Thursday, September 27, 2007

Knotts: Patriots need to be more consistent

Five games into the season, Independence coach Tom Knotts thinks his team still has a lot of work to do.

The Patriots have been behind since off-field issues forced Knotts to miss nearly all of summer workouts in July. Among them: his father, Don, passed away.

Independence has been sluggish all season and had its 109-game win streak snapped by Cincinnati's Elder High in its second game.

As the Patriots get ready for South Meck (4-1) Friday at 7 p.m., Knotts is looking for more consistent play from his young team.

"I think we take two steps forward and a little one back," he said. "That game last week (a 36-14 win over Myers Park) could've easily been a 50-something game."

Knotts is concerned that 5-7 quarterback Anthony Carrothers is struggling to find open receivers. Knotts said Patriots receivers ran free deep several times last week and Carrothers missed them.

"I don't know why," Knotts said. "I'm hoping it's not his height. I've got to figure out what it is. He seems to be seeing the rush. That's typical of a young quarterback."

Knotts said he planned to spend more practice time standing directly behind Carrothers to try to determine if he needs to coach him more -- or simply have him roll out to see passing lanes better.

Langston Wertz Jr.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Latest AP football poll is out

The Associated Press football poll for North Carolina, based on 15 media voters statewide (first-place votes in parentheses):

1. Independence (15), 4-1
2. Richmond Senior, 5-0
3. Wilmington Hoggard, 4-0
4. West Charlotte, 5-1
5. Butler, 4-1
6. Garner, 6-0
7. Scotland, 5-0
8. Greensboro Grimsley, 5-0
9. Boiling Springs Crest, 4-1
10. Hope Mills South View, 6-0
Also receiving votes: Wake Forest-Rolesville, Raleigh Leesville Road, Gastonia Ashbrook, Pembroke Swett, Fayetteville Byrd.
1. Western Alamance (12), 6-0
2. Rocky Mount (3), 6-0
3. Belmont South Point, 5-0
T4. Asheville Roberson, 5-0
T4. SouthWest Edgecombe, 5-0
6. Anson Senior, 5-1
7. Charlotte Catholic, 4-2
8. West Rowan, 5-0
9. North Gaston, 4-1
10. Northeast Guilford, 4-1
Others receiving votes: Kernersville Glenn, Hickory, Eastern Alamance, Kannapolis Brown, Greensboro Dudley, Wilson Hunt, Hertford County.
1. Reidsville (14), 5-0
2. Shelby (1), 4-1
3. Jacksonville Northside, 5-0
4. South Columbus, 5-0
5. Southern Vance, 5-1
6. Mt. Pleasant, 5-0
7. Southwest Onslow, 4-1
8. Bunn, 4-1
9. Burlington Cummings, 3-3
10. Salisbury, 5-1
Others receiving votes: Brevard, West Davidson, Pittsboro Northwood, Whiteville, North Lincoln, Lenoir Hibriten, Mitchell County, East Lincoln, Thomasville Ledford.
1. Thomasville (12), 5-0
2. Warsaw Kenan (3), 6-0
3. Mt. Airy, 5-0
4. Polk County, 6-0
5. Plymouth, 5-0
6. Siler City Jordan-Matthews, 5-0
7. North Duplin, 5-0
8. Wallace-Rose Hill, 4-1
9. Ayden-Grifton, 5-1
10. West Montgomery, 4-1
Others receiving votes: East Bladen, Pender County, East Surry, Murphy, Salemburg Lakewood, Louisburg, Pamlico County, Cherryville.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Porter Ridge football, Union soccer

Sunday's Neighbors of Union County section featured an analysis of the struggles of the Indian Trail Porter Ridge football program. A longer version of that story ran online(

The piece generated some questions from readers. Let me first explain the origins of what was an unusual story for the section:

My original intent was to write an item for this blog, after I covered the Pirates' game against Charlotte Ardrey Kell Sept. 14. That was the first time I saw Porter Ridge play this season. I was surprised at what I saw. The defense played fine; the offense did not.

Some readers had previously complained to me and a colleague about the Pirates' offense. After I watched the unit against Ardrey Kell, I was curious what was going on. That prompted me to pitch a brief analysis to my editor.

