Football Notebook for October 29: Titans can complicate I-MECK 4A race

by Chris Hunt and C. Jemal Horton

Hopewell High safety Michael Russell leads the team with four interceptions this season, but he will play baseball in college next year. Russell recently committed to the University of North Carolina.

On Friday, Oct. 29, the Hopewell Titans face Vance in a game with enormous playoff implications. A victory over the defensive-minded Cougars (6-3, 4-1 I-MECK 4A conference) would end a two-game losing skid and pull Hopewell (6-3, 3-2) into a tie for second place in the league.

Such a scenario would also set up a complicated end to the 2010 regular season.

Both West Charlotte (7-2 overall) and Mooresville (6-3) also sport 3-2 conference marks with two games to play. North Meck sits in the shadows with a 2-3 record. Mooresville has the easiest track with North Meck and last place Lake Norman left on the schedule, while West Charlotte takes on first-place Mallard Creek, followed by Vance. North Meck takes on Hopewell in the season finale.

• With such an important game coming up, the Titans are excited to get back their top defensive performer: safety Michael Russell.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Russell leads the team with four interceptions, but he missed last week’s 41-0 loss to powerhouse Mallard Creek to attend a five-day baseball tournament in Florida with his showcase team, the Dirtbags. Russell was the starting shortstop on the Titans’ baseball team before he broke his leg in the season opener at West Meck last spring.

While Russell didn’t get to play football against Mallard Creek, he made the most of his absence. Russell said he committed last week to play baseball in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

“UNC has been watching me (play baseball in tournaments) on the weekends all fall,” said Russell. “This tournament sealed the deal.”

Hawks hope to finish strong

After suffering two consecutive losses, West Mecklenburg has a chance to finish its season on a high note, although it will require the Hawks to win two road games.

The first opportunity isn’t so daunting, as the Hawks travel to East Gaston on Friday. West Meck and East Gaston have identical 1-3 records in MEGA 7 3A/4A conference play, and the Warriors are susceptible to allowing big offensive plays; their defense gives up a robust 27 points per game. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

On Friday, Nov. 5, the Hawks, who have a 2-7 overall record, conclude their first season under coach Jeff Caldwell’s watch with a trip to Olympic.

Hallman gets some help

SouthLake Christian wide receiver/linebacker Travis Hallman received a nice compliment after the Eagles lost to Concord First Assembly on Oct. 15.

Former Carolina Panthers star safety Mike Minter, who’s now First Assembly’s head coach, approached the SouthLake senior in the Hunterville school’s parking lot and praised Hallman’s play.

“Coach Minter told me he loved how hard I hit,” said Hallman. “He asked for a (highlight) DVD and said he would send it to a college coach he knew. We have such a rivalry between our schools, so it was a bit of a shock (that he would come over and compliment my play).”

Hallman appreciates the help, but he might not need it. Last year, as a linebacker, he led Mecklenburg County with 118 tackles. This season, he’s collected 66 stops, three sacks and three interceptions. But that doesn’t mean his production has decreased. Hallman is among the county’s top performers in another category: receiving. He currently has 783 receiving yards to go along with 34 catches and nine touchdowns.

This fall, Hallman has made unofficial visits to Appalachian State, Elon and Lenior-Rhyne.

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