Thursday, 12 October 2017 14:28

Big game Friday: North hosts Hough

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The stage is set and the stands figure to be full on Friday night when unbeaten North Meck hosts Hough in arguably the most meaningful matchup between the rivals.

Indeed, there is much more at stake than bragging rights.

Friday will mark the eighth meeting between the schools located eight miles apart, but the series has been rather one-sided, with Hough, the area’s newest 4A school, winning the previous six games against the area’s most historic high school.

The 2017 season has had a different feel, though, as North is off to a 7-0 start for the first time in 25 years, dating to the 12-win, state semifinal season of 1992. And Hough, after an uncharacteristic 0-2 start, seems to have hit its stride with five straight wins. The Vikings and Huskies are also 3-0 in I-Meck Conference play, along with Mallard Creek, so one team will exit North’s stadium Friday with at least a share of first place.

“You play this game to be in these games,” says Hough coach Matt Jenkins.

North has experienced a significant turnaround under charismatic first-year coach Eric Morman, formerly the head coach at West Stanly. The Vikings, 3-8 a year ago, won two-point games against Durham Jordan and Rocky River early on, but have generally cruised against everyone else.

“I feel like we’re coming together as a team and as a family,” says Viking middle linebacker Dantevian Byrd. “We’re believing in each other, working hard and having fun.”

Hough (5-2) stumbled early with losses to Harding and Providence, but has found its way under Jenkins, who joined the staff in the offseason, then was promoted to head coach in late May. It took some time, but things began falling into place. Simply put, Hough is playing much better than it did in August.

“It’s all Coach,” says Hough defensive end Damon Early. “He knows our weaknesses, knows our strengths. He knows how to get to us.”

The Vikings and Huskies are similar in many ways. Their defenses fly around and make plays. Their quarterbacks — Hough’s Kennique Bonner-Steward and North’s Aaron Scott — can move the football with their arms and legs. There are playmaking receivers in Hough’s Nolan Groulx and North’s Justin Olson, and a duo of hard-charging running backs in North’s Emanuel Wilson and Hough’s Jarrett Nagy.

“I think it’s going to be a really good game, a good challenge for us and them,” says Hough defensive back Tyus Fields.

The Huskies have played in more significant games since arriving on the scene in 2010 and unseated powerhouse Mallard Creek to win their first conference title in 2015. Now, North has put itself in position to play these kinds of games, too.

“We’ve got to treat it the same way and prepare the same way,” says Scott.

How do the Vikings intend to do that?

“We just want to come out and be who we are,” says Morman. “We want to play North Meck football. That’s playing first-class, playing fast, playing physical and playing as a team.”

The only Hough-North rivalry game with similar implications came two years ago. When the two met, Hough was 8-1 and 4-0 in the MECKA, while the Vikings were 7-2 and 3-1. Hough won 30-6 on the Vikings’ home field.


Rivalry roots
The Vikings’ only victory in the series came in 2010, the year Hough opened on Bailey Road in Cornelius.

North Meck had the more experienced team, but not the depth of previous years when it was one of the largest schools in the state. New attendance zones sent many North students to Hough, but the Huskies were playing their first season without any seniors. The result was a spirited, tight game on Hough’s brand new artificial surface, and the Vikings overcame four first-half turnovers and scored a late touchdown to emerge with a 21-17 victory.

“The longer Hough stayed in the game, the more they believed they had a chance to win,” then-North coach Mike Bradley said that night. “They had us on our heels.”

Hough took its first lead on a Nathan Deering 27-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter before the frustrated Vikings lined up in the Wildcat formation, with star running back Terrence Clyburn taking direct snaps. He broke a 42-yard run to get the Vikings in position to score, and North quarterback Kelly Hall scored the winning touchdown on a fourth-and-goal sneak from the 2-yard line.

Since that night, however, all the series wins have gone to Hough.


Stat Leaders
Passing: Kennique Bonner-Steward 80-135; 1,250 yards; 13 TD/5 INT
Rushing: Jarrett Nagy 110 carries, 789 yards, 10 TD
Receiving: Nolan Groulx 38 rec., 620 yards, 5 TD
Defensive: Tyus Fields 48 tackles, 2 INT; Kevon Hilliard 14 TFL, 4 sacks

North Meck
Passing: Aaron Scott 66-109; 1,039 yards; 7 TD/1 INT
Rushing: Emanuel Wilson 120 carries, 1,031 yards, 11 TD
Receiving: Justin Olson 31 rec., 429 yards, 2 TD
Defensive: Dantevian Byrd 48 tackles, 6 sacks; Jabril Griffin 4 INT



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