High School Sports

High school football preview: Panther Creek rebuilds defense

Panther Creek’s Justin Smalls (81) carries the ball in the first half. The Panther Creek Catamounts played the Green Hope Falcons in the second round of the 4A NCHSAA football playoffs in Cary on Friday, November 21,2014.
Panther Creek’s Justin Smalls (81) carries the ball in the first half. The Panther Creek Catamounts played the Green Hope Falcons in the second round of the 4A NCHSAA football playoffs in Cary on Friday, November 21,2014. newsobserver.com

Things have almost completely reversed for the Panther Creek football team. A year ago, the Catamounts had to break in new faces on offense while almost the entire defense remained intact.

Now it’s offense that looks loaded and defense that’s hurt by graduation.

Safety Isaiah Laster and defensive tackle Ben Williams are the only two Panther Creek (11-3, 6-1) defensive players who saw considerable playing time last year.

“Everybody else is up from JV or moved positions,” coach Sean Crocker said. “The hope is we can grow our defense up pretty quickly. The guys are good players, they just don’t have experience on varsity.”

Crocker said the offense will have to score more than it did last year. New quarterback Dom Samson will lead the charge.

Samson was 5 of 17 passing last year as a backup, tossing a touchdown pass against Rolesville. He will have three offensive linemen from last year to protect him.

Samson will also have the team’s top four returning receivers – Caleb Cross (554 yards), Diamante Taylor (520), Justin Smalls (497) and running back Toney Bass (224 receiving, 890 rushing).

“Dom is a guy who brings a pretty good mental game,” Crocker said. “He can see coverages, he can see formations, he can read defenses on the run. He brings some thinking to the position that will allow us to use more guys.”

Taylor and Ivoree Atkinson are two receivers who will start on defense as well. Atkinson will be a linebacker while Crocker thinks Taylor could be one of the best cornerbacks in the SWAC.

He will have to step up to help the Catamounts continue the defensive success that started last year.

“He’s one of the best receivers in the conference, he may be better at corner than he is at receiver,” Crocker said. “We’ve got to make sure we get those (two-way players) in advantageous positions and don’t wear them out.”

Offense: Spread.

Defense: 4-3.

Contributors: QB RB Toney Bass; RB Addison Pinkey; WR Caleb Cross; WR Justin Smalls; TE/LB Ivoree Atkinson; OL Dylan Fick; OL Carter Mo; OL Isaac Williams; DL Brandon Bennett; DT Ben Williams; DL Jamison Hargraves; LB Hayden Plunkett; DB/WR Diamante Taylor; S Isaiah Laster.

Expected team strength: Wide receivers.

Question mark: Linebackers.

Player they’ll miss the most: LB Ryan Callahan. The SWAC defensive player of the year wreaked havoc and was a weapon on fake punts – passing or running.

The main number: 1 – Panther Creek has one returning starter back from a defense that allowed 12.4 points per game.

The quote: Crocker: “It’s better to be young on offense than defense. If you can stop people from scoring points, it affords your offense a lot of opportunities.”

Game to watch: Oct. 9 at Green Hope. The west Cary rivals met twice last year – Green Hope won the regular-season finale for immediate bragging rights, but Panther Creek won two weeks later in the playoffs.

J. Mike Blake: 919-460-2606, @JMBpreps

Past five years

2014: 11-3 (6-1), 4AA third round

2013: 9-3 (6-1), 4AA first round

2012: 1-10 (1-7)

2011: 8-4 (6-2), 4AA first round

2010: 13-2 (7-1), 4AA East final

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