After a fall season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association held its state football championship games last week. Eight schools won state titles across the NCHSAA’s designations, with four games each being held at Carter-Finley Stadium and Kenan Stadium.
NSJ’s Shawn Krest and Brett Friedlander were in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, respectively, to cover the games.
3A: Charlotte Catholic wins 4th straight state title
RALEIGH — The time of year doesn’t seem to matter. Whenever a high school football season has been played in North Carolina since 2017, it has always ended with Charlotte Catholic being crowned a state champion.
That annual fall tradition became a rite of spring Friday night at Carter-Finley Stadium.
The Cougars continued their dominance by holding off Havelock 14-7, combining an uncharacteristic trick play with their usual stout defense to win their fourth consecutive 3A title.
It was a similar result to an earlier state final victory against the Rams, one that started the championship run and provided a fitting bookend for a group of seniors that began and ended their careers the same way.
“It’s a great legacy,” said senior running back Paul Neel, who along with fellow co-captain Liam Barbee played in all four state finals. “That’s what we wanted to leave here when we came in as freshmen and that’s what we did.
“We’re going out on top. I don’t know of many people that can say they went four-for-four in their high school years.”
Neel, Barbee and their fellow upperclassmen join a select group of players that make such a claim.
Catholic (8-1) is only the fourth school to win as many as four straight titles since the North Carolina High School Athletic Association established its current system of four classifications in 1959. Independence (seven straight in 4A/AA from 2000-06), Robbinsville (five straight in 1A from 1979-83) and Shelby (four straight in 2A/AA from 2013-16) are the others.
While the foundation for the Cougars’ success has been built on their toughness and an ability to play sound fundamental football, coach Mike Brodowicz and his staff came out with a little flash to begin their rematch with Havelock.
After driving to the Rams’ 36 on the game’s opening drive, quarterback Sean Boyle handed the ball to Neel around right end. But as the Havelock defense converged on him, Neel threw a strike to Adam Franek in the end zone for a quick 7-0 lead.
“They’re a very aggressive defense and fast, and what they see they react very quickly,” Brodowicz said. “That’s why we called (the halfback pass) early in the first quarter because we had to slow them down.”
Havelock (10-1) answered with some explosiveness of its own, producing gains of 46 yards through the air and 22 yards on the ground before Kamarro Edmonds tied the game with a 2-yard touchdown run.
But that was the last time the Rams, who came into the championship matchup averaging better than 50 points per game, were able to get near the end zone. Some of the credit for Havelock’s offensive woes can be attributed to Charlotte Catholic and a defense led by seniors Barbee and Connor Dougherty.
It also didn’t help that star running back Edmonds was playing at less than 100% after suffering an ankle injury late in the first half.
“We just couldn’t get any footing defensively,” Havelock coach Allen Wooten said. “I told people controlling the tempo would be huge. They limited our possessions, and we just couldn’t put it in the end zone. Hats off to them defensively.”
The Cougars got what turned out to be the winning touchdown on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Boyle to tight end Jack Larsen.
1AA: Tarboro takes trilogy over East Surry
CHAPEL HILL — The Tarboro Vikings and East Surry Cardinals have had a monopoly on the state 1AA title game over the last few years. East Surry has been in the game every year since 2018, while Tarboro started its streak a year earlier with a state title win over Mount Airy.
This year’s game, Saturday at UNC’s Kenan Stadium, was the rubber match. The Vikings won the first meeting, 50-10, in 2018, but East Surry evened the score the following year with a 56-28 decision. This season, Tarboro took a low-scoring battle, winning a 25-7 decision.
“It feels great,” Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock, who won his sixth state crown and Tarboro’s seventh in school history, said on the field after the win. “We came up short last year against the same team. They have a classy group over there. We have so much respect for East Surry, over the last three years, getting to know them. Losing last year was a bitter pill for us to swallow, but it’s hard to win them all. Coming back to win was special.”
East Surry opened the game with a 40-yard kick return, but the drive stalled and the Cardinals missed a field goal. Tarboro then scored touchdowns on three straight possessions, including drives of nearly 5½ minutes and more than 10 minutes, eating up most of the first-half clock and taking an 18-0 lead into the break.
“We gave up some yards rushing, but I was fine with that,” Craddock said, “because the clock became our friend in the second half.”
Tarboro attempted only five passes and completed two, just one for positive yardage. The Vikings gained 312 yards on the ground, however, rushing for nearly 6 yards per carry. Tobias Joyner led the way with 179 yards on the ground and two touchdowns — one for 56 yards and the other for 31.
The two schools put a bow on their trilogy for the near future. East Surry moves up to 2A next season. It marks just the second time in state history that the same two schools have met for the title three straight years and the first time since 1931 to 1933.
Tarboro finished 9-0. East Surry fell to 9-2.
