Pardon the cliche, but these are the best of times and the worst of times for football in Chapel Hill.
There have been better years for local football teams, overall, as recently as 2012, but never in recent memory has there been such a disparity between the good, the bad, and the ugly.
This has been a banner year in N.C. High School Athletics Association football for Chapel Hill High School. Not so much for Carrboro, East Chapel Hill, or, for that matter, the University of North Carolina.
With its upset at No. 1 and previously undefeated Southern Durham on Nov. 28, Chapel Hill’s Tigers matched the 1964 Chapel Hill Senior High Wildcats who reached the NCHSAA Western final in 1964.
That was as far as a team could go that year. (From 1961 through 1971, the NCHSAA did not hold a state championship in 3A football, ending the playoffs with an Eastern and a Western champion.)
Chapel Hill Senior lost to Waynesville Township, 20-13, in the ’64 Western final played in Kenan Stadium.
Carrboro went 15-1 and all the way to the state 2A final in 2012.
That same year, East Chapel Hill (5-6) reached the 4A state playoffs for the first time; and Chapel Hill (9-4) made the playoffs before falling at eventual state champion Northern Guilford.
Carolina, unable to go to a bowl game in 2012, nonetheless finished 8-4, 5-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which looks pretty good in comparison to this year’s desultory performance, which included losses to East Carolina and N.C. State.
Not counting Chapel Hill Senior’s back-to-back state titles in the 1920s, when there were no NCHSAA playoffs, the best year ever for any local school still has to be 1961, when historically black Lincoln High defeated Hickory Ridgeview to complete an undefeated, untied and unscored upon season.
That was Lincoln’s third state championship in six years. The Tigers reached the N.C. High School Athletics Conference championship final each of those years.
Chapel Hill was playing well at the same time, on the cusp of its own fine run in 1964.
This year is different.
The haves and the have-nots are far apart, and the gap between them is wider than it’s ever been.
While Chapel Hill has matched its school’s best finish ever, East Chapel Hill suffered through what could be considered its worst.
Carrboro seems somewhere in between, with plenty of signs that the Jaguars could enjoy a better year in 2015 if they stay healthy. Coach Melvin Griffin took over a team that had graduated some top athletes in the spring, and then was hamstrung further when key players were injured early in the season.
Health also was a key factor in East’s 0-11 record this year.
East finished 0-11 in 2008, the nadir of a six-year span where the Wildcats won just five games total.
This year’s winless finish included forfeits in three of East’s last four games.
That’s what really stings for East.
Coach Mike Holderman wasn’t officially appointed to his post until days before the season started. The Wildcats were competitive for the first few games and seemed to be coming together before a string of injuries whittled the ultra-young team down to less than 20 active players.
A 4A school, with about 1,400 students, East Chapel Hill couldn’t put enough players on the field to compete.
East is undersized for the schedule it plays, a list of opponents that this year included six playoff teams and three members of the powerful Big Eight Conference widely regarded as the best 3A conference in the state, if not the toughest conference period.
East, smaller than several 3A schools, wouldn’t benefit much from dropping to the 3A classification if it meant playing in the Big Eight. But the Wildcats could benefit from a less challenging non-conference schedule.
For sure, the one thing that would make the most difference would be for the Wildcats to get a few more of their classmates to join them on the field.
Twenty more kids would have made a big difference this year for East Chapel Hill.