor to carry on the legacy of winning and the tradition that was at Weddington before us,” Murphy said. “That was the biggest part for me – just showing the young guys how you work hard and compete and things go your way if you do that.”
For Capone, the offensive coordinator turned head coach, it was not only special mostly for his kids and the senior class, but also for himself.
“I couldn’t be happier for these young men. From everything they’ve done to accepting me as the coach and what I talk about and what I preach. It’s been surreal and I’m kind of at a loss for words right now…It’s special,” Capone said.