At the beginning of the 2021 spring high school football season, Hough High football coach Matt Jenkins said he was concerned about depth.
After the N.C. High School Athletic Association decided to move the start of football season from August to February because of the COVID pandemic, many of the state’s top seniors, who had already committed to Division I schools, decided to head to campus early.
Hough, which would’ve had 11 of the state’s top 100 seniors, lost nine to early enrollment.
Later, another Hough starter opted out of the season for fear of catching the disease while playing, and Division I recruit John Stanula tore his ACL in the first game. Another key player, Jack Grier, lost his season to a torn labrum.
Still, Jenkins felt he had enough players to make a run. He just needed one thing to happen.
“We always felt like if we could stay healthy, we had a pretty good shot at staying good,” Jenkins said. “We have some good young talent. Hats off to our kids, man. One thing we’ve developed in our four years, is we’ve developed a competitive atmosphere. Our kids know if they don’t work on their own, they will have a hard time getting on the field.”
Whatever Jenkins is doing in Cornelius, it sure is working. After Friday’s 29-22 win over reigning N.C. 4AA state champion Vance, the No. 1 team in North Carolina, Hough is unbeaten, the champions of the toughest conference in the state (the I-MECK 4A) -- and the Huskies must now be considered an even more serious threat to win a N.C. 4AA state championship than before Friday’s game kicked off.
Still, it’s hard to not think about how good Hough might’ve been if all of the seniors, like Ohio State freshman Evan Pryor, had returned.
But, Hough is still really, really good without them.
Friday night, Vance wore its all black uniforms and it had about as big a crowd as rules will allow to face one of its biggest rivals at home. Hough had beaten the Cougars last year, before Vance made its state championship playoff run.
Hough stonewalled Vance’s plans for revenge Friday, using a stiff defense that gave up a 45-yard run to Austin Grier in the first quarter and a 51-yard scoring pass from Grier to sophomore Daylan Smothers in the fourth. Take away those two plays and Vance got 150 yards all game.
Hough senior Julian Rawlins and Hough junior Curtis Neal just couldn’t be blocked, and on a night when Vance struggled with high snaps and penalties — the Cougars gave up three straight special teams scores on three straight possessions — there just wasn’t much the state champs could do.
It was a black and silver Hough kind of night.
“We’ve got a bunch of good kids that work really hard and coaches who coach their tails off (including offensive coordinator Kevin Olsen, brother of former Carolina Panther Greg Olsen). I’ve got a great staff that works hard to develop kids.”
Jenkins said he doesn’t split up his junior varsity and varsity during practice. They all get the same coaching and many of the same reps.
“Now I’m not going to throw a ninth grader out against Curtis Neal,” he said. “That’s not making anybody better, but I don’t have a JV staff. All our guys get coached by our varsity staff and we do that so we can develop some depth.”
Friday’s #BIG5 Top Performers
Xavion Brower, Mallard Creek: threw for 282 yards and five touchdowns in a 62-0 win over Mooresville.
Jack Curtis, Ardrey Kell: returning from injury, Curtis completed 18-of-31 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-10 win over previously unbeaten Providence. Coming into the game, Providence had allowed 19 points all season.
Ardrey Kell, Providence and Olympic tied for the league title in the SoMECK. Providence won a hat draw to get the No. 1 playoff seed. Ardrey Kell got the second seed. Olympic will have to hope for an at-large playoff bid.
Jamarion Dawkins, Forestview: in a 45-19 win over Stuart Cramer, the quarterback ran 22 times for 276 yards He also completed 6-of-10 passes for 60 yards and a score.
Jordan Hanson, Myers Park: sack and an interception in Friday’s 32-22 win over Independence that clinched the outright Southwestern 4A conference championship.
Sammy Pinckney, East Rowan: 393 yards rushing and six touchdowns in a 51-23 win over North Iredell. It’s ties for the 31st most rushing yards ever by a N.C public school player in a single game.
Around the Area
▪ In a 35-7 win over Cherokee, West Lincoln ran 47 times for 235 yards. Mason Huitt had seven carries for 27 yards and two TDs, and he was 3-for-3 passing for 114 yards and a score.
▪ Kings Mountain beat Crest 28-7 in a battle of Cleveland County rivals ranked in the Sweet 16 and both state title contenders. Kings Mountain freshman Caleb Holland ran 23 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
▪ Pine Lake Prep beat Community School of Davidson 24-15 to finish 7-0 and win the conference championship. QB Vic Garrido was 10-for-16 passing for 123 yards. He ran 20 times for 158 yards and two touchdowns. He had two 2-point conversions rushing and one passing. On defense, Nick Reid had two interceptions.
▪ Christ The King beat Highland Tech 14-7 to finish 4-3. It’s the first winning season in school history....Mount Pleasant beat West Stanly 19-13. Ryan Tyson threw for 169 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 73 yards. Brennen Jones had 7.5 tackles and a sack.
