Beyond the Scoreboard: Defending the run key to Cherokee vs. North Duplin
There will be no surprises for the Cherokee High defense Saturday when the Braves line up against North Duplin in the state 1A title game.
The Rebels are going to come out with split backs, operate a veer attack and run the ball.
It is a formula that has worked well enough for 14 straight wins without a loss for the top seed from the Eastern Regional.
The noon kickoff in Raleigh will be televised live on MY 40.
Two runners have done most of the damage for North Duplin, highlighting an offense with 4,533 yards rushing and just 24 passing attempts all season.
Quarterback William Archer has 1,820 yards on the ground and has found the end zone 33 times.
Tailback Kenny Sheppard has added 1,400 rushing yards and 17 scores for a unit that scored 35 points or more eight times.
“They are going to live and die by the midline and the outside veer, and they are going to live and die by their quarterback running the ball,” said Cherokee coach Kent Briggs.
“He is the key to their offense.”
“We do run it a lot,” Rebels coach Hugh Martin said with a laugh. “We’re an option team and we try to make that work. We’ve done well with it and that’s what we are going to stick with.”
Defensively, the Rebels are also solid, limiting 11 teams to 14 points or less.
North Duplin won a state title in 1972 and is 1-2 all-time in championship games, having last reached the finals in 2009.
Cherokee (13-1), chasing its first state title in its first appearance in the championship game since 1978 (a 25-6 loss to Midway), will depend heavily on senior quarterback Tye Mintz, who needs 120 yards of total offense to reach 10,000 for his career.
Mintz has been effective running (1,593 yards, 31 TDs) and throwing (1,988 yards, 18 scores) and has some talented teammates to help carry the offensive load.
Tailback Isaiah Evans has rushed for 1,329 yards and 20 touchdowns, while Tye’s younger brother Cade (45 catches, 1,089 yards, 10 TDs) is the top receiver.
“They are an outstanding football team,” said Martin. “(Mintz) does a super job running and throwing. He makes a lot of plays and they are the most balanced team running and throwing we’ve seen all season.
“(Evans) is a punishing type of runner and their receivers are really good players. They are so balanced, it’s a lot to prepare for.”
With a win, the Braves would be the sixth different school from the Smoky Mountain Conference to claim a state championship.
Since 1972, when the N.C. High School Athletic Association began playing state-wide championship game in four classes, the SMC has won 31 titles, including Robbinsville (11), Murphy and Swain (eight each), Sylva-Webster (three) and Franklin (one).
Cherokee fan support is legendary, and Mintz said a large presence at Carter Finley Stadium will help the players.
“Our fans are some of the best around,” said Mintz. “They give us great support, and it makes you play even harder when you have your fans behind you.
“You couldn’t ask for anything better, to play for a state title in your last game. I’ve never felt like this.”