Then the story began to grow. Through several interviews with sources and conversations I have had (on and off the record) with a few students who live in the Porter Ridge school district, it became clear that the causes of the Pirates' struggles stretched back further than this season.

Once I wrote a draft of the piece, a decision was made to run it in the paper instead of the blog.

Let me make a few points about our coverage:

--We are not cheerleaders or promoters. We cannot focus only on the positives of Union prep sports. We strive to avoid criticizing a kid in print for what he/she does on the field of play. But that does not absolve the adults who are responsible for coaching and/or supervising these kids.

--Prep football is a different animal. Hundreds of people attend games, making it a community event in many areas -- not just a game. It's also usually a revenue-generating sport; ticket and concession sales from home games drive funding for other school sports. That means the success and popularity of a high school's football team could impact more people than you may think.

So football gets higher scrutiny from the media than other prep sports. In other words, if the successful Porter Ridge softball team suddenly struggles, we are unlikely to do a report on that.

--Porter Ridge stands out. This is a large Class 3A school in a fast-growing part of the fastest-growing county in the state. So it may receive more media scrutiny than an average high school, much as Marvin Ridge did when we examined the construction of the Mavericks' athletics program.

I am convinced there is more to the Porter Ridge football story than what we have reported so far. Let's hear from you. What did we miss?...

One item to close:

--The Porter Ridge boys' soccer team hosts Weddington Monday at 6:30 p.m., in a matchup not only of top Union teams but also two of the best teams in the state. The Warriors (7-0-1 before Wednesday's match against Butler) are ranked the No. 9 Class 4A team in North Carolina. The Pirates (10-2-2) before Wednesday's game against Hickory Ridge) are No. 7 in 3A. Monday is the only time this season the teams meet.

Marvin Ridge (8-3) is among teams receiving votes in the 3A state poll. Monroe (7-3-1) and Central Academy (6-2-3) are among teams receiving votes in the 2A poll. Neither Marvin Ridge nor Central Academy has any seniors. --Ryan Basen

First-ever Readers Sweet 16 poll says ....

The readers have spoken.

And they’re not saying that much differently than the Observer’s Sweet 16 panel.

For the first time in the 23-year history of the Sweet 16, the Observer has invited readers to be part of the voting process. A group of six readers were selected from more than 400 who responded and wanted to be a part of it.

Those readers followed the same rules as do the the writers: pick 16 area teams on an individual ballot.

A first place vote counts 16 points. A 16th place vote counts 1. We added up the votes and came up with the reader poll.

One voter missed the voting deadline this week and will join the poll next week. The other five readers picked the exact same top six teams as the Observer’s wrtiers, and with a few exceptions, pretty much chose the same teams.

Did they get it right?

(Scroll down to the end of this post to see a video with more insight into the rankings.)
1. Independence
2. Charlotte Latin
3. West Charlotte
4. Butler
5. Char. Country Day.
6. West Rowan
7. Shelby
8. Hickory
9. North Gaston
10. Charlotte Catholic
11. Mt. Pleasant
12. Clover, S.C.
13. Sun Valley
14. South Point
15. B. Springs Crest
16. Char. Christian

1. Independence
2. Charlotte Latin
3. West Charlotte
4. Butler
5, Char. Country Day.
6. West Rowan
7. Hickory
8. Clover, SC
9. Shelby
10. N. Gaston
11. Sun Valley
12. B. Springs Crest
13. Char. Catholic
14. Clt Christian
15 Rock Hill N’western
16. Anson Senior
Langston Wertz Jr.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Little e and other cool stuff

Hop-scotching around high school football:

  • One little “e” - and we don’t mean the NASCAR driver - is making readers pay close attention. There is South Point, in Belmont, an N.C. 3A school. Then there’s South Pointe, a Rock Hill school that plays in 4A. They both wear red. They’re both contenders.
  • Speaking of confusion: How about next summer, someone organizes a scrimmage that includes Hickory Ridge, Porter Ridge and Marvin Ridge? Round out the field by inviting Cedar Ridge (it’s in Hillsborough).
  • I heard two cool nicknames at last weekend’s games. West Charlotte receiver Bobby Grier is called “Lights Out.” It fits, as Grier is one of the state’s top track sprinters. When he gets the ball in the open field, it’s well, lights out. West Rowan defensive tackle Matt Sheets is called “Blob.” Don’t snicker. The blob can move - he recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the 26-17 victory against Statesville on Friday.