▪ Alexander Central beat South Caldwell 49-20. Cameron Lackey averaged 16.2 yards per carry, rushing nine times for 146 yards and a touchdown. Ryheem Craig had 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
▪ In Thursday’s 41-28 win over East Burke, Draughn’s Blane Fulbright ran 40 times for 205 yards and two scores. Cash Norman had eight tackles and Elijah Hess had five tackles and two sacks.
West Charlotte 26, Hopewell 20 ... The Lions (2-5, 2-5) finished their first season under head coach Sam Greiner with a come-from-behind victory. Hopewell finished 1-6, 1-6.
No. 15 Lake Norman 43, North Mecklenburg 22 ... The Wildcats (5-2, 5-2) kept their wild-card playoff berth alive by trouncing the Vikings (1-6, 1-6). Jacob Reeves scored a pair of first-half touchdowns for Lake Norman.
Mallard Creek 62, Mooresville 0 ... Xavion Brewer threw five touchdowns passes, as the Mavericks (4-3, 4-3) posted their biggest victory of the season. Mooresville (2-5, 2-5) saw its two-game winning streak snapped.
SO MECK 7 4A
South Mecklenburg 38, West Mecklenburg 14 ... The Sabres (4-3, 3-3) finished a winning season under coach Joe Evans, dropping the Hawks to 1-6, 1-5. Jake Brennan scored three touchdowns for South Mecklenburg.
No. 6 Butler 56, East Mecklenburg 0 ... Butler (6-1, 6-1) outscored opponents 220-22 over its final four games after the Bulldogs’ loss to Myers Park. The Eagles finished 1-6, 1-6.
Rocky River 46, Garinger 0 ... Kalib Jennings carried 17 times for 130 yards, lifting the Ravens (3-4, 3-4) into a fifth-place finish in the conference. Garinger finished 0-7, 0-7.
No. 4 Myers Park 32, Independence 22 ... Lucas Lenhoff threw three touchdown passes for the conference champion Mustangs (7-0,. 7-0), who trailed Independence (2-5, 2-5) early and led only 11-8 at halftime.
No. 16 Hickory Ridge 35, Porter Ridge 32 ... This battle for a wild-card playoff spot went to the Ragin’ Bulls (5-2, 5-2), who scored a touchdown with 2:21 left for a 35-25 lead. The Pirates (4-3, 4-3) scored with 21 seconds to play, recovered an onside kick but time expired before Porter Ridge could try a game-tying field goal.
Scotland County 20, Jack Britt 3 ... The Fighting Scots (4-1, 4-1) gained a playoff berth, as Trey Chavis scored on a 94-yard kickoff return. Jack Britt finished 4-1, 4-1.
Alexander Central 49, South Caldwell 20 ... The Cougars (5-2, 5-1) kept their wild-card playoff hopes alive, as Lane Justice and Deyonte Calhoun each ran for a pair of touchdowns. Alexander Central had six rushing touchdowns in all. South Caldwell (3-2, 3-1), which will qualify as the conference’s 4A playoff representative, was led by Avery Reyna, who ran 21 times for 114 yards and a touchdown.
St. Stephens 27, Hickory 19 ... Omar Orozco scored on a recovered fumble in the end zone, and St. Stephens (2-5, 1-5) beat the Red Tornadoes (0-7, 0-6) in this rivalry game.
McDowell 30, Freedom 6 ... The Titans (3-3, 3-3) scored their first victory over Freedom (2-3, 2-2) in 13 years.
BIG SOUTH 3A
Ashbrook 30, Hunter Huss 17 ... The Green Wave (4-3, 4-2) broke a 17-all tie after three quarters and won the Battle for the Bell. Hunter Huss (2-4, 2-4) had captured this rivalry game the last four years.
No. 8 Kings Mountain 28, No. 7 Crest 7 ... Caleb Holland ran for a pair of touchdowns, and Ethan Reid ran for another score, as the Mountaineers (7-0, 6-0) knocked off the Chargers (6-1, 5-1) for the conference championship. Both teams are playoff-bound.
NORTH PIEDMONT 3A
East Rowan 51, North Iredell 23 ... Sammy Pinckney had a sensational night, rushing for a school-record 393 yards and six touchdowns. East Rowan finished 2-5, 2-3, while North Iredell was 0-6, 0-5.
SOUTH PIEDMONT 3A
A.L. Brown 28, Concord 0 ... The Wonders (6-1, 6-0) capped an unbeaten conference season by capturing the Battle of the Bell, North Carolina’s oldest high school football rivalry. Jamison Flowe ran for two touchdowns, including a 50-yarder, and Cam Kromah passed to Isaiah Black for a pair of scores. Concord finished 2-5, 1-5.
Central Cabarrus 38, Jay M. Robinson 35 ... Elijah Horton’s 2-yard touchdown run with 4:38 left lifted Central Cabarrus (3-4, 3-3) over the playoff-bound Bulldogs (5-2, 4-2).
