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SPENCER — Charles D. Owen High brings a massive offensive line, a great running back and a great team mascot to North Rowan’s Eagle Stadium tonight for a 2A second-round matchup.
Owen is known as the Warhorses. The school was formed in the 1950s from the consolidation of Black Mountain and Swannanoa high schools. Black Mountain was known as the Darkhorses and Swannanoa was the Warriors. From that union came a new nickname that made sense — the Warhorses.
Mountain teams don’t usually get respect for being athletic, but Owen is not the typical mountain school. Owen’s alumni include the NBA’s Brad Daugherty, the NFL’s Brad Johnson and MLB’s Sammy Stewart.
The primary weapon for the Warhorses (9-2) tonight will be a guy who is about as athletic as it gets. Junior running back Jager Gardner is Owen’s version of North’s sensational junior Jareke Chambers.
Gardner, who also excels in track and basketball for the Warhorses, has rushed for 2,486 yards. He’s 70 yards away from breaking Owen’s school record for a season.
Gardner, who is 6-foot-4, 195 pounds and wears No. 5, had a game this season against Avery County in which he rushed 32 times for 450 yards. Seriously, 450. As a rule, North (12-0) doesn’t allow 450 rushing yards in a month.
Gardner will not be trying to make yardage without some assistance. Owen linemen Quentin Carver (6-3, 290), Grant Dickerson (5-11, 245), Taylor Earley (6-2, 230), Mason Eades (5-11, 230) and Seth Penley (5-11, 245) are big guys who will make the earth shake a little when they get off the bus and they will try to block some Cavaliers. The offensive line is the most experienced part of Owen’s team. Four of the starters also started in 2012.
Owen’s offensive production has been about 80 percent rushing and 20 percent passing. Other running threats are juniors Zee Johnston (675 yards) and Austin Bennett (473).
Junior QB Sam Drummond (935 passing yards, 9 TDs) hurt his knee in last week’s 13-0 first-round win against Mount Pleasant, but an MRI showed no ligament damage, and he may be able to play tonight. Defensive back DeMarcus Harper took the snaps after Drummond was hurt last week.
Owen coach Kenny Ford’s base defense is the 4-3. The player to watch is No. 9 Cade Fox. The senior linebacker, 190 pounds, is the leading tackler for the Warhorses.
Owen, a No. 10 seed, will be trying to reach the third round for the first time since 2006. Owen is 5-0 on the road. Its losses were to Asheville A.C. Reynolds in September and to Polk County in November.
By romping 42-0 against Surry Central in the first round last week, North prevailed in a playoff game for the first time since it won in 2006 — also against Surry Central.
North hasn’t made the third round since the Roger Secreast days. In 2001, North edged Pisgah and West Wilkes to reach the third round, but then lost to Burlington Cummings.
North has put up tremendous defensive numbers, especially lately. North has shut out three straight opponents to tie the school record for consecutive shutouts. The Cavaliers also accomplished that feat in 1985.
North has allowed more than 16 points only once this season — the 39-33 win at Statesville.
North had never won 12 straight games to start a season until this one. North had two other streaks of 12 consecutive wins, bridging seasons. North won its final game in 1984 and then its first 11 in 1985. North also won the final game of the 1981 season and the first 11 in 1982. Those were Larry Thomason-coached teams.
A 13th win tonight would be lucky for North head coach Joe Nixon in the sense that it would mean a school record.
North has won 12 in a season twice previously. Secreast’s 1992 team went 12-3 and reached the 3A state title game where it fell to Burlington Cummings. Secreast’s 1994 team went 12-2 and lost to Thomasville in the third round of the 2A playoffs.
North’s offense, coordinated by Ben Hampton, has outrushed opponents 3,228 yards to 1,325 and has out-gained opponents through the air 1,562 yards to 688.
North’s 4-2-5 defense, directed by coordinator Stevie Williams, is mostly a spread-stopping alignment, but it will be called on to stop a smashmouth running game tonight. North’s key defensive player against a running team is No. 8 — the X-Man, linebacker Xavier Robinson, and it will be the job of North’s big interior lineman, Wesley Jefferies and Malik McGee, to keep those big Owen linemen from getting to Robinson.
Mount Pleasant is a very stout defensive team and was able to hold Gardner to a season-low 102 yards last week, but Gardner has put up crazy numbers, including 9.8 yards per carry and 31 TDs.
Chambers fuels North’s offense, and while he’s sat down early a lot in blowouts, he still has 1,837 rushing yards and 29 TDs (27 rushing, 1 receiving, 1 kickoff return). He’ll be operating against an Owen defense that recorded its first shutout of the season last week.
QB Alexis Archie, who missed four games with injury, has thrown for 957 yards and 10 TDs. Sakil Harrison leads North’s receiving corps with 37 catches for 600 yards and seven TDs.
North free safety Kasaun Coney leads the county with six picks. Defensive end Cecil McCauley has 9.5 sacks.
Both of these teams are heavy with juniors, so this might be just the first installment of a new rivalry.
North has had some struggles with mountain teams in the past, losing to Murphy in 2009 and Brevard in 2005 and 2007, but this North team doesn’t really have a weakness.
Common Sense Pick: North 28, Owen 14
The playoff picks were 14-1 last week (not sure why I picked Hough over Independence) and the picks are 117-23 for the season.
In 4AA: Mallard Creek has outscored opponents 603-86. Probably a long night for coach Justin Hardin and Providence, which is only 3-3 on the road: Marvin Ridge 42, Providence 14
East Forsyth beat West Forsyth 17-10 in the regular season at home. This one’s at West Forsyth, so I’ll take the Titans to turn the tables: West Forsyth 17, East Forsyth 10
In 4A: North Davidson scored 77 in the first round of the playoffs, but the Knights probably should’ve saved some of them for tonight. Dudley has allowed 69 all season: Dudley 27, North Davidson 14
In 3AA: Central Cabarrus has lost only to Concord, but Northern Guilford could mean the end of the road. Northern Guilford is 10-2 because of forfeits but is 12-0 on the field: Northern Guilford 35, Central 27
In 3A: Concord vs. former A.L. Brown coach Ron Massey’s Piedmont team is a fun matchup. Piedmont, which has outscored opponents only 329-320, has gotten to 8-4 with smoke, mirrors and Massey. Like North Rowan, Concord has no weaknesses: Concord 35, Piedmont 14

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