Prep Football: Northwest has become giant-killers in playoffs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 7, 2006

By Bret Strelow

Salisbury Post

Northwest Cabarrus coach Mike Helms took his two sons — 12-year-old Michael and 9-year-old Brandon — to see the inspirational football movie “Facing the Giants” last weekend.

Helms has spent the last three weeks directing his own version.

The 14th-seeded Trojans (8-6) have reached a 3AA semifinal matchup with top-seeded Charlotte Catholic (12-2) thanks to three consecutive upsets. They have prevailed on the road against No. 3 Hickory, No. 6 T.C. Roberson and No. 2 Burns.

There are some similarities between Northwest’s run and the resurgence enjoyed by fictional coach Grant Taylor’s Shiloh Eagles. Other sports-oriented films have made an impression on Helms.

“I’ve always pulled for the underdog when you think of the Rockys,” Helms said. “I have children who love to watch the ‘Rocky’ movies, and we rerun it constantly. The underdog’s not a bad place to be.”

Especially this year, when double-digit seeds Northwest Cabarrus, Durham Riverside (No. 11 in 4AA), Clinton (No. 10 in 2A) and Mount Airy (No. 10 in 1AA) have reached the semifinals.

* The state split each of the four classifications in half and awarded eight football championships beginning in 2002, and only three double-digit seeds reached the semifinals in the first four years of the revised format.

* Eleventh-seeded Northeast Guilford went all the way to the 3A final in 2003, and 10th-seeded High Point Central advanced to the 3AA semifinals during the same postseason. Last year, 12th-seeded Myers Park reached the final four of the 4AA bracket.

* Northwest Cabarrus and C.B. Aycock won first-round games this year to give 14th-seeded squads a

7-73 record against No. 3 seeds since the switch to eight brackets. Western Guilford had been the only other No. 14 seed to win at least two games, and it fell in the third round of the 2AA playoffs in 2003.

Northwest has made its march with one senior on offense — running back Casey Hall.

The Trojans, who followed a season-opening victory against Concord with four consecutive losses, have won five straight games. They’ve benefitted from the return of freshman quarterback Jeremy Cannon, who missed three full games and most of a fourth with a high ankle sprain.

“We’ve had a good team all along,” Helms said. “The biggest thing is our confidence level because we’re not that experienced on offense.”

Defense is a different story. Six members of the Trojans’ front seven are seniors — the exception is sophomore defensive end Kendall Self.

Jay Bostick took totals of 141 tackles, 28 tackles for loss and 161/2 sacks into the Burns game. Fellow tackle Tripper Frye made 116 tackles in the first 13 games and had a cast removed from an injured hand before the third-round matchup.

Defensive end Jamar Caldwell has generated interest from Division I-AA schools, and strong side linebacker Mario Lynch has led the team in tackles while playing alongside Jamar Thomas and Jonathan Beam.

“Some teams don’t peak at the right time,” Helms said. “Right now, we’re getting better at the time when you want to get better.”

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Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or bstrelow@salisburypost.com.

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