What local teams must do to make sure the 2011 season is memorable
by Aaron Garcia
Finally, the part of the season we’ve all been waiting for is here: conference play. After all, what fun is it having this many good teams in Union County if we can’t see how they stack up against one another?
With the postseason quickly approaching, here’s my thought as to what many area teams need to focus on as the hotly contested conference races continue to heat up.
Judging from the Pirates’ 27-3 win over previously unbeaten Marvin Ridge last week, it seems as though Porter Ridge cleaned up any problems that arose during its 10-7 win over Charlotte Providence Day. The key for the Pirates is simple: consistency. As long as they don’t take the rest of their slate lightly (which rarely happens under coach Blair Hardin’s watch), they should be in the conference’s driver’s seat. This is the first season Porter Ridge has been viewed as the odds-on favorite in the ultra-competitive Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference, so some growing pains might not be out of the question.
The Mavericks lost a golden opportunity to control their fate last week by falling to Porter Ridge, but Marvin Ridge still has a realistic shot at a conference crown since Porter Ridge has yet to face Weddington, Sun Valley or Anson. But neither have the Mavs.
To run the table, the Mavericks need to continue to improve in the run game. Jacob Henderson and Dylan Smith give them a rough-and-tumble backfield tandem, which should help keep quarterback Tyler Chadwick off the turf. Chadwick is a Player of the Year candidate but can’t do it on his own. Not in this league.
The Warriors fell out of the championship discussion a bit after their 38-6 loss to Charlotte Olympic, but they bounced back in a major way last week by shutting out Parkwood, 49-0. But the Olympic loss pointed out two glaring musts for Weddington. For starters, the Warriors must protect senior quarterback Drew Podreberac. Olympic’s solid defensive front forced Podreberac into a handful of mistakes. Given the fact that Porter Ridge has an equally disruptive defensive line, the Warriors must figure out a way to keep Podreberac in the pocket. Weddington also must play better against the run.
The Spartans appeared to right their ship with a three-game win streak following an 0-2 start, but last week’s loss to Anson raises some questions. But Anson is much better that its 3-4 record suggests, as it subscribes to the notion that a tough non-conference schedule pays off when league play starts – which is the same theory Spartans coach Scott Stein used when scheduling Richmond Senior and Charlotte Mallard Creek to open the season.
The Spartans still have one of the most prolific offenses in the state (42 points per game), but the defense must improve and not give up big plays (32 points allowed per game). With Marvin Ridge, Weddington and Porter Ridge still on the horizon, it better happen in a hurry.
The biggest thing the Redhawks need to worry about is staying healthy because of their extremely thin roster. Monroe’s backfield is loaded with talent, and quarterback Quayshawn Chambers is coming into his own as a game-breaking player. As long as Chambers continues to develop as a passer, opposing defenses are going to have a tough time keeping all of Monroe’s weapons in check. The most glaring weakness appears to be the team’s propensity for penalties, which needs to be eliminated before the annual season-ending showdown with rival Forest Hills.
The Yellow Jackets answered a major question last week by winning at Piedmont, their first road win of the season. Forest Hills has won four consecutive games and looks like a bona fide threat to make a deep run in the Class 2A playoffs. The biggest question at this point is how the team will do once it faces a pass-heavy offense.
The Cavs have never been in the discussion this late in the season. If the Cavs can continue to close out games and develop their rushing attack, they might be in the discussion once the postseason rolls around. Getting the ball to playmaking receivers Emmitt Afam and Brian Lattimore wouldn’t hurt, either.
With a 1-2 league mark, Piedmont faces an uphill battle. But the Panthers still have to face Central Academy, Union Academy and Cuthbertson, so the opportunity to climb in the standings is there. The Panthers’ offense needs to continue to improve and keep the defense off the field with some sustained drives. They appear to be gelling, however, especially along the offensive line.
The Cougars’ defense is tough. The unit forced six turnovers last week in a win over Central Cabarrus, but finding some offensive consistency would go a long way in successfully capping the program’s best season ever. The Cougars currently have four wins, so it will be interesting to see how they adjust to being a team people take seriously down the stretch.
For Union Academy, the key will be reclaiming the magic that allowed the Cardinals to jump out to a 4-0 record. Union Academy has a potent rushing attack led by quarterback Tyree Drakeford, but finding some success in the passing game would keep defenses from overloading the box to stop the run. That would also help keep the Cardinals defense fresh – an important point with a thin roster.