WEDDINGTON – Like many games this season, Weddington’s simply dominating 49-7 third-round playoff win over Northwest Cabarrus was essentially over before it started.
Northwest Cabarrus came in 12-1, sporting a shiny 25-2 record over the past two seasons, but in an instant that was literally gone.
On the opening drive, the Warriors marched seven plays down the field in just over three minutes before superstar running back Will Shipley made his first impression, scoring on an eight-yard touchdown run to start the scoring early.
Northwest Cabarrus made a run at it on their next possession, driving all the way down to the Warriors 27-yard line before the Weddington defense tightened and they forced a turnover on downs.
On the very next play, Shipley, the all-American junior running back ranked No.1 overall at his position, tore through the hole and was gone for a 73-yard score.
Northwest Cabarrus never saw it coming.
That’s how it’s been of late, and the Warriors are deadly in all three phases of the game.
Shipley is obviously the star. He ran 11 times for 151 yards and scored three times before packing it in during the second half.
Shipley’s three touchdowns give him 36 on the season – 25 rushing, nine receiving, one interception return for a score and a fumble recovery touchdown – which ties the Union County record for a single season.
But this offense is so much more.
“With our weapons it doesn’t allow anyone to key on one guy,” said Weddington coach Andy Capone. “Everyone knows Will, but our kids are so smart and they do such a good job of moving around and being able to play multiple positions. They’re unselfish, too. They all understand it’s what’s best for the team. They don’t look at individual stats, how many catches, how many carries and all of that, they’re just focused on putting up points and winning football games.”
Shipley has gone over 2,100 yards, but to Capone’s point, the Warriors are diverse.
Kyle Parsons, Shipley’s backup, averages over 10 yards per carry and has over 450 rush yards and six touchdowns.
Quarterback Dante Casciola has thrown for 22 touchdowns, but when the Warriors feel like a change of pace they turn to jack-of-all-trades Dusty Mercer, who has completed 10-of-11 passes for 317 yards and five scores and also spends time at running back and receiver.
When games get out of hand, Grady Brosterhous comes in and does a nice job under center.
Shipley and Mercer (34 catches, 508 and eight TDs) are the receiving stars, but guys like Landyn Backey, Colby Barsz, Kambridge Tuttle and running back Trey Gordon also contribute on a nightly basis.
“That’s been one of the hardest things this year is trying to get everybody touches, but it makes my job easier knowing it’s an unselfish group,” Capone said. “That makes it fun for me as a play caller and really for our whole offensive staff to be able to move people around, change things up and show them different looks. This group has been a lot of fun with that, for sure.
“For us, the big thing is to continue to fine-tune the little things and continue to play at a high level. We need to make sure we’re mentally ready for anything anyone is going to give to us.”
While the offense has been great, the defense is history-making.
The Warriors have allowed a school record 5.4 points per game, allowing all of 76 points through 14 games.
Northwest Cabarrus drove the ball down the field on their opening drive but didn’t sniff the red zone again until the third quarter.
They didn’t score until their final drive of the game, the Northwest Cabarrus starters going against Warrior reserves.
But they’re not alone.
In a 56-6 loss to Weddington in the second round of the playoffs, Parkland scored six points in the second quarter. That’s the only team to score on the Warriors in the first half since Monroe on Nov. 1, a span of five games.
Alec Mock and Trey Alsbrooks have been the stars all season at linebacker, but this defense is stout and, much like the offense, very deep and talented with Malik Mustapha, Jalen Newman, Barsz, Joe Zovistoski, Noah Neimayer, Cole Weisman and Chase Turner making just as much of an impact on this defense.
“Our team speed on defense is really good, but they enjoy hitting people, they enjoy running to the football and making plays out there,” Capone said. “They have everyone doing their job and playing team, disciplined defense. Our coaches give us a great plan every week, and they go out there and execute as best they can. They’re doing a great job. It’s a special group and we challenge them each week to strive for greatness and to not take their foot off the gas.”
The Warriors have a big weapon in senior kicker Ian Williams. Not only is he nearly automatic on extra-points and has range on field goals past 50 yards, the biggest gift he brings is on kickoffs.
When Weddington beat rival Charlotte Catholic earlier this season, Cougar coach Mike Brodowicz said having to start his offense on the 20-yard line every time was one of the biggest detriments, but Williams regularly bangs balls into the end zone for touchbacks.
“It’s huge to have a guy like that,” Capone said following that win over Catholic. “You have to be great in three phases of the game. I know we can be good, but we’ve been kind of inconsistent on special teams. Ian was awesome tonight. It’s hard for a team to drive 80 yards consistently, so having him as a threat is huge. I’m happy for him and I’m glad he’s back in his groove and doing big things for us.”
This Week’s Matchup
The Warriors are matching up this week with Watauga, an opponent Weddington knows well having defeated them 42-14 in the third round of last season’s playoffs.
Watauga (13-1) enters the game with Anderson Castle, their dangerous quarterback who has run for over 2,100 yards and 35 touchdowns and thrown for over 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Running back Jaiden Bond has 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns, so they have a ground attack that could test the stingy Warrior defense.
“We need to play good assignment football against them,” Capone said. “They’re option-based and use a lot of different formations, shifts and movement. We’ve got to make sure our kids watch a ton of film this week and our scout team does a great job.”
With so much to like about the defending champs and the No.1-ranked 3A team in the state, the Warriors appear primed to play in Raleigh next week for a shot at another title.
“It comes down to our we mentally ready, can we understand what’s going on and still play fast and can we tackle in space?” Capone said. “I think it’s another big challenge for us. Coach Habich does a great job, but I think our kids are excited and I think they are up for the challenge.”