It’s the matchup we all – well, some of us – have been waiting for.
South Pointe (3-1) hosts Charlotte’s Mallard Creek (3-0) on Friday night in a contest of highly-ranked, not yet-teenaged high school football programs that have dominated the Carolinas since their inceptions nine and 10 years ago. The #CreekBoyz have won three consecutive 4AA state championships in North Carolina and reached at least 11 wins in seven straight campaigns. South Pointe has won the last two 3A state titles in South Carolina and has four state title rings in 10 seasons.
“It ought to be a great environment,” said South Pointe coach Strait Herron, “kind of college-like.”
It took quite a bit of finagling to get the game on both schools’ schedule, but it finally happened. Friday’s game will be televised by Time Warner Cable, though most in the Rock Hill area won’t be able to see the TV version. Here are some things to know headed into Friday night:
Word association with South Pointe junior Eli Adams:
Mallard Creek’s Goliath offensive line
Mallard Creek has the biggest high school football offensive line that most fans, players and coaches from this area will ever see. The Mavericks boast three Power 5 conference-recruits up front – future Gamecocks Eric Douglas and T.J. Moore and N.C. State commit Grant Gibson – and physically overwhelm every defensive line they encounter. South Pointe is no exception.
“It’s a test for everybody,” Herron said, including his offensive coordinator in that comment. “These dudes are tremendously big.”
OL height average (inches)
OL weight average
South Pointe got a decent tune-up for the Mavericks’ front five by playing St. Frances (Md.) last week. The Panthers had a sizable group of blockers, several with college futures. Comparing Mallard Creek and St. Frances linemen, South Pointe senior defensive lineman DaQuan Brown said that it appears the Panthers’ blockers were taller and more slender – though still pretty big – and it was obvious that the Mavericks’ bunch are more skilled.
“Playing with out technique, that’s gonna be key to winning our battles,” said South Pointe standout defensive lineman Eli Adams.
Herron said one big key for his smaller defensive linemen is to keep the Mallard Creek blockers’ hands off of them.
“You’ve got to go fast and you’ve got to get them hands off you,” said Brown, who had nine tackles in last Friday’s game in Baltimore.
South Pointe’s unusual ‘David’ status
The Stallions are often the aggressors, the intimidators, in their Friday night games. This week may be the odd exception, owing to Mallard Creek’s size advantage and obvious talent.
“I told these guys, ‘we’re not looking for a moral victory,’” said Herron. “We don’t want to go out there when the game’s over with people saying, ‘South Pointe played them tough, it was a close game...’ That ain’t what it’s about. We got a chance to beat a really good team, and it’s kind of like watching games on Saturday; you never know.”
“You can’t judge heart,” said Adams. “We come out here and practice hard and that’s what we take to the table out on the football field. We play with our hearts, with our talent and our skill.”
Our guys, they’ve never backed down before.
South Pointe coach Strait Herron; his team is in the unusual position of being the underdog this Friday against Mallard Creek (N.C.)
Breakout candidate Friday night
There will be more than a few future college football players on the field Friday night. Probably over 20. It’s always fun to see which lesser known players emerge in contests that have this many eyeballs watching.
One candidate for South Pointe is linebacker Cort Neely, whose junior year is off to a great start. The younger brother of former South Pointe and current Marshall University player Corey Neely had 18 tackles last week against St. Frances and has piled up at least 10 in all four games. Neely – whose first name is Corterious – is a very versatile defender for the Stallions, equally capable in run and pass defense. In addition to his 58 tackles, he also has three pass break-ups and an interception.
Check out Cort Neely’s highlights from last week’s game:
Take care of the rock
South Pointe wants/needs to be more careful with the ball moving forward. The Stallions only turned the ball over eight times in 18 scrimmages and regular season games last season, but have already matched that number through four scrimmages and four games, with last week’s four turnover-game in Maryland the sloppiest yet according to Herron.
“You can’t do that, that’s the difference. We don’t give the ball away, we take the ball,” he said. “We always win the takeaway battle, but right now we’re not there.”
Offensive coordinator Jason McManus mentioned Wednesday that QB Derion Kendrick is on par turnover-wise with his predecessor Greg Ruff, when Ruff was a junior.
More likely, last season’s incredible safety with the ball was a greater anomaly. Ruff only threw one pick all season, and that one came in the state championship game. But he also was spared a few more interceptions by a very talented receiving corps that knew how to play with the 3A player of the year, a great improvisor.
Hitting the road
South Pointe will be Mallard Creek’s third Palmetto State opponent already in 2016. The Mavericks edged Dillon 7-3 in the season opener, before knocking off Byrnes at home 21-14 two weeks ago.
Like the Stallions, the Mavericks have a difficult time scheduling local opponents for various reasons, the school’s success not least among them. Mike Palmieri’s program is 4-1 against South Carolina schools, with Byrnes getting the lone win. The average margin of victory has only been 10 points, though, with just one game, a 48-24 win over Chester in 2010, decided by more than a touchdown.
South Pointe is 5-3 all-time against non-South Carolina opponents.