After a school finishes its best season ever in football, what’s there to do for an encore?
Winning a conference championship would be nice.
Chapel Hill last finished atop its conference in 2008, the Tigers’ last year in the 4A classification, when they split the PAC-6 title with Hillside and Southern Durham. Both Hillside and Southern have won state championships since then, giving a good hint at the level of competition.
Chapel Hill has found plenty to cheer about since joining the Big Eight, arguably the state’s toughest 3A conference over the past three years. Last year’s 11-4 finish marked the most wins ever by the school and included a 39-28 upset of then-No. 1-ranked Southern Durham in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.
“That still seems like a surreal moment,” Chapel Hill coach Issac Marsh said last week. “That’s going to be a season we’ll always remember. It’s also one that we want to duplicate or even better this year.”
The Tigers have reasons to demand success. It took Northern Guilford (16-1), the eventual 3AA champion, to knock Chapel Hill out of the playoffs.
Despite the graduation of offensive line captain Logan Tisch to Clemson, four of five starting interior linemen return: offensive tackles Neal Duncan and Brian Jones, two-time all-conference center George McBurney and guard Hudson Price. Each is big and beefy, though McBurney weighed in at “just” 215 pounds last year as he was working to stay in his weight class for the ensuing wrestling season.
That line provided excellent protection in most games last year for all-conference quarterback Connor Stough and all-conference running back Ricki McDowell, both of whom are back.
McDowell rushed for 73 yards per game last year, more than half of the team’s average.
Stough, who transferred as a junior last season from East Chapel Hill, almost immediately mastered Chapel Hill’s offense. He completed 247 of 437 passes (56.5 percent) for 3,177 yards and 25 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.
Offense: Multiple spread.
Contributors: QB Connor Stough; RB Ricki McDowell; WR Albert Nyamayaro; DB Connor Korfas; OL/DL George McBurney; OG/DL Hudson Price; OL/DT Neal Duncan; OL/DT Brian Jones.
Expected team strength: A veteran offensive line that performed extremely well in 2014.
Question mark: “The issue is numbers and depth,” coach Issac Marsh said. “We need to find the people who will move into some of the positions we need filled.”
Player they’ll miss the most: OL/DL Logan Tisch, who walked on at Clemson.
The key number: 14 – returning starters, six on offense, eight on defense.
The quote: Marsh: “We still have a lot of work to do. Not having the total numbers we’d like to have, several guys are going to have to play both ways this year.”
Game to watch: Oct. 9 vs. Southern Durham. The Tigers were the only team to beat defending state champions last year, knocking them out of the playoffs.
Past five years
2014: 11-4 (4-3), 3AA East final
2013: 4-8 (3-4), 3AA first round
2012: 9-4 (3-2), 3AA second round
2011: 10-3 (3-2), 3AA second round
2010: 4-7 (1-4)