Wake Forest ends the season No. 1 in The News & Observer’s area football rankings after winning the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA championship, the first Wake County team to do so since 1987. It’s the second time in the last three years that Wake Forest has taken the top spot, and it’s a reversal from last year when the Cougars were second behind Middle Creek.
The Mustangs, their only loss coming to Wake Forest, was second this year followed by 3A runner-up Rocky Mount.
This year’s 18-player N&O All-Metro team is filled with versatile players, state leaders in offensive categories and highly recruited prospects for the next level. In a season when offenses broke records a plethora of single-game records, the All-Metro team has more primary defensive players than offense.
Only two of the 18 players were repeat selections from a year ago.
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Holton Ahlers, D.H. Conley, Jr., QB, 6-4, 235
The state’s leading passer (4,474 yards) threw for 51 TDs to only 9 interceptions, with a 61.4 completion percentage and ran for 918 yards and 15 touchdowns. He ranks tied for fifth all-time in single-season TD responsibility (66) and set a new NCHSAA record for most total yards in one game (618 vs. C.B. Aycock in an 83-68 win). He also owns the second-most (608 in the playoff loss to Cardinal Gibbons) and fifth-most (581 in a 77-67 loss to J.H. Rose). His offense helped set the NCHSAA record for most combined points in a single game (77-67 loss to J.H. Rose) only to break it in Conley’s next scheduled game, an 83-68 win against C.B. Aycock.
Caiden Norman, Cleveland, Sr., QB, 6-2, 190
The two-time All-Metro pick had another fantastic season, throwing for 4,027 yards and 50 touchdowns (11 interceptions) with a 65.5 percentage completion percentage. Twice, he topped the 400-yard mark and eclipsed the 300-yard mark in eight games for the Two Rivers 3A Conference champs. He also ran for 141 yards and seven touchdowns. He ends his career with 7,465 passing yards and 84 touchdowns to just 19 interceptions.
Dominique Shoffner, Middle Creek, Sr., QB, 6-1, 190
The engineer of 14-1 Mustangs that averaged 45.4 points per game threw for 39 touchdowns (eight interceptions) for 2,967 yards with a 65.5 completion percentage. He also ran for 388 yards with 13 touchdowns on the ground. Was 28-2 in his two years as a starter with 66 passing touchdowns and 24 on the ground.
Dontavies (E.J.) Harris, J.H. Rose, Sr., RB, 5-10, 195
Ran for 2,343 yards (8.4 per carry) and 34 touchdowns in just 12 games. Also caught 25 passes for 283 yards and one touchdown. Ran for six touchdowns in a single game three times, broke the 200-yard mark seven times with a season-high 349 in a 77-67 win against rival D.H. Conley.
Jahmir Smith, Lee County, Jr., RB, 6-0, 200
Ran for 2,130 yards and a state-leading 40 touchdowns. Also caught seven passes for 117 yards and one touchdown for the Cape Fear Valley 3A champs who went 12-2 and made it to the third round of the 3AA playoffs. Ran for more than 100 yards in 12 games – the only two he did not were blowout wins. Had five games of four touchdowns or more.
Broderick Taylor, Holly Springs, Sr., RB/ATH, 6-3, 200
In his first year at running back – he was considered at quarterback and wide receiver before moving to the backfield for good in the first week of fall practice – he shattered the school’s single-season rushing record. Taylor ran for 2,053 yards and 23 touchdowns and also caught 20 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. Was named Southwest Wake Athletic Conference player of the year. Also returned punts and played some corner back.
Jacob Scott, Cleveland, Sr., WR, 5-11, 175
Scott was second in NCHSAA history with 1,915 receiving yards in a season and he did it in 13 games (three less than the previous record-holder), on 104 catches (T-6th all-time). He broke the 200-yard mark three times with a season-high of 257 against a 10-2 West Johnston team and broke the 100-yard mark nine times.
Jack Bowler, Cardinal Gibbons, Sr., OL, 6-3, 270
Third-year starter was a Shrine Bowl pick and helped the Crusaders to an 11-2 season, their best finish at the 4A level. He paved the way for one of the most explosive offenses in Gibbons history. The Crusaders averaged 42.7 points per game, had two 1,000-yard rushers, a 3,200-yard passer and a 1,000-yard receiver.
