Southwest Wake: Sports

Looking back at SWAC football

Fuquay-Varina’s Damarus Williams (37) is tackled by Middle Creek’s Johnathan Spencer (1) in Fuquay-Varina on Friday, November 7, 2014. Middle Creek won 33-27.
Fuquay-Varina’s Damarus Williams (37) is tackled by Middle Creek’s Johnathan Spencer (1) in Fuquay-Varina on Friday, November 7, 2014. Middle Creek won 33-27.

At the beginning of the season, we posed six questions for the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference’s football teams.

We can now answer them.

We asked if there would be a team to make a big move in the standings, and both Apex (from 2-9 to 5-6) and Green Hope (from 6-6 to 9-2) obliged.

We wondered if Middle Creek could be stopped in its quest for a fourth straight conference title. It was.

There are more items from the beginning of the year that need addressing, as well as some highlights from throughout the year.

Best play on-camera: Apex’s Ian Boyd made a spectacular one-handed grab for a touchdown against Panther Creek that ABC11 cameras caught.

Best play off-camera: Here’s a play that didn’t end up on camera but had to be a sight to see. In a loss to Middle Creek, Athens Drive’s 290-pound nose guard Nate Gatling ran a fumble back 39 yards for touchdown.

What worked: Panther Creek was hoping its front seven could adequately replace holes left by graduation, and they did. Linebackers Ryan Callahan and Matt Mitchum were seemingly everywhere. Josh Guest bolstered the line, and the secondary was as good as advertised.

Apex was hoping a change in offense would get the Cougars back to the postseason, and it worked like a charm.

What didn’t pan out: Having the largest team in the conference did little for Cary.

The Imps went 0-11 and scored just eight offensive touchdowns.

Nonconference play: With the collective SWAC nonconference schedule chock full of returning playoff teams, one of our six preseason questions asked what we could learn once the dust settled.

Well, the teams who went 3-1 or better in nonconference play – Middle Creek followed by Panther Creek, Green Hope and Apex – finished first, second, third and seventh. So the nonconference lived up to the billing, for the most part.

Why coaches know their stuff: The coaches said Green Hope and Middle Creek were the best two teams, and for most of the year, that was the case. Even with Panther Creek finishing second, both the Falcons and the Mustangs went 9-2.

The coaches all had trouble picking a third-place team, yet each one threw out Panther Creek and Holly Springs.

All in all, nicely done, coaches.

Changes in offense: We posed two preseason questions on individual teams’ offenses.

The first was based on the premise that the coaches would be correct and the SWAC would come down to Green Hope and Middle Creek. Which spread passing offense would cut down on interceptions the most?

It was a tie.

Middle Creek’s Brant Grisel didn’t throw for as many yards as last year, but his interceptions dropped from 17 to 10. Green Hope’s Luke Massei threw for almost the same yardage but dropped his interceptions from 19 to 12.

The second question, based on the many changes in coordinators, asked who was going to lead the way in rushing.

Apex’s new spread rushing attack benefitted junior Isaiah Totten more than anyone else. He led the SWAC with 1,816 yards and 24 TDs.

Best game: Holly Springs’ 42-35 upset of Middle Creek in triple overtime on Oct. 17 takes the cake, although Green Hope’s win for the SWAC title and Middle Creek’s season opening win against Garner were also great.

The significance of that game can’t be lost either.

Without it, there would have been a three-way tie for first in the SWAC.

Out-of-nowhere players: Here’s a salute to the guys who may have not made the preseason story if not for a coach’s name-drop, but might make all-conference.

Panther Creek had two of those guys on defense. Junior safety Isaiah Laster scored three defensive and special teams touchdowns while senior Ryan Callahan, who only rotated with three all-conference linebackers the year before, was all over the field making tackles and big plays.

Middle Creek running back Elijah Perry will double his yardage from the year before, when he was injured.

Athens Drive’s Jamie Barnes went from 24 rushing yards and playing a lot of defense to 1,311 yards and playing sparingly on defense.

Postseason streaks: With six of eight teams making the playoffs, there is no significant postseason drought in the conference.

Athens Drive and Cary, the two who missed out this year, each made the 2012 postseason.

Middle Creek still has the longest postseason streak in the SWAC. The Mustangs have made the playoffs in all 12 years of varsity existence. Fuquay-Varina made it 10 years in a row. The other active streaks are: Green Hope three, Holly Springs and Panther Creek two.