There’s been a power shift in Union County, and it’s resulted in the Weddington Warriors finding a spot atop the Southern Carolina conference rankings. They’re currently resting at second place – which could’ve easily been first if it weren’t for an overtime loss to Sun Valley on Oct. 25 – and boast an impressive 9-3 record along with one of the best passing attacks in the area.
Rewind a few years and football in Union County looked a lot different. The Warriors only won 22 games from 2004 to 2009, and in the same span suffered 47 losses. In 2008, Weddington didn’t win a game and quickly sunk to the bottom of their stacked Southwestern 4A conference, before moving to the Southern Carolina conference in 2009.
Meanwhile, Marvin Ridge High School was formed in 2007 and took with it a large portion of Weddington’s student population, immediately creating one of the most intense rivalries in the county. And for a while, the Maverick team – who is currently struggling through a rough season at 2-8 – was one of the county’s toughest teams.
When Weddington coach Tim Carson took over the Warrior program three years ago, things started looking up for the persistent Warriors. Weddington quietly began winning games, but it wasn’t until last season that the Warriors were able to defeat Marvin Ridge for the first time in school history.
The Warriors are ready to continue the tradition that began last season as they get ready to face Marvin Ridge in the final conference matchup of the year on Nov. 8. The game will mean even more this year, as the rivalry was honored by being named the second-annual Patriotism Bowl, a celebration of football and patriotism, which will bring even more recognition to the game.
And from a statistical standpoint, it looks as though the dominant Warriors will have no problem taking down their enemy as Weddington’s rise to the top has paralleled the Maverick downfall, after losing 24 seniors from last season.
“Our team definitely has higher expectations this year,” wide receiver Ryan Black said. “In prior years, we’ve shocked teams. But this year, people expected us to perform and be better. It was time for that.”
That performance is largely credited to Black, and his undeniable chemistry on the field with senior quarterback Jeff Welch. The Warrior offense is at its most dangerous when Welch takes to the air. He leads the county with 1,706 passing yards so far this season and his top target, Black, leads the county with 885 receiving yards. The two have combined for 13 touchdowns.
It’s that kind of connection that’s allowed Weddington to average 30 points per outing in conference games this season, while the Mavs are only putting up 13.
“We’ve been together for a long time, it’s been seven or eight years now, at the positions we’re playing,” Welch said, of his connection with Black. “And we’ve been best friends since forever, really. We’re always throwing, practicing, hanging out. Great chemistry comes from that.”
Take for example the Sept. 13 game against Monroe, the Super 7 No. 1 ranked Rocky River conference powerhouse. Welch passed for 202 yards and four touchdowns, three of which came from play-action passes with Black hauling in touchdown catches of 27 and 38 yards. The Warriors went on to win the game, 36-22, proving that Black and Welch’s talent could no longer go unnoticed by the rest of the conference.
“In some games, Jeff will get pressured or something and then he’ll step out of (the) pocket and see an open void, and I’ll see it, too. We both know exactly where to be,” Black said.
Their connection isn’t teachable, and perhaps that’s the secret behind their success.
“After games, we’ll sit down and talk and it’s just weird how we think the same way,” Welch said. “We see open holes that no one else can see. I know exactly where to put it so that Ryan can catch it. (Our chemistry) definitely takes a lot of reps, a lot of practicing, a lot of time put in, but it’s really just hard to explain. We’re around each other, so we know each other.”
With an offensive line that lost all five starters from last season, Welch and Black have been able to use their passing strength to overcome the line’s youth.
And until Oct. 25, the Warriors looked to be unstoppable.
A hiccup against Sun Valley cost Weddington their first-place conference standing, and was a huge blow to the ego for a team that was on their way to an undefeated conference record and title. The Warriors fell 25-22 to the Spartans in overtime, but have since bounced back.
“That was definitely a tough loss, especially because it went into overtime just like last year,” Welch said. “We made some mistakes, and those mistakes ended up costing us the game.”
“It felt like we got punched in the stomach,” Black added. “But we got together and thought, ‘You know, we might not win the conference but we’re still going to play tough and there’s still a chance for states.”’
The unexpected loss hasn’t hindered Weddington’s chance to make a deep run in the 3A state playoffs, and mentally both Black and Welch have accepted the outcome and aren’t letting it thwart the rest of their season – as evidenced by their 20-14 toppling of Piedmont on Nov. 1.
Welch sat out the majority of the game due to a concussion, but both Welch and Carson are confident that he’s healthy and ready to play again on Friday.
“You have to focus on the team that you’re playing each week, and that’s what we’re doing now,” Welch said. “In the back of our minds, we’re still wanting that state championship. But we just have to go week by week.”
But before the Warriors start thinking about next week’s playoffs, they’ll face Marvin Ridge. And even though the Warriors’ records and stats are objectively better than the Mavericks, Welch and Black aren’t looking past their cross-town rivals – a team that boasts underrated talents like running back Yusepha Foster-Napier and defensive back Austin Chambers.
“We’ve definitely had a successful year, but the way high school football is, records can’t really tell much,” Welch said. “Marvin Ridge, yeah they don’t have a good record, but they’ve played some great games against the teams that we play great games against. They put up fights. They put up a great fight against Sun Valley and almost had them when it came down to the last minute. Going by record, you can’t really tell anything.
“The rivalry we have, Weddington and Marvin, we know that they’re going to come out fighting. So are we,” Welch added. “It’s going to be a great game, and it’s going to be close no matter what the records say.”
“We’re all just trying to make something out of this,” Black said. “We want a memorable year.”