Nothing ever seems quite as big as the proverbial fish that got away. Fittingly, both Southern Durham and Shelby Crest, slated to meet at noon this Saturday in the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s 3AA football championship game in Kenan Stadium, feel that they’ve got some unfinished business to settle.
For Southern (12-3), there’s the state final they missed in 2014, denied to them after a stunning upset at home by Chapel Hill in the NCHSAA state quarterfinals.
“That loss really stuck with us and motivated us this year,” Southern Head Coach Darius Robinson said Monday. “Last year’s team was a team of destiny. They’d won 27 straight. We felt that we left something on the table.”
Crest Head Coach Will Clark said his Chargers (15-0) feel much the same way.
Southern was able to scratch its itch some this year, beating Chapel Hill twice – once in the Big 8 Conference’s regular season and again in the first round of the NCHAA 3AA playoffs. But, even after 31 straight wins and claiming the 2014 state 3A championship, the Chargers still feel the sting of their 38-31 loss to Southern in the 2013 championship game in Winston-Salem.
Crest hasn’t lost since.
“That was a tough game to lose. That was heartbreaking to our kids,” Clark said. “We have a lot of kids who were on that field who are seniors this year.
“Our kids know a little bit about Southern Durham.”
Clark said that playing in a championship game usually has its own challenges. Typically, it contains unknown ground for most players. But the Chargers have been there before.
Saturday will mark the 10th appearance in a state football championship game for Crest, which is 5-4 in its previous finals. That includes a 24-3 victory in 2014 over then-defending 3A champion Havelock in Clark’s first year as an assistant coach at Crest.
Clark took over as head coach at Crest in March after Barnes announced he was taking a job at Sumter (S.C.) High School. Clark had played quarterback for Barnes when he was head coach at Scotland County. In five years at Crest, Barnes led the Chargers to four appearances in the NCHSAA state finals, winning it all in 2014 with a 16-0 record.
Southern’s championship win over Crest represented the Spartans’ first NCHSAA football title, but the Spartans still will field players Saturday who Robinson figures have plenty of playoff experience from 2013 – notably all-conference wideout Kaleb Barfield, linebacker Sabir Muhammad and running back/quarterback Jordan Brown, already committed to the University of North Carolina.
Brown, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass for Southern in 2013, was pressed into service at quarterback for last Friday’s 19-15 win over Northern Guilford after an injury the week before to erstwhile starter Jalen Greene.
“Jordan was kind of our secret weapon before. Now everyone knows he can pass as well as run,” Robinson said. “Jalen will still be there Saturday, as a coach. His experience and knowledge are valuable.”