1A: Murphy 14, Northside-Pinetown 7
The Bulldogs won their 10th state championship overall and the ninth for David Gentry, the winningest coach in NCHSAA history, by limiting Northside-Pinetown to only six first downs and 198 total yards in Raleigh.
Murphy (10-1) got all the offense it needed on a 2-yard run by Ty Laney at the end of an 11-play, 88-yard drive that used up most of the first quarter and a 55-yard touchdown pass from Kellen Rumfelt to Isra Smith just before halftime. Rumfelt finished the game with 254 passing yards.
The Rams (8-3) got their only points on a 73-yard run by James Gorham, the state’s leading rusher, midway through the third quarter.
2A: Reidsville 35, Mountain Heritage 6
Reidsville added to its crowded trophy case, rolling past Mountain Heritage for its third straight state title and 19th overall, a North Carolina record, in Chapel Hill. Entering the game with a dominant offense featuring nine all-conference performers among the 11 starters, Reidsville hadn’t scored fewer than six touchdowns in a game this year, averaging 51.1 points per game.
Mountain Heritage attempted to control the clock with long possessions, a strategy that succeeded. The Cougars had a commanding 32:24 to 15:36 edge in time of possession and held the Rams to a season-low 35 points, 16 points below their average.
The problem was that Reidsville didn’t need long to score, producing touchdown catches of 69 and 53 yards, as well as a 61-yard run. Kyle Pinnix completed 12 of 14 passes for three scores and ran for 91 yards and another touchdown. Reidsville had its highest-scoring state title game since 2016, while Mountain Heritage lost in its second trip to the game and first since 2009. Reidsville finished 10-0, while Mountain Heritage ended the year at 7-2.
2AA: Salisbury 42, St. Pauls 14
Quarterback Vance Honeycutt threw for four touchdowns and ran for another to lead the Hornets (9-2) to their fourth state title in Raleigh.
Salisbury started fast, jumping out to a 14-0 lead on Honeycutt’s first two scoring runs, before St. Pauls (8-1) answered back with two touchdowns of its own — on a 14-yard pass from Waltay Jackson to Mikail Breeden and a fumble recovery in the end zone by Daekwon Payne.
The Bulldogs’ hopes for their first state championship unraveled late in the first half after JyMikaah Wells and Honeycutt ran for touchdowns just under three minutes apart. Salisbury kept the momentum going into the second half by outscoring St. Pauls 14-0 over the final two periods.
3AA: Mount Tabor 24, Cleveland 16
Lance Patterson scored three times in three different ways to outscore Cleveland on his own and lead Mount Tabor to its first state title and cap off an undefeated season for the Spartans in Chapel Hill.
The junior pulled in a 70-yard pass from Tyress McIntyre for the game’s first touchdown, then he broke a tie in the second quarter with a 7-yard touchdown run. The receiver also lined up as defensive back on the other side of the ball and returned a fumble 31 yards in the third quarter for Mount Tabor’s final touchdown. Patterson had 102 receiving yards, 71 on the ground and 36 kick return yards, not to mention the fumble return.
Mount Tabor finished 11-0 while Cleveland lost its first game to fall to 10-1. The top-seeded Rams were playing in the state title game for the first time, after storming past Southern Durham, Lee County and Clayton by a combined 136-37 score. No. 2 Mount Tabor earned its third berth and first since 2007.
4A: Grimsley 28, Cardinal Gibbons 8
Caleb Curtain had two of Grimsley’s four interceptions, including a fourth-quarter pick-six, as the Whirlies earned their first state title since 1960, two years before the school changed its name from Greensboro High, in Chapel Hill.
Three of Grimsley’s interceptions set up touchdowns. Nate Crawford took a pick to the Gibbons 24 with 27 seconds remaining in the half, giving the Whirlies a 14-2 lead at the break. Curtain’s first interception stopped a Gibbons drive at the 8 late in the third quarter, and Grimsley went 92 yards for the score on the ensuing drive to go up 21-2. Curtain then took a fourth-quarter interception 38 yards to the house to cap the scoring.
Grimsley finished off a 10-0 season and returned to the title game for the first time since 2005. Gibbons finished 9-1 and lost in the state championship for the second straight time.
4AA: Vance 35, Rolesville 14
Like Charlotte Catholic, Vance is a repeat champion. But unlike those other Cougars, this group won’t be able to defend its title next season — at least under the same name. The school will be rebranded under the name of Julius L. Chambers in the fall.
Quarterback Austin Grier was the star of the show for Vance (9-1) by throwing for 200 yards and three touchdowns in Raleigh.
The Rams, playing in their first state final, stayed close through the first half, trailing only 20-14 behind a pair of scoring passes from quarterback Byrum Brown. But a 27-yard pass from Grier to Asuani Allen followed by a 43-yard Allen run blew the game open.
Vance ran up 531 total yards, including 331 on the ground, while holding Rolesville (6-1) to just 67 yards and sacking Brown four times.