Sometimes being good isn’t good enough.
Northwood High has made it to the state playoffs for the past nine years and justifiably expects to make it there again this year.
The problem, as Chargers coach Bill Hall sees it, is that Northwood hasn’t won a post-season game in its past three tries.
“For five straight years, we made it to the third round of the playoffs,” Hall said recently. “The last two years, we’ve gone out in the first round.
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“That’s left a bad taste in our mouths. We’re going to work hard to change that.”
Even the thought that Hall has declared this will be his last season as a head coach seems secondary in his mind to the quest for a playoff run. He’s not nostalgic.
“I’ve been coaching this for 28 years. This year is going to be business as usual for me,” he said.
Northwood has reason to expect it can improve on last year’s 8-4 record and fourth-place finish in the powerful Big Eight 3A Conference. The veteran-laden Chargers have nine starters back on both offense and defense.
Junior quarterback Ti Pinnix is the keystone of the Charger game plan. Pinnix enjoyed a break-out season in 2013, helped by the arrival of spread offense guru Bill Renner as Northwood’s offensive coordinator.
Pinnix threw for 3,065 yards (255 per game) and ran for more than 800, breaking just about every Northwood game- and single-season passing record.
He is coming out of the summer looking even sharper than last year, when he led all Triangle-area passers in yards for much of the season, Hall said.
Pinnix threw 198 passes with just two interceptions at a recent 7-on-7 tournament, where he and blue-chip quarterback Kendall Hinton of 3AA state champion Southern Durham went head to head.
“There were top quarterbacks from 3A and 4A schools from all over the state, and as a whole everyone thought without a doubt the two best quarterbacks there were from Southern Durham and Northwood,” Hall said.
This year, his No. 1 target should be be Jalen Smith, the Triangle’s top returning receiver for yards (112 per game) and touchdown receptions (20).
“Everyone knows we’re going to throw the ball,” Hall said. “But we’re also going to hand it off to (5-foot-10, 195-pound sophomore) Montel Goods and (6-3, 210-pound junior) Kadarus Rone as much as we can.”
For Northwood’s ground game to catch up with its passing, the Chargers have to get better up front, Hall said. He’s confident they will be better, with much of the offensive line returning.
Northwood’s defensive front is even more solid, with everyone back except graduated Jay Williams (N.C. Wesleyan).
Two-time all-conference selection Elijah Washington, a 6-1, 350-pound defensive tackle, has earned all-state mention on at least one preseason team.
Northwood has excellent matching ends for its line – Hunter Blackmon, the team’s top tackler from 2013, and 6-4, 251-pound Brady Koenning.
All-conference linebacker Jared Worley, second on the team in tackles as a sophomore, is back for his junior year and can be expected to appear at wide receiver as well.
Northwood has a flock of talented players in the secondary, and several of them do double duty as wideouts – notably Smith and Imoh Udoh. Safety B.J. Harrington led the team in interceptions last year.
“Our strength is our defensive line,” Hall said. “Our No. 2 asset comes with our skill players. Just about every one of them is back.”