2011 football season was one for Mountain Island books

by C. Jemal Horton

Hopewell High senior Qamar Lane (back row, center) holds The Shield as he celebrates with teammates and fans following the Titans’ 33-6 victory over rival North Mecklenburg on Oct. 28. (Cliff Mehrtens/MIM photo)

Based on things such as won-loss -record and the overall attention – or lack thereof – that Mountain Island football programs receive, one easily could assume that what I’m about to write is a bit over the top. But here’s the thing: I’m not writing it to try to make local residents feel warm and fuzzy. I’m not writing it to spark debate.

I’m writing it because I believe it in my gut: This was a special season for Mountain Island-area high school football.

Sure, that might seem odd, considering the fact that neither of the area’s two teams – West Mecklenburg and Hopewell – had a winning record. But if you take a good, honest look at the Hawks and Titans, you’ll see that their success shouldn’t be defined by what other teams in the county did this season.

That’s short-sighted.

We’re talking about a pair of programs that sort of had the deck stacked against them in recent years – and still managed to make their fans feel good about them on Friday nights.

Let’s start with West Meck.

Most people might look at the Hawks’ 4-7 record and think, “Another bad season for West Meck.”

Hardly.

By winning four games this season, the Hawks doubled their 2010 victory total. Midway through the season, the team still didn’t have an athletic trainer to help with the basics, such as, say, taping players’ ankles before games and practices. Second-year coach Jeff Caldwell was trying to reinvigorate a group of players that seemed to have accepted its status as a lackluster program that deserved to be everybody’s homecoming opponent.

But in these past two years, Caldwell instilled a sense of hope – on and off the field.

“We’re just a different team,” said Hawks linebacker Tashion Singleton, who is one of at least five college prospects on their roster.

“We know we can win, and we work hard so we believe we deserve to win. West Meck is on the rise.”

And despite their modest record, they were in the playoff hunt until the last day of the regular season. Unfortunately, though, the Hawks lost to East Gaston, 22-20, on Oct. 28, putting them in fifth place in the MEGA 7 3A/4A conference – and out of Class 4A playoff contention.

The close loss was emblematic of the Hawks’ season. Yes, they lost five of their last six games, but three of those losses were by two points or less. They made strides. Strides that shouldn’t be overshadowed by being on the losing side of the scoreboard just yet.

And then there’s Hopewell.

The Titans wound up with 4-6 record, but they play in an uber-tough conference – the I-MECK 4A – that features heavyweights such as nationally ranked Mallard Creek, along with Mooresville, Vance and typically tough West Charlotte.

And the Titans still made the Class 4A playoffs.

That’s a heck of an accomplishment for a team that had a new coach (David Johnson) and was trying to find its way, its identity, after he was hired late in the summer.

Johnson was known in area coaching circles because of the Spread offense he employed at his previous stop, Berry Academy. But early on, it didn’t appear that the scheme was suited for the personnel Hopewell had at the time. So the Titans adjusted. Instead of forcing the traditional Spread on his players every single play, Johnson changed things when necessary.

The result? The Titans produced a Shrine Bowler in senior running back/linebacker Denzel Heath. And, again, they’re going to the postseason, taking on  Asheville T.C. Roberson this week.

The Titans also concluded their regular season with a victory over archrival North Meck in the annual Shield Game. By the time they took the field last week, the Titans were confident they could pull off their fifth consecutive win over the Vikings.

And maybe, just maybe, it was a sign of things to come.

“I thought we had a good week of practice and executed our game plan,” Johnson said after the game. “They’re starting to get it and understand what it takes to put in (time-wise): We need to practice Monday through Thursday efficiently.”
“That’s what led to our roller-coaster season. There are good weeks of practice where we win, and bad weeks of practice where we slip up. We’re a young team, so it was big to get a rivalry win and expand on it.”

Folks, next year, Mountain Island football should really be fun.

Sports Editor Cliff Mehrtens contributed to this story.


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