Two underdogs you can’t help but root for:
  • Garinger on a 51-game slide which it’s surely tired of hearing about. The Wildcats got the geese problem fixed at their stadium, in time to host Hopewell at 7 p.m. Friday. On the downside, Garinger has been shut out four times in five games.
  • Monroe Central Academy, playing its first varsity season, is 0-5 and has been outscored 277-0.

Loved the quote by Myers Park coach Jim Ruark, when asked about an onside kick early in the second quarter:

“We don’t play this game to lose. We don’t play it to just be out here. We play it to win.”

-- Cliff Mehrtens

Gaston, Lincoln updates

Here's a look at what going on in Gaston and Lincoln County football, one week into the conference season:

Three things making news:

1. Ashbrook. The Green Wave stunned the rest of the Big South 3A/4A conference with its 35-17 win at Crest Friday. This week, Ashbrook (3-3) will get another test when it faces 5-1 North Gaston.

2. Cherryville. The Ironmen have had only one winning season since 1978, but Cherryville is already 4-1 this season. Quarterback Cameron Lovelace returns Friday against Highland Tech after a one-game absence, and Cherryville will be a big favorite for its fifth win.

3. East Gaston's reunion: The Warriors will see a familiar face Friday when they play at Kings Mountain. Former coach Greg Lloyd is now at Kings Mountain, but the move hasn't benefitted either team yet. The two schools are a combined 1-9 this season.

Three games to watch Friday:

1. North Gaston at Ashbrook:
North Gaston crushed Hunter Huss behind seven touchdowns from running back Princeton Brooks, but the Ashbrook defense shut down Crest in the second half last week. The Green Wave had an effective pass rush last week, but North Gaston quarterback A.J. Blue won't get rattled with defenders in his face.

2. Crest at Forestview: Crest players were angry after losing to Ashbrook Friday night, but the Chargers have to put that behind them. Forestview is the surprise team in the Big South 3A/4A, winning three of its first five games after a 1-10 season in 2006. But the Jaguars must slow down Crest running back Ryan Black to keep their conference title hopes alive.

3. East Lincoln at Lincolnton: East Lincoln mustered only seven points against North Lincoln last week, and must win to stay in the conference hunt. Lincolnton running back C.J. Wilson scored three touchdowns Friday, and is starting to return to his play in 2005, when he led the Wolves to the 2A state championship game.

Three bold predictions:

1. South Point quarterback Desmond Lowery
will challenge North Gaston's A.J. Blue for Big South 3A/4A conference player of the year. Lowery and the South Point offense have overwhelmed their first five opponents, and the Red Raiders' game against North Gaston Oct. 26 could determine the conference winner and player of the year.

2. North Lincoln will set a school record for wins. The Knights are 5-1 this season, and should win at least nine games this season. That would be the most for the Lincoln County school, which opened in 2003.

3. West Lincoln will miss the playoffs. The Rebels (1-5) still have games with conference favorites East Lincoln, Lincolnton and North Lincoln left, and would likely need four wins to qualify for the playoffs.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Want to vote on the Sweet 16?

We're looking for readers who will vote on a special Sweet 16 poll each week. Email with the subject line "I want to vote!"

We'll ask that selected voters submit votes by Sundays at noon.

C'mon guys, you're always saying we get it wrong. Here's your chance to make sure we get it right.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Big Scare for Butler QB Charest

Somewhere about 9 o'clock Friday night, Illinois coach Ron Zook got a heart palpitation he couldn't explain.

Down in southeast Charlotte, star recruit Jacob Charest, Butler High's 6-foot-2 strong-armed quarterback, fell to the ground in the middle of Butler's 49-7 win over Ardrey Kell.

Butler was in a dogfight. The Bulldogs were ahead 14-7 and Kell had just fumbled at Butler's 9.

Charest, a top 20 national recruit at his position, found himself scrambling and saw teammate Mickey Brewer ready to throw a block. Brewer threw the block and it sent a Kell defender right into the front of Charest's left knee, which turned red as an apple.