Cox Mill 44, Northwest Cabarrus 14 ... The Chargers (3-4, 3-3) captured the Coddle Creek Cup rivalry, as Tyrell Coard scored three touchdowns. Northwest Cabarrus finished 1-6, 1-5.
SOUTHERN CAROLINA 3A
No. 9 Charlotte Catholic 21, Marvin Ridge 17 ... The Cougars won a pulsating battle for the conference’s No. 2 playoff berth. The Cougars (5-1, 5-1) sealed the victory with an end-zone interception in the closing three minutes. The Mavericks finished 4-2, 4-2.
Monroe 49, Parkwood 14 ... The Redhawks (5-2, 5-2) built a 42-0 second-quarter lead and trounced the Wolfpack (2-5, 2-5).
No. 3 Weddington 54, Cuthbertson 13 ... The Warriors (6-0, 6-0) held Cuthbertson (2-4, 2-4) to 163 yards’ total offense. Matthew Moonan kicked a 51-yard field goal for the victors.
ROCKY RIVER 2A-3A
Mount Pleasant 19, West Stanly 13 ... The battle for the conference title went to the Tigers (7-0, 5-0), as Ryan Tyson passed for three touchdowns. West Stanly (3-1, 3-1) had taken the leaf on a touchdown run by Logan Little on its first drive of the game.
No. 11 Hibriten 62, Patton 0 (Thursday) ... The Panthers (7-0, 6-0) scored three defensive touchdowns and wrapped up the conference title. Hibriten won the conference title each of the league’s four years. Patton finished 1-6, 1-6.
Bunker Hill 38, West Caldwell 7 ... Carson Elder threw three touchdown passes, two to Elijah Boston, and Kaden Robinson scored on a 33-yard run for the Bears (6-1, 6-1). Bunker Hill captured the conference’s No. 2 playoff berth.; West Caldwell finished 3-4, 3-4.
SOUTH FORK 2A
North Lincoln 40, Bandys 19 ... Kyle Kovalchuk rushed 22 times for 149 yards and a touchdown, as the Knights (4-3, 3-3) bounced the Trojans (1-5, 1-5). Daniel Carter ran for three more North Lincoln touchdowns.
Burns 70, R-S Central 39 ... The Bulldogs (5-2, 5-1) captured the conference’s No. 2 playoff berth, as Cam’ron Sweezy passed for three touchdowns and ran for two more. Jeremiah Norris scored three Burns touchdowns, one on a 70-yard pass from Sweezy. The Hilltoppers finished 4-3, 3-3.
South Point 36, Chase 34 ... Tyson Riley ran for three touchdowns as South Point (5-2, 4-2) took third place in the conference. Kaden Hampton completed 19-of-28 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns for Chase (4-3, 3-3).
MOUNTAIN VALLEY 1A-2A
Ashe County 27, Starmount 20 ... The Huskies’ Austin Poe broke a 20-20 tie by returning a recovered fumble 30 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 40 seconds left. Ashe County finished 7-0, 7-0. Starmount was 3-4, 3-4.
SOUTHERN PIEDMONT 1A
Cherryville 43, Bessemer City 30 ... The Ironmen (2-5, 2-4) won this Gaston County rivalry, as Chase Miller ran for three touchdowns. Bessemer City finished 1-6, 1-5.
Christ the King 14, Highland Tech 7 ... The Crusaders (4-3, 4-3) wrapped up their first winning season and kept their slim playoff hopes alive. The Rams finished 1-4, 1-4.
Pine Lake Prep 25, Community School of Davidson 14 ... Vic Garrido completed 10-of-16 passes for 123 yards and ran 20 times for 158 yards and two touchdowns, as the Pride (7-0, 6-0) tied Thomas Jefferson Academy for the conference title. Community School of Davidson (5-2, 4-2) is expected to land a wild-card playoff berth.
East Gaston 28, North Gaston 25 (OT) ... North Gaston (0-7) forced overtime by scoring a touchdown and making the two-point conversion with 30 seconds left. But East Gaston (2-5) held the Wildcats to a field goal in overtime and then won it with a touchdown.
North Stanly 43, Forest Hills 21 ... The Comets (6-0), champions of the Yadkin Valley 1A, scored two touchdowns in the opening 5:30 and rolled. Clay Hatley returned an interception 67 yards for a score. The Yellow Jackets finished 2-4,
No. 12 Olympic 30, West Cabarrus 19 ... Olympic (6-1) won its sole nonconference game of the season and is expected to be playoff-bound with a wild-card slot. West Cabarrus finished 3-4 in its first season of varsity football.
T.C. Roberson 47, Watauga 36 ... Sebastian Best rushed 15 times for 218 yards and three touchdowns, but the Pioneers (5-1) fell for the first time this season. Roberson’s Brody Whitson passed for 364 yards and five touchdowns.
West Lincoln 35, Cherokee 7 ... West Lincoln (5-2) made the long trip worthwhile, as Mason Huitt ran for two touchdowns and passed for another. West Lincoln will be the South Fork 2A’s No. 2 playoff representative.
-- Steve Lyttle