Prep Football: No letup in sight for Independence

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 10, 2006

Associated Press

DURHAM — The celebration had begun on the Charlotte Independence sideline as time ticked away on another state championship victory. And Tom Knotts knew that meant his players were getting ready to douse him with a cooler full of cold water.

So the coach just kept a quiet lookout, then sidestepped the celebratory shower on a cold December night.

“I was kind of paying attention,” he said. “I was a little bit ill about how we were playing, so I didn’t want to get wet.”

Consider it further proof that Knotts has this championship thing down pat.

The Patriots beat Durham Riverside 49-19 on Saturday night to win the Class 4-AA North Carolina High School Athletic Association title, extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 108 games. The win also made Independence the first team in state history to win seven straight championships.

The Patriots have not lost a game since a 34-31 loss to Shelby Crest on Sept. 1, 2000, and stand 43 wins from matching the all-time national record of 151 set by Concord (Calif.) De La Salle. They shattered the state record of 46 straight wins to open the 2003 season and have been ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press state 4-A poll since the beginning of the ’01 season.

“It’s both an incentive and a burden,” Knotts said of the streak. “It’s an incentive in that you want to keep it alive. And it’s a burden in that there’s constant media attention and everybody’s asking about it. And if you lose it, in some ways you’ll feel like a failure because I honestly believe we can achieve the 152. We’ve got the young players. It’s obviously our goal.”

This time, the Patriots (16-0) relied on a powerful ground game with Dequan Leak, who ran for 204 yards and four touchdowns against Riverside. Darryl McFadden completed 13 of 20 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown, while Jason Barnes finished with six catches for 80 yards and a score.

The always-demanding Knotts was irked that his team had three turnovers, but Independence was still good enough to win by 30 points. The Patriots’ first title came by a five-point margin in 2000, but their closest finals victory in the years since has been a 38-19 win against New Bern last year.

The challenge will be to keep the streak going. In the meantime, this year’s seniors can leave school relieved that it’s still alive.

“We waited four years for this and for it to end like this with a state championship and keeping the streak alive,” McFadden said. “I know the class next year doesn’t want to end it. We’re just happy that we weren’t the ones to end it.”