"I was so scared," Charest said, "because it hurt so bad. It felt like I hit my funny bone in my arm, but it was my knee. It was terrible."

Charest laid on the ground, with trainers and his parents surrounding him. Everyone was huddled so tightly around him that it looked like six people warming their hands over a campfire in Alaska.

Luckily, Charest gingerly walked off the field under his own power in about five minutes -- and the Butler crowd went wild.

Junior quarterback Mick Zubel came in and handed off twice and Robert Boykin and Kenneth Boulware gained 7 and 34 yards and Butler scored to go up 21-7. The game was over and on Butler's next series, Charest came in and rolled to his right -- showing no signs of injury -- and snapped off a 14-yard pass to Boykin and then a 15-yard scoring pass to Mickey Brewer.

He looked OK. Bulldogs coach Mike Newsome said it's likely a bruised knee. Independence lost star tight end Mario Carter with a knee injury to start the season and the Patriots offense hasn't been the same. Butler is lucky Charest will be back. And he plans to get his team -- which struggled after struggling in Monday's loss to West Charlotte -- playing better.

"I've got to get these guys going," he said. "It's on me. We'll get this fixed."

Langston Wertz Jr.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Profanity rule aimed at wrong folks

I don't agree with the N.C. High School Athletic Association's proposal to fine schools whose student-athetes use profanity on the field.

First of all, this puts an awful burden on the game officials. If a kid gets in an official's face and curses him out, that's one thing. But officials already have to deal with enough without monitoring what a kid says under his breath when he drops a pass.

Secondly, the association is targeting the wrong crowd. When a player drops an F-bomb on the field, few people hear it. When an entire student section unleashes a chant with the initials BS, as Sun Valley's students did in consecutive September football games, dozens of little kids and others can hear it loud and clear.

It's also dubious to take money away from the schools for such a matter. Judging by the aggressive fundraising of many area high schools, they need all the money they can get to run efficient sports programs. -- Ryan Basen

Coaches discussing injuries

It's the policy of Weddington coach Phil Williams, he says, not to discuss his players' injuries. Hence the lack of an update on senior Stephen Efird's condition heading into the Warriors' game against Providence Friday.

It's my understanding that NFL and college teams are required to file accurate public injury reports before each game. This has been going on long before fantasy football was popular.

Local high school teams face no such mandates. So Williams can do whatever he wants. But he is the only coach I have ever worked with over the last few years who refuses to address injuries.

We don't have that luxury. When Efird is taken off the field in an ambulance in front of a capacity crowd at Weddington's home opener, it becomes our duty to report what happened to him and what condition he is in. Just part of the job.

What do you think? Are there other coaches who do as Williams does? Should the N.C. High School athletic Association create a policy to address this? -- Ryan Basen

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

West Charlotte will be in the hunt

A loss isn’t always devastating.
West Charlotte split the most arduous two-week football schedule in the state, losing 49-32 to seven-time reigning 4A champ Independence and beating No. 2 Butler 20-14.

"When you play Independence, they’re going to expose any weakness you might have and need to work on," coach Maurice Flowers said. "They showed us some things we needed to work on. We went and worked on it, and Butler got to see it."

West Charlotte’s two-week test served notice that it remains a state title contender, after reaching the 4A title game last December.

"This helps tremendously getting us ready for conference play, and the state playoffs," Flowers said. "We’re not going to play two tougher teams in the state. One thing we know is we go into every game knowing we have a chance to win."

West Charlotte (4-1) will open ME-CA 6 4A at home against Hopewell (4-0) at 7 p.m. Friday. It will be a 4A team in the playoffs - and miss 4AA foes like Independence and Butler.

But the Lions know they can hang with the best.

"The best football in the state right now is being played in Charlotte," Flowers said. "If we’re one of the best teams in Charlotte, we know we’re one of the best teams in the state." -- Cliff Mehrtens

Monday, September 17, 2007

What's next in Gaston, Lincoln County?

