Duffy, Davis emerge as weapons, helping propel Porter Ridge to a 13-0 record
by Aaron Garcia
For the Porter Ridge Pirates to even have a shot at duplicating last year’s school-record 13 wins, much less make another deep postseason run, several things were going to have to fall into place for coach Blair Hardin’s football team. Sure, standouts such as quarterback Lee McNeill, receiver Jordan Oakley, kicker Matt Wogan and defensive end Justin Oldja were back, but there were some major holes to fill, especially in the Pirates’ backfield. Last year, running backs Javonte Truesdale and Demarrell Alexander set a lofty precedent for Porter Ridge ball carriers, as the two combined to create perhaps the county’s toughest one-two punch. The duo was as explosive as it was hard-nosed – they also doubled as lockdown cornerbacks – and their departures seemingly left a gaping void when they graduated last spring.
There was loads of talent returning to the field this year, but replacing last season’s rushing totals of 2,805 yards and 34 scores was a priority, especially in Hardin’s Triple-option offensive scheme that relies on its running backs to draw defensive attention away from McNeill. Alexander and Truesdale accounted for 1,678 of the Pirates’ rushing yards and 24 of the touchdowns last season, which was going to be difficult to replace.
That’s where senior Najee Davis and junior Chris Duffy have come in. As Porter Ridge prepares this week for its fourth-round playoff game against Mooresville on Friday, Nov. 25, the Pirates are 13-0 and the tandem has comprised one of the county’s top position groupings. So far, Duffy has rushed 121 times for 896 yards and 18 scores, while Davis has accounted for 879 yards and 11 touchdowns on 157 carries. As was the case with Alexander and Truesdale, the two also are active members in the Pirates’ passing game. Duffy has caught 10 passes for 184 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Davis has added 14 catches for 127 yards and another score.
And as has become tradition for Porter Ridge running backs, the two also contribute heavily to both defense and special teams. As cornerbacks, Davis has 12 tackles and a pair of interceptions, while Duffy has added 17 tackles and four picks. For good measure, they’re also the team’s main kick returners, and good ones at that. Last week, Duffy returned a late-game kickoff 80 yards for a score to give the Pirates a 31-28 win over Winston-Salem Mt. Tabor.
“A lot of people asked if we’d be able to replace Demarrell and Truesdale from last year, and I think (Davis and Duffy) have done a heck of a job this year,” Hardin said. “They complement each other in the run game, in the pass game, defensively and in special teams. They’re just great players.”
Though there were questions entering the season, both Davis and Duffy were known commodities after last year. Davis, a senior, was a vital backup in 2010, often spelling Truesdale and Alexander and accounting for 332 yards rushing and three scores on 64 carries. After biding his time on JV the last three seasons and learning the system at Porter Ridge Middle School, Davis said he was ready to step into the starting role, even if there were some big cleats to fill.
“It made me think I had to step up and not just get a couple of snaps but play full games and go all out and just be that guy that makes plays for the team,” Davis said. “I just had to step up.
“I’ve felt comfortable in this offense from the beginning (of the season) since I’ve been here for so long. It was just a matter of getting my shot.”
Duffy, on the other hand, was more of a varsity contributor last season, although he started for rival Sun Valley as a receiver. As essentially the Spartans’ fourth scoring option behind receiver Jody Fuller, tight end Steven Cole and running back JaDarrius Williams, Duffy still rolled up more than 560 receiving yards and notched nine touchdowns. Originally a running back, Duffy was moved to receiver to get him on the field for the Spartans, since Williams had a hold on the starting running back position.
But when his mother decided to move back to the Porter Ridge area before the school year – Duffy played for the Pirates in middle school – he was intrigued with how he would fit into the Pirates’ offensive scheme.
“It was something new,” he said. “It was very exciting. Things were different, but I was ready to get to work.”
Duffy said it was difficult leaving his former teammates, but he added, “I guess God had a different plan for me, and I see that.”
Duffy’s addition could’ve been messy. After all, as the incumbent running back, Davis was penciled in to receive the bulk of the carries this year, a fact that changed as soon as Duffy joined the team and moved back to running back. But a contentious situation was avoided. Davis said he not only welcomed Duffy to the team, he started selling him on the idea as soon as he heard it was a possibility.
“We were texting and messaging each other,” Davis said. “I was telling him that if he wanted to win some football games, just come join me, and we can do what we need to do to win.
“’If you want a championship, just come on over here to Porter Ridge,’” Davis added, throwing out an obvious tongue-in-cheek jab at the rival Spartans, who advanced to the third round of the Class 4A playoffs before falling last week to Mooresville.
The camaraderie only grew after Duffy arrived on campus, said Hardin.
“It’s about making your teammates better, and they just connected,” the coach recalled. “They clicked and they liked the challenge of pushing each other and making each other better.”
But it’s important to note that the dashing duo hasn’t gotten the Pirates where they are by themselves. McNeill has thrown for 1,904 yards and 20 touchdowns, while receivers Jordan Oakley, Wogan, Zach Scarboro, Stephen Muscarello, Marcus Freeman and Chris Newsome have given the offense a bevy of reliable receivers that’s averaged 151.3 yards receiving per game. Even reserve running back Jarrett Robbins, a sophomore, has been a solid third option, taking Davis’ role from last season and collecting 324 yards and five touchdowns on 57 carries.
But again, without an effective running threat, the Pirate offense, as it’s currently devised, would sputter. But thanks to Duffy and Davis, the Pirates have a chance to make history in the next two weeks by winning the school’s first state title. Not too bad, considering the Pirates’ backfield was one of the team’s question marks entering the season.
“Those two guys, we rely on them heavily in every phase of the game,” Hardin said of Davis and Duffy. “I think that’s the reason why we are where we are right now.”