At the beginning of the 2021 spring high school football season, Hough High football coach Matt Jenkins said he was concerned about depth.
After the N.C. High School Athletic Association decided to move the start of football season from August to February because of the COVID pandemic, many of the state’s top seniors, who had already committed to Division I schools, decided to head to campus early.
Hough, which would’ve had 11 of the state’s top 100 seniors, lost nine to early enrollment.
Later, another Hough starter opted out of the season for fear of catching the disease while playing, and Division I recruit John Stanula tore his ACL in the first game. Another key player, Jack Grier, lost his season to a torn labrum.
Still, Jenkins felt he had enough players to make a run. He just needed one thing to happen.
“We always felt like if we could stay healthy, we had a pretty good shot at staying good,” Jenkins said. “We have some good young talent. Hats off to our kids, man. One thing we’ve developed in our four years, is we’ve developed a competitive atmosphere. Our kids know if they don’t work on their own, they will have a hard time getting on the field.”
Whatever Jenkins is doing in Cornelius, it sure is working. After Friday’s 29-22 win over reigning N.C. 4AA state champion Vance, the No. 1 team in North Carolina, Hough is unbeaten, the champions of the toughest conference in the state (the I-MECK 4A) — and the Huskies must now be considered an even more serious threat to win a N.C. 4AA state championship than before Friday’s game kicked off.
Stilll, it’s hard to not think about how good Hough might’ve been if all of the seniors, like Ohio State freshman Evan Pryor, had returned.
But, shoot, Hough is still really, really good without them.
Friday night, Vance wore its all black uniforms and it had about as big a crowd as rules will allow to face one of its biggest rivals at home. Hough had beaten the Cougars last year, before Vance made its state championship playoff run.
Hough stonewalled Vance’s plans for revenge Friday, using a stiff defense that gave up a 45-yard run to Austin Grier in the first quarter and a 51-yard scoring pass from Grier to sophomore Daylan Smothers in the fourth. Take away those two plays and Vance got 150 yards all game.
Hough senior Julian Rawlins and Hough junior Curtis Neal just couldn’t be blocked, and on a night when Vance struggled with high snaps and penalties — the Cougars gave up three straight special teams scores on three straight possessions — there just wasn’t much the state champs could do.
It was a black and silver Hough kind of night.
“We’ve got a bunch of good kids that work really hard and coaches who coach their tails off (including offensive coordinator Kevin Olsen, brother of former Carolina Panther Greg Olsen). I’ve got a great staff that works hard to develop kids.”
Jenkins said he doesn’t split up his junior varsity and varsity during practice. They all get the same coaching and many of the same reps.
“Now I’m not going to throw a ninth grader out against Curtis Neal,” he said. “That’s not making anybody better, but I don’t have a JV staff. All our guys get coached by our varsity staff and we do that so we can develop some depth.”
Friday’s #BIG5 Top Performers
Xavion Brower, Mallard Creek: threw for 282 yards and five touchdowns in a 62-0 win over Mooresville.
Jack Curtis, Ardrey Kell: returning from injury, Curtis completed 18-of-31 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-10 win over previously unbeaten Providence. Coming into the game, Providence had allowed 19 points all season.
Ardrey Kell, Providence and Olympic tied for the league title in the SoMECK. Providence won a hat draw to get the No. 1 playoff seed. Ardrey Kell got the second seed. Olympic will have to hope for an at-large playoff bid.
Jamarion Dawkins, Forestview: in a 45-19 win over Stuart Cramer, the quarterback ran 22 times for 276 yards He also completed 6-of-10 passes for 60 yards and a score.
Jordan Hanson, Myers Park: sack and an interception in Friday’s 32-22 win over Independence that clinched the outright Southwestern 4A conference championship.
Sammy Pinckney, East Rowan: 393 yards rushing and six touchdowns in a 51-23 win over North Iredell. It’s ties for the 31st most rushing yards ever by a N.C public school player in a single game.
Around the Area
▪ In a 35-7 win over Cherokee, West Lincoln ran 47 times for 235 yards. Mason Huitt had seven carries for 27 yards and two TDs, and he was 3-for-3 passing for 114 yards and a score.
▪ Kings Mountain beat Crest 28-7 in a battle of Cleveland County rivals ranked in the Sweet 16 and both state title contenders. Kings Mountain freshman Caleb Holland ran 23 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
▪ Pine Lake Prep beat Community School of Davidson 24-15 to finish 7-0 and win the conference championship. QB Vic Garrido was 10-for-16 passing for 123 yards. He ran 20 times for 158 yards and two touchdowns. He had two 2-point conversions rushing and one passing. On defense, Nick Reid had two interceptions.
▪ Christ The King beat Highland Tech 14-7 to finish 4-3. It’s the first winning season in school history….Mount Pleasant beat West Stanly 19-13. Ryan Tyson threw for 169 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 73 yards. Brennen Jones had 7.5 tackles and a sack.
▪ Alexander Central beat South Caldwell 49-20. Cameron Lackey averaged 16.2 yards per carry, rushing nine times for 146 yards and a touchdown. Ryheem Craig had 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
▪ In Thursday’s 41-28 win over East Burke, Draughn’s Blane Fulbright ran 40 times for 205 yards and two scores. Cash Norman had eight tackles and Elijah Hess had five tackles and two sacks.