Friday is the sixth week of the high school football season and more importantly, it’s the start of conference play for most Gaston and Lincoln County teams. Here’s a quick look at what’s going on, and what’s going to happen:

Three things making news:

1. The North Lincoln defense. The Knights have three straight shutouts heading into Friday’s game at East Lincoln.
2. South Point quarterback Desmond Lowery. Lowery, as his older brother Devon once did, has the South Point offense rolling. The Red Raiders are averaging more than 300 yards rushing and 39 points a game.
3. Forestview’s resurgence: The Jaguars went 1-10 last season, but are 3-1 heading into Friday’s game at Burns.

Three games to watch Friday:

1. Hunter Huss at North Gaston: These teams have played several close games in recent years, including two games in which Hunter Huss rallied from 21-point deficits to win. Hunter Huss quarterback Marshall Williams made his first varsity start against the Wildcats in the playoffs last season, and North Gaston dared the 5-foot-7, 150-pound Williams to throw. Expect the same strategy Friday.
2. North Lincoln at East Lincoln: The emerging rivalry between these Lincoln neighbors adds a little spice Friday. Both teams are contenders in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A conference, but the key might be whether the North Lincoln defense can slow East Lincoln running back Adrian Forney.
3. Ashbrook at Crest: Ashbrook is better than its 2-3 record, but the Green Wave will have a challenge against Crest. Ashbrook has won two straight close games, and upset the Chargers 13-12 at Crest in 2005.

Three bold predictions:

1. North Gaston quarterback A.J. Blue is considered a top Division I prospect, but I expect him to get moved to a different position in college. He’s not a polished passer – Blue has completed only 11 of his past 34 passes – but he has 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash and the size to be a college free safety.
2. Lincolnton is 1-4 this season, but expect the Wolves to win at least five of their final six games. Lincolnton’s four losses are to teams with a combined record of 13-4, and the Wolves have too much offensive talent to slide down the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A conference standings.
3. East Gaston, which won a share of the Big South 3A/4A conference title, will finish last in the conference. The Warriors (0-4) lost almost all of their offense from last season and haven’t been competitive in any of their four games this season.
-- Kevin Cary

Friday, September 14, 2007

Victory Christian tries to ask a question of Latin

It's 7:21 and kickoff of tonight's Victory Christian-Charlotte Latin showdown is nine minutes away. Everybody is talking about heavy rain blanketing the Charlotte area, but over here on Providence Road in south Charlotte, the skies are clear.

As my grandma, Lillie McNeely was fond of saying, it hasn't rained a dry drop over here.

In warmups, Victory Christian looks large and impressive, a group of former NFL players stalking around the teenagers giving them advance instruction.

Latin fans are a little nervous about tonight's game, talking about all the Division I potential players are on the Kings team. I think there are at least 10, but Latin has six or seven of its own. There aren't too many games in Charlotte this season -- public or private -- that will have this kind of talent on the field.

Langston Wertz Jr.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On geese poop, soccer, App State and quarterbacks

Garinger just cannot catch a break. The Wildcats, who have lost 49 games, can't play North Meck at home this week because some geese have turned their field into an extra large toilet bowl.

The geese population has tripled and geese poop has -- literally -- littered the field. That means Garinger's home game moves to North Meck Friday as the Wildcats try to avoid losing 50 straight.

It's just not right.


There are a couple games to mark on your calendar:

Tuesday: No. 7 South Meck (5-1-1, 1-0 Southwestern 4A) at Providence (4-1-3, 0-0-1): An early season conference showdown. Providence has tied its past two games with Weddington and Charlotte Catholic. The Panthers play Butler Thursday. South Meck, which plays Indy Thursday, have won two in a row since falling to North Meck.

Thursday, Sept. 27: Lake Norman at Charlotte Catholic: I'm told this just might be the game of the year in the state. Lake Norman is unbeaten and ranked No 1 in 3A. Catholic is No. 2. This is the equivalent of Butler-Indy football Nov. 2, right? Discuss.

WC QB Compares to App's Edwards

Independence coach Tom Knotts was glowing in his praise for West Charlotte quarterback Darius Thomas, who torched Knotts' Patriots for a school-record 504 yards and four touchdowns last week.

"That kid has a super, super arm," Knotts said. "He's an incredible player. I don't know why Appalachian State has not signed that kid. He's a carbon copy of the quarterback they have now."

