A Year to Remember

Despite state finals loss, Porter Ridge earns top honors in final UCW Super 7 poll

by Aaron Garcia

The Porter Ridge Pirates posted a 14-1 record and advanced to the Class 4A finals. (Aaron Garcia/UCW photo)

Each year, our newspaper crowns a champion for our Union County Weekly Super 7 football rankings.

Here’s a breakdown of this year’s final rankings:

1. PORTER RIDGE

As coach Blair Hardin announced on Nov. 25 after his team downed Mooresville to advance to this year’s Class 4A state title game, Porter Ridge is now, officially, a program.

The Pirates somehow improved on last year’s school-record 13 wins and turned some heads statewide with their second consecutive undefeated regular season. And though Porter Ridge lost the title game to Laurinburg’s Scotland High, 42-16, the final score was in no way indicative of the Pirates’ effort in the game, which they led at halftime. In fact, the game only got out of reach in the game’s waning minutes.

Led by three-year starting quarterback Lee McNeill and the 2010 Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference’s Offensive Player of the Year Jordan Oakley, a receiver and defensive back, the Pirates averaged 36.5 points per game and downed state powers Kannapolis A.L. Brown, Mooresville and Greensboro Dudley. Perhaps more impressive, the Pirates beat the other members of the Union County Weekly Super 7 by an average score of 40-14.

Running backs Chris Duffy and Najee Davis combined for 30 rushing scores and nearly topped 2,000 yards rushing as a tandem (1,930) behind a powerful line anchored by Thomas Labianca, Tim Dose and Ethan Suzenvich, who piled up more pancakes than a short-order cook. And the defense, comprised of a host of new faces, played a punishing brand of ball, highlighted by ends Avery Worsham, Justin Oldja and linebackers Luke Bayly, Bruce Randall and Nick Vagnone.

And while the Pirates fell short of their ultimate goal of a state title, they should be impressed with how they stood up to the expectations and excelled all season long. We sure are.

2. MARVIN RIDGE

To those teams and coaches that fret over losing a vaunted senior class, we offer the 2011 Marvin Ridge Mavericks (10-2) as an example of why there usually always is hope. Coach Scott Chadwick’s crew famously lost 28 seniors from last year’s 9-3 playoff team and promptly recorded the best season in school history, losing only once in the regular season, to Porter Ridge.

Of course, it helps to have a quarterback like Tyler Chadwick, a sure-armed signal-caller with three years of starting experience under his belt. Chadwick, who surpassed the 5,000-yard passing mark for his career this season, proved to be one of the best leaders the county has seen, routinely leading his team down the field despite playing with an injured shoulder. The Mavs beat powerful Charlotte teams such as Ardrey Kell and East Mecklenburg, and conference foes Sun Valley and Weddington. Though the Mavs’ title hopes ended abruptly in the second round of the Class 3AA playoffs to Charlotte Catholic, they gave their fans plenty to rally around this fall.

3. MONROE

The 2011 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Monroe (10-4), but someone forgot to tell the Redhawks. After losing 2010 standouts such as Jamison Crowder and Jalen Sowell, Monroe dropped three of its first four games of the season before rattling off nine consecutive wins, including a 7-0 jaunt through the competitive Rocky River 1A/2A conference. The Redhawks beat their first two playoff opponents by a combined score of 100-9 before falling to West Montgomery in the third round.

Even better, there’s plenty to be excited about for the future, as quarterback Quayshawn Chambers promises to be one of the state’s top returning players after throwing for 1,776 yards and 23 scores with only seven interceptions. Oh, yeah, he also rushed for 1,221 yards and added 16 touchdowns on the ground.

And, as will be the case with Chambers, the Redhawks should be tough to stop again next season.

4. SUN VALLEY

The Spartans this season proved that first impressions are a little overblown. Many people cringed as Sun Valley (7-6) trudged through a schedule that was among the toughest in the state. After losing two consecutive games to Anson and Marvin Ridge in the middle of the season, the Spartans found themselves with a 3-4 record. But as coach Scott Stein hoped it would, the tough early test paid off for the Spartans as they roared back to life, winning two of their last three to qualify for the state playoffs with a 5-5 record.

And the Spartans made the most of their rebirth, beating Asheville Reynolds and Huntersville Hopewell to advance to the third round of the Class 4A playoffs before falling to Mooresville in the state quarterfinals.

It will be a long time until Union County again sees a triumvirate as powerful as quarterback Ryan Smith (more than 1,900 yards passing, 19 touchdowns), running back JaDarrius Williams (more than 1,400 yards rushing, 22 touchdowns) and receiver Jody Fuller (more than 800 yards receiving, 11 touchdowns).

5. WEDDINGTON

It’s hard to figure out what’s more impressive – the fact that the Warriors (7-5) won six of their first seven games after having to replace former head coach Justin Hardin just weeks before the season, or the fact that they recovered from three consecutive losses to end the regular season and notched one of the state’s biggest upsets by downing Belmont South Point in the first round of the Class 3AA playoffs.

First-year coach Tim Carson’s crew turned out to be one of the grittiest teams in the area, and had fun doing it. Quarterback Drew Podreberac led a potent passing attack with receivers Jake Yurec and Colin Lisa, and players such as end Buck Jones and safety Billy Ryan spearheaded a rough-and-tumble defense that routinely proved its mettle.

For a program that had made a habit of losing (0-11 in 2008), the Warriors proved this season that they’re well on their way to mainstay status.

6. FOREST HILLS

As is the case with Monroe, Forest Hills (8-5) has made a habit of cutting its teeth against the county’s best teams during its non-conference schedule. This year was no different, as the Yellowjackets began the season 0-3 after losses to Porter Ridge, Weddington and Anson. Seven consecutive wins later, coach John Lowery’s club was in position to win a Rocky River 1A/2A conference crown.

Though Forest Hills lost its season-capper against archrival Monroe, the young Yellowjackets, with a bevy of new starters, still advanced to the second round of the Class 2AA playoffs before falling to South Iredell.

Though the Yellowjackets will take the field without some key starters next season – running backs C.J. Kiser (1,519 yards rushing, 28 touchdowns) and Marcel Thomas (560 yards rushing, seven touchdowns) and receiver Jamal Little (758 yards receiving, seven touchdowns) all graduate – they have to like their chances with sophomore signal-caller Jared Lee (1,494 yards passing, 629 yards rushing, 22 total touchdowns), who emerged as a difference-maker this season.

7. CUTHBERTSON

After recording just four wins in their first two years, it would’ve been understandable for the Cuthbertson Cavaliers (6-7) to shoot for some reasonable, measured goals this season.

Turns out, their idea of reasonable was pretty darn special. Rather than settle into its role as an afterthought, the Cuthbertson football team proved to be the county’s next up-and-coming program. Fueled by an offense that had its choice of weapons, coach Mike Roark’s club won four of its final five regular-season games (with an average of 45.5 points per win) and earned its first trip to the postseason. And if that weren’t enough, Cuthbertson even got its first-ever playoff win when it crushed North Surry, 48-33, in the first round.

Though they were edged in the second round by West Stokes, 47-42, the Cavs established themselves as a factor with their finest season in school history.

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