A.L. Brown preview: Wonders headed to Wake Forest
By Bret Strelow
KANNAPOLIS ó The spirit rock off the corner of First Street and Rose Avenue loosely identified the destination.
The color images of BB&T Field ó posted on doors, support beams and dry-erase boards inside A.L. Brown’s locker room ó provided a clearer picture.
The Wonders, as the green and white message outside the school suggested, are indeed headed to the state finals. A.L. Brown (13-2) will play defending champion Greensboro Dudley (15-0) for the 3AA championship today at 4:30 p.m. in Winston-Salem.
Brown’s coaches began putting up pics of Wake Forest’s stadium prior to the team’s state semifinal matchup with Kings Mountain, so the reward for winning didn’t catch any players by surprise.
The Wonders, who entered the season with high expectations and have faced unusual amounts of adversity, take a 10-game winning streak into their contest with Dudley.
“The thing I’m most impressed with is how they’ve handled it and how they’ve gone about it in a way that they understood there couldn’t be any letups once we started,” A.L. Brown head coach Ron Massey said.
“They had to prepare at practice, focus at practice. The attention to detail, those are the things that have been different for us this year.”
Standout running back Artrele Louis hasn’t played this season, but his daily attendance at practice has inspired a team that dropped two of its first five games.
Longtime equipment man Jimmy “Smitty” Smith died two days before the Wonders met Kings Mountain, and they won 30-14 to maintain their hopes of securing the school’s third state championship. A.L. Brown collected titles in 1989 and 1997.
Dudley, which beat Charlotte Catholic in the 2007 final, is appearing in the championship round for the fourth time in the last seven years.
“They’re undefeated, and we like playing teams that are the best,” A.L. Brown receiver T.J. Johnson said. “We feel right now they’re the best, plus they won the state last year. If we can beat them we’re the best, but they are a very good team.”
The Wonders have scored six defensive touchdowns, and they allowed a total of 12 points in the last four weeks of the regular season.
Johnson, with 11 touchdown catches to his credit, has been quarterback Jamill Lott’s top target. Lott has thrown for 1,766 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for 1,072 yards and 13 scores.
Running backs Johnathan Williams, Antwoine Jordan and Travis Riley have combined for 1,772 yards and 25 scores.
“Their skill guys are very good athletes across the board,” Dudley coach Steven Davis said. “We have to keep our eyes on the quarterback and not let him get loose running the ball. If we keep him in the pocket, we have a chance to contain him.”
The Wonders, who held Kings Mountain’s Michael Roberts in check, will try to stop a dual-threat QB for the second consecutive week.
Ricky Lewis, the MVP of the 2007 title game, had four touchdown runs in a 52-7 victory against Northeast Guilford last Friday. He has rushed for 1,939 yards and 31 scores this season.
Lewis has also thrown 12 touchdown passes, and he’s far from Dudley’s only weapon. Running back Fred Overby has rushed for 1,655 yards and 20 touchdowns behind a talented offensive line, and the defense is full of fast players.
“Most games this season, we’ve had an advantage with our speed and athletes, but that won’t be the case against Dudley,” Massey said. “They don’t have a single weak spot, and it worries you that they beat Richmond County.”
The Panthers edged Winston-Salem Carver and Richmond County, which eliminated Independence from the 4AA playoffs, to open the season.
They’ve beaten 11 of the last 13 opponents on their schedule by at least 27 points.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity, and we’re not going to back down,” Massey said. “We know they’re good, but we’re pretty good too. We’ll play hard, and if they’re a better team, they’re a better team. I think our guys are going to surprise some people.”
Common Sense pick:
Dudley 28, A.L. Brown 17