The pinnacle of any high school football season is the opportunity and chance to be playing in the State Championship come December. In the case of Duplin County they not only manage to get a school to the States but actually have three playing for the title.
Not only are there three schools playing for the championship but they have one representing a different level for high school football.
At the 1A level they have the undefeated North Duplin rebels. In 2A they have the always dangerous Wallace-Rose Hill Bulldogs who’s only loss this year came to their final representative in the States. This final team being the also undefeated 2AA school the East Duplin Panthers.
1A North Duplin Rebels
The Rebels have not been stopped all year finishing their season without a single blemish with a record of 14-0 and 5-0 in conference play. Though they don’t throw the ball much their running is seemingly unstoppable and their defense is equally scary.
“We’ve had a tremendous run, we’ve won games that were really close all the way to the very end most of the season and we’re fortunate and blessed to be here,” said head coach Hugh Martin.
Though their season numbers for passing yards are only 127 total yards with five touchdown and four interceptions with a completion rate of only 33.3 percent, it doesn’t mean they don’t pass well they just haven’t needed too. The running game is what has established them this year and got them into a title chance.
The Rebels have rushed for an astounding 4,533 total yards this season with a bunch of TDs 61 to be exact. What’s even more impressive is their game averages with 6.8 yards per yards per carry, an unbelievable 323.8 yards per game and on 670 carriers.
They also had two players rush for over 1000 yards, the first being William Archer with 1,820 and the other was Kenny Sheppard with 1,400.
“We are an option based team and were going to run it in the championship,” said Martin. “Offensively it’ll all be about figuring out a way to be sound in what we do against a good Cherokee defense.”
North Duplin is no stranger to good defense themselves with them stopping every team they’ve faced this year from besting them. The numbers are impressive as well with them amassing 949 total tackles and averaging 67.8 tackles per game. They also got to the quarterback a lot with 11.0 sacks and had a nice amount of takeaways with nine interceptions.
They face a familiar team they’ve faced in the playoffs before in Cherokee a physical team that coach Martin and his staff has been prepping for.
“We faced them last year in the second round, they’re very big on the O and D lines which could be a huge challenge for us,” Martin remarked. “We’ve worked very hard in our scouting work and I think we have a good plan set to limit what they can do. One of the keys to winning the game will definitely be on the defensive side and how good we are able to tackle against this big physical team.”
“One final thing I’d like to say is thanks to my coaching staff that has done a great job getting us prepared week in and week out. Also to the fans for their commitment and all the support,” concluded Martin.
They Rebels of North Duplin take on Cherokee this Saturday for the 1A State Championship.
2A Wallace-Rose Hill Bulldogs
The Bulldogs are a team that’s accustomed to making it to the State Championship and this season is no different as Wallace will be playing for yet another title in the 2A championship.
One of the most unexpected things about their run this season is that many thought Wallace would not perform well with a new head coach at the helm in Kevin Motsinger.
“I remember people telling me before I even got here and took over that they thought the dogs were dead. Also that we’ll finally take some well-deserved butt whoppings this season since they’ll have a new head coach,” said Motsinger.
That was clearly not the case as the Bulldogs currently sit a 13-1 and 6-1 in conference play, their only loss coming by two points to undefeated 2AA East Duplin. It wasn’t the case either in the their production under a new system as they played on another level offensively and defensively.
Their passing numbers weren’t bad with 1182 total yards with a completion rate of .427 on 41 of 96. Averaging almost 100 yards per game at 84.4 with 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Combined with a wide receiver core that had 41 receptions this was decent but was only icing of their offensive cake as the ground game set the tone.
The numbers were insane all year with 4,735 total yards with 65 touchdowns on 451 carries. With averages just as insane at 10.5 per carry and 338.2 yards per game. Javonte Williams carried the load with 2,064 yards with Desmond Newkirk behind him with 1,557.
Wallace doesn’t just score a lot points either they played strong defense. With 729 total tackles 52.1 of them per game, 18 sacks with 1.3 per game and nine interceptions their defense is not overshadowed by the offense. The real mystery is how they’ve played this well under a new head coach.
“To be honest I was handed the keys to a fine machine, this team has won three in row and have been doing it since their freshman year,” replied Motsinger. “This is a special group of kids that have been sitting on the top of the mountain for years now and I’m just proud to be able to sit on the mountain top with them.”
The Bulldogs face a team in the States that are defending champs themselves and that’s Reidsville, a matchup Motsinger and his staff are excited about.
“This game is pretty exciting to have former 1A and 2A champs playing, it’s pretty cool to have this defending champs play each other,” coach replied.
“I’d also like to point out that without my coaching staff we wouldn’t be able to even have this program,” he added. “They rolled up their sleeves and really went to work this season and that’s what football is all about, insuring we can give our team the best shot.”
“Our community is also a huge part of this, they love our school and they support their ‘Dogs. When I think that this will be the last time we get to see this group together it makes me sad because we all truly love football around here,” Motsinger concluded.
The Wallace-Rose Hill Bulldogs take on Reidsville this Saturday for the 2A State Championship title.
2AA East Duplin Panthers
The second undefeated team in championship from Duplin County is the roaring East Duplin Panthers, the only team able to tame the explosive offense at Wallace. They sit at 15-0 overall and 6-0 in their conference play doing it with their monster defense and the best running game in the entire county.
“We have a great group of senior that have been doing this since their sophomore year, we lost in eastern finals last year but this year we plan to win it all,” said head coach Battle Holley.
The Panthers much like the Rebels don’t have crazy passing numbers but that’s because they’ve rarely had to put the ball in the air. They finished with 619 total yards on 41 of 85 with 13 touchdowns and only four INTs. Though they don’t pass much they had the best completion percentage in the county at .482.
All that is extra production as no team has been able to handle their ground bound this season. The Panthers have rushed for almost 6,000 total yards garnering 5,882 yards with 75 touchdowns on 731 carriers. With 8.0 yards per carry and nearly 400 yards per game at 392.1 they are unmatched running the ball.
It’s not just one player doing it either as multiple guys had almost 1000 yards. The first being the only one over the 1000 mark and that’s Chris Benson with 1347. The other were close Melvin Scott had 961, Jalen Mitchell had 924, Cameron Hall with 824 and Jaylen Thomas rounded it out 758.
East Duplin’s defense is not to be forgotten either being a force that has tormented teams all year long. With 937 total tackles with 596 being solos they averaged 62.5 per game. This was accompanied by 11 interception by an excellent DB core.
What stuck more than anything about this defense is its relentless ability to get to quarterbacks. They averaged 2.5 sacks per game and ended the year with a ridiculous amount of sacks at 38.0.
“It’s all about getting better at what we do,” said Holley. “If we can stop the run on defense, don’t give up the big play, tackle right, take care of the ball and perform on special teams we’ve got a great shot at winning it.”
“I’m proud of my coaching staff as well they put in the work not just this year but ever season and all they’re hard work has really helped us out,” coach said.
“Also that this chance is not only great for us but for all the teams in East Duplin, it means a lot to the community and to our school and we’re going to try and get it for all of them,” concluded Holley.
The East Duplin Panthers play their final game of the season in the 2AA state title game this Saturday against Hibriten.
Reach Michael Hardison at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @SampsonInd.