CONCORD – For the first time in the school’s 11-year history, the Cox Mill football team is conference champion.
The Cream of Cabarrus third-ranked Chargers avenged both a non-conference loss earlier this season to top-ranked Northwest Cabarrus and a defeat at the Trojans’ hands last season in a conference championship game by racing to a 41-34 victory in the teams’ South Piedmont 3A finale Friday at Trojan Stadium.
Cox Mill also regained the coveted Coddle Creek Cup, ending the Trojans’ two-year run with the trophy.
Because Cox Mill entered the matchup against undefeated Northwest Cabarrus with an SPC loss, the teams finished with the same conference record and are officially co-champs. But the Chargers will be considered the league’s top seed when state playoff brackets are announced Saturday.
“I’m excited for our kids, and I’m excited for our school, and I’m excited for our community,” said seventh-year Cox Mill coach Craig Stewart. “They’ve been wanting this. We talked about putting a banner on the wall (in the school). This is something the kids will remember the rest of their lives.”
Northwest Cabarrus had a 22-game regular season win streak snapped and lost its first conference game in its last 11 matchups.
The Trojans scored first on a 59-yard Cam Saunders touchdown reception, but Cox Mill needed only three plays to match it and used a mere five plays to score on its next possession and take the lead for good.
Northwest Cabarrus trailed by 20 points early in the fourth quarter but closed its deficit to 41-34 with 2 minutes, 6 seconds left in the game. Cox Mill recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
“We have a lot of confidence now,” said junior quarterback Varney Farhnbullah, who threw three touchdown passes. “We’re just going to try to do our jobs, go to practice every day, and make a deep run (in the playoffs).”
Cox Mill 7-4 overall, 4-1 South Piedmont 3A; Northwest Cabarrus 10-1, 4-1
THE PLAY OF THE GAME
With 2 1/2 minutes left in the first half, Cox Mill punted from its own 32-yard line. The high kick traveled just over 20 yards, but Northwest Cabarrus’ Cam Saunders man sprinted into a crowd of Chargers to try to catch it out of the air.
The ball slipped through Saunders’ hands, and before he could secure it, Cox Mill lineman Zach Billings pounced on it. Having regained possession, the Chargers drove 47 more yards and scored when Farhnbullah hit Ashton Cunningham with a 1-yard pass with 12 seconds to go to take a 27-14 halftime lead.
“That was a big momentum-changer right there,” said Northwest Cabarrus coach Brandon Gentry. “We stopped them. We had just scored. There were two minutes-plus left on the clock with a short field. If we would have scored right there, we go into halftime (leading), 21-20. Instead we’re down two touchdowns at halftime, and we end up losing by seven points.”
-- Farhnbullah completed nine of 17 passes for 210 yards.
-- Jelynn Barnett rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries.
-- Christian Henry had 99 yards receiving, including an 89-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
-- All three of Luke Sutton’s receptions (for 34 yards) came on either third- or fourth-down plays that extended Cox Mill drives that eventually ended with touchdowns.
-- Quarterback Nick Wilds-Lawing completed 17 of 27 attempts for 296 yards and four touchdowns, and also ran for a score.
-- Saunders caught nine passes for 187 yards and three touchdowns.
-- Linebacker L.J. Currie had at least a dozen tackles.
-- Northwest Cabarrus’ Senior Night pre-game festivities took a non-sports turn. Introductions included recognition of the student body government officers. Classy.
-- The Coddle Creek Cup – the trophy given to this rivalry’s annual winner - rested lonely and idly on a simple white plastic table placed under the play clock about 8 yards beyond the back of the west end zone. And no one seemed to care it was there before and during the game. As far as Cabarrus County high school football rivalry trophies go, The Cup’s life seems a lot less glamorous than that of The Bell, coveted by Concord and A.L. Brown. Maybe one day The Cup will runneth over The Bell.
-- The teams combined for 23 penalties – a number usually seen in the first couple weeks of the season, not the last.
WHAT’S UP NEXT?
Both teams will make the state playoffs and expect to learn their first-round matchups sometime Saturday.
Cox Mill 14 13 7 7 -- 41
NW Cabarrus 7 7 7 13 -- 34
NW – Cam Saunders 59 pass from Nick Wilds-Lawing (Ezekial Senegal kick)
CM – Christian Henry 89 pass from Varney Farhnbullah (Sam Weber kick)
CM – Jelynn Barnett 10 run (Weber kick)
NW – Saunders 13 pass from Wilds-Lawing (Senegal kick)
CM – Barnett 3 run (kick failed)
CM – Ashton Cunningham 1 pass from Farhnbullah (Weber kick)
CM – Barry Robertson 34 pass from Farhnbullah (Weber kick)
NW – Marquan Williams 42 pass from Wilds-Lawing (Senegal kick)
CM – Barnett 7 run (Weber kick)
NW – Wilds-Lawing 7 run (Senegal kick)
NW – Saunders 35 pass from Wilds-Lawing (kick blocked)