Thomas' running and scrambling ability and strong arm would be huge assets at App, and I agree with Knotts, Thomas is a little bigger version of Mountaineer starter Armanti Edwards. Somebody will get a gem when they get Thomas.

Langston Wertz Jr.

Friday, September 7, 2007

WC-Indy feels like old times

It’s 11 minutes to 6 and there’s an already a huge crowd at Independence High’s football field, waiting for the gates to open. The game doesn’t start until 7 and there’s a serious buzz about this week’s matchup between two of the best teams in town.

My phone has rung about 30 times today – no lie – with people wondering if this game was at Independence or at Memorial Stadium. The game is on campus, but it looks like a Memorial Stadium crowd is on the way. Traffic is backed up on all roads entering the school and in the parking lot, Anthony Carrothers Sr. – father of Patriots QB Anthony Jr. – is grilling out and giving food away as people walk by.

Boy, does it smell good.

There’s only a few games in Mecklenburg County every year that have truly a big game feel and this is one of them. West Charlotte-Independence is no longer the top rivalry around. That’s Butler-Independence now, but this game is not second to anything else.

Fans get pumped up about the game and there’s a sense this year that West Charlotte is back to being West Charlotte. Some of the old West Charlotte fans are coming back. They remember that West Charlotte is where Tom Knotts used to coach and where he built the Lions into the type power Mecklenburg County had never seen before – until Knotts got to Independence in 2000.

People here are talking about the Lions’ passing game, asking how Independence will defend it after struggling last week. They’re asking how the Patriots will bounce back after last week’s loss to Elder (Ohio), even asking how will the West Charlotte band do (they’ll show out as usual).

There’s no question this is The Big Game. The clump of fans still waiting for the gates to open – still eating hamburgers from Chef Carrothers – will tell you that.

It’s game night. This is the big game. No better place to be.

Langston Wertz Jr.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Butler-Indy fans can't wait for Nov. 2

It looks like the Butler-Independence rivalry, which is the best in the state right now, is off to an early start.

More than two months before the teams meet in November at Memorial Stadium, students, former students and players are pounding FaceBook with posts about who's going to win. As I write this, it's five pages and more than 200 posts deep, sometimes nasty.

Alex from N.C. State (and apparently an Indy grad) writes:
"Butler beating Independence would not be the biggest high school football upset Charlotte had ever seen. If Butler is as good as all you Butler people say, it wouldn't even be that big an upset period. If some school like Garinger were to beat Independence it would be the biggest upset, way bigger. Butler winning is just the second best team beating the best team."

Nicole from Mint Hill counters:

"Anyone who keeps talkin', it's only making our team stronger. Butler has never beaten us and never will. Keep in mind we lost to someone out of state. I bet these lame teams in North Carolina can't beat us, Butler and all."

But my personal favorite is from the guy who says the game won't make the paper. Yeah, right.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Independence-Elder replay to air Wednesday

A replay of Saturday's Independence vs. Cincinnati Elder high school football game will be shown at 7 p.m. Wednesday on ESPNU.

ESPNU is available via Time Warner cable and satellite services in the Charlotte market.

In the game, Elder rallied from a 27-14 halftime deficit to stop the Patriots 109-game winning streak, converting a crucial 4th and 16 play near the end of regulation to do it.

Elder won the game after scoring in overtime and intercepting the Patriots on the game's final play.

Langston Wertz Jr.

Should Indy have dropped in Sweet 16?

Should Independence have dropped from No. 1 in the Observer Sweet 16 poll?

I’ve had a range of responses.

No, some say, the Patriots remain the best team in our area. Their rationale? Losing to an Ohio team shouldn’t carry as much weight as a loss to an N.C. team.

Yes, others have told me, Independence should have dropped.

They blew a 13-point halftime lead. They allowed 41 points. They were outscored 27-7 after halftime.

We have six sportswriters voting in the poll. Five voted Butler No. 1; one stuck with Independence as No. 1.

Should the Patriots have fallen? Or dropped lower than No. 2?

What do you think? Post your thoughts by clicking on the comments link below.