Matthew Butler, Garner, Sr., DL/TE, 6-4, 265
The two-time All-Metro pick had 96 tackles, 26 sacks and 45 tackles for loss for the Greater Neuse River Conference champions Trojans. Committed to Tennessee. Had four sacks twice, against Middle Creek in the regular season and against Richmond County in the second round of the playoffs. Also played some blocking tight end.
Stone Edwards, Orange, Sr., DL, 6-5, 230
Edwards was a big reason why the 12-1 Panthers allowed an area-low 4.5 points per game (42.5 yards per game rushing and 63.1 passing). He had 67 tackles, 21 for loss and 15 sacks for the Big 8 Conference champs. Ended his high school career as few can – a sack on the final play to seal a win for North Carolina in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas.
Xach Gill, Wake Forest, Sr., DL/OL, 6-5, 270
The North Carolina recruit posted 84 tackles, 36 tackles for loss and 17 sacks for the undefeated 4AA state champions. His pressure on the quarterback allowed the Cougars to drop as many as eight back in coverage and keep big plays in front of them. Also played some offensive line this season.
Joe Kane, Heritage, Jr., DL, 6-3, 255
Earned Cap-8 Conference defensive player of the year after posting 85 tackles, 37.5 for loss, with 19.5 sacks. The 11-3 Huskies played the 4AA champions close in both meetings. Had at least one sack in 10 games including a season-high five against Rolesville.
Sherrod Greene, Rocky Mount, Sr., LB/FB., 6-3, 220
South Carolina recruit missed the first few games of the year due to an injury but made up for that with a fully healthy playoff run to the 3A title game. Made 80 tackles (most on his team in per-game-average), with two interceptions. Played fullback only in the last four rounds of the playoffs and ran for 195 yards and three touchdowns. Also handled some of his team’s kickoffs.
Darius Hodge, Wake Forest, Sr., LB, 6-2, 245
The N.C. State recruit was named 4AA championship game MVP after making 17 tackles and blocking two punts. Was Cap-8 Conference player of the year. Had 119 tackles, 30 for loss, nine sacks, eight interceptions, nine blocked kicks (7 punts, 2 field goals) and returned an interception for TD and a squib kickoff for touchdown.
Jake Thomas, Lee County, Sr., LB/TE, 6-1, 211
Was named Cape Fear Valley 3A Conference defensive player of the year after posting a whopping 172 tackles. He also found the end zone three different ways: returning two interceptions and a punt for scores while adding six receiving touchdowns at tight end. Thomas was the top player on defense for the 12-2 Yellow Jackets, helping them hold opponents to 10.6 points per game.
Payton Wilson, Orange, Jr., LB/ATH, 6-4, 220
Was a jack-of-all-trades for the Big 8 Conference champs. On defense, he had 127 tackles for 13 sacks and one interception on defense. Was conference defensive player of the year. On offense, he ran for 756 yards (9.0 per carry) and six touchdowns and caught 13 passes for 305 yards for 4 touchdowns. Retiring head coach Pat Moser called him “The most versatile football player I have ever coached and possibly the best prospect I have ever coached.”
Detrell Revis, Rocky Mount, Jr., CB, 5-9, 165
The playmaker had 97 tackles and nine interceptions for the 3A runners-up. He was a threat whenever the ball found his hands, adding 597 yards either receiving (99), rushing (108), or returning kicks and punts. His only catch of the year was a 99-yard catch-and-run to tie the 3A East final with seconds remaining and force overtime. The Gryphons held on and made their second straight title game appearance. Has 16 interceptions over the past two years.
Daniel Jackson, Middle Creek, Sr., SAF, 6-3, 195
Patrolled the secondary for a 14-1 Mustangs team that allowed just 64.6 passing yards and 9.5 points per game. The Army recruit had 97 tackles and 10 interceptions for the 4AA semifinalists. Blocked two field goals and caught one of them against his chest and ran it back for a 65-yard touchdown in the 4AA semifinal loss to Wake Forest. Has 21 interceptions over the last two years.
N&O final football rankings
1. Wake Forest
2. Middle Creek
3. Rocky Mount
7. Southern Nash
8. West Johnston
9. Cardinal Gibbons
11. Lee County
16. Southeast Raleigh
17. J.H. Rose
18. D.H. Conley
21. Holly Springs
22. Southern Lee
24. South Granville
*D.H. Conley forfeited a Week 1 win to Southeast Raleigh.
Eligible counties: Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Moore, Nash, Orange, Person, Pitt, Vance, Warren, Wake, Wayne, Wilson.