-- Cliff Mehrtens

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sights & Sounds | Indy streak ends

It will be a long time – if ever – before we see a winning streak as long as Independence’s 109 in football.

Seven years.

No losses. Lots of pressure.

It ended at 11:15 p.m. Saturday in a 41-34 overtime loss to unranked Cincinnati Elder.

Sights and sounds from the upset:

• Independence, as hard as it must have been, stopped in the corner of the field, turned back and briefly watched Elder celebrate.

• Elder’s purple-clad fans stormed the field, and spilled dangerously close to where Independence was gathered. But trash talk didn’t happen. The Panthers and their fans were too busy wallowing in pure joy.

• Independence athletics director Kelly Lewis, slumped against a rail, asking “How did we let that game get away?”

• Sunday’s headline in the Cincinnati Enquirer: “Purple Ends Reign.”

• Independence’s defense – outside of Jarvis Pierce’s three sacks – wasn’t effective. Three pass interference penalties. A roughing-the-passer penalty. It allowed 377 yards, and 23 first downs. And didn’t force any turnovers.

The offense, dominant with four touchdowns in the first half, was sluggish in the second. An interception on the first possession in the third quarter was returned to the Independence 1, which resulted in a gift touchdown. Independence’s second possession was a lost fumble.

• Coaches reminding players to “keep your heads up” as they sulked toward the bus.

• Small consolation, but Independence had some solid individual statistics. Javon Rembert caught 12 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. Anthony Carrothers was 25-of-36 for 346 yards and two scores. Rod Chisholm ran for 100 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.


Saturday, September 1, 2007

Independence, thanks for the memories

I was watching "Californication" on Showtime when Independence's 109-game win streak ended with an interception in Ohio Saturday night.

I turned on the news and was surprised to see the somber faces talking back to me.

I didn't expect Independence to lose to Elder (Ohio), but I knew this team was more vulnerable than even the past two Patriots teams, which had been quite vulnerable, too.

There were injuries to key players and so many new pieces, and this wasn't the season for coach Tom Knotts to miss a lot of time in the summer. But life happens.

Knotts' father, Don, passed away. Knotts had to be a son and brother more than a coach.

I knew Independence was going to lose someday. I really thought they were going to make a run at the national record of 151 consecutive wins, but I'd always thought when the Patriots finally did lose, it would be at the hands of an N.C. team.

That they lost to an Ohio team, and a team not considered elite in Ohio this season, will get people talking again about how bad N.C. football is and how this state's top program, Independence, was overrated and what have you.

Know this. Independence is not overrated, and the Patriots -- and North Carolina -- should be awful proud of what this team did.

I started to think about it. I covered the Patriots the last time they lost -- in Boiling Springs, to Crest-- in September of 2000. My first child, Trey, wasn't a year old. I had some hair.

Trey is up to my shoulder now. He's nearly 8. I've added another son, Khamani, who's 3. I've seen Bill Clinton leave as president and George Bush serve the better part of two terms, and until Saturday night, I had not heard of the Patriots losing again. It's really been an amazing run, given that you get every team's best effort every week. Every team wanted to be The Team That Ended The Streak.

Elder, like the rest of them, was two times as good as normal Saturday night. Elder played a phenomenal game, rallying from two touchdowns back and may turn out to be a force this season in their state. But there's nothing for Independence to be ashamed of. Losing hurts, yes, but look what all they've done.

They put North Carolina on the map natonally.

They got the state into the discussion about places where you could find great high school football.

They made high school football important in their city.

Back when the streak started, this paper wasn't doing a special section every week and there weren't four television highlight shows going every week, including one an hour-long, all dedicated to showing the Friday night heroes. Charlotte high school football wasn't very competitive back in 2000 and now there's nowhere in the state where it's better. Why? Everybody's trying to catch Independence.

Tonight, on the message boards, people will say "told you so," and "N.C. football is so weak," and N.C. fans will have to grin and bear it. Indy lost. But Indy won, too. They won so much they created a culture where fans in Ohio would go nuts to beat a team from what has always been an inferior football state. They made fans care. They made new fans care.

And maybe when they get home and think about it, they'll remember they still have another streak: seven straight state championships.

No one has ever won eight in this state before.

The chase lives on.

Langston Wertz Jr.