CONCORD – The Northwest Cabarrus football team currently sits at a perfect 10-0. That includes an untouched 4-0 South Piedmont 3A Conference record.
As they close out the regular season, the Trojans play host to Cox Mill tonight with two big things at stake: the Coddle Creek Cup and the SPC championship.
“It may sound like a cliché, but it’s the most important game of the season,” said Trojans coach Brandon Gentry.
The unbeaten Trojans only have a one-game lead on Cox Mill (6-4 overall, 3-1 SPC), however they have clinched at least a share of the league crown. A Cox Mill win produced a tie for first place, although the Chargers would earn the SPC's No 1 seed for the state playoffs because they would own the tie-breaking victory.
Northwest beat the Chargers earlier this year in a non-conference matchup that replaced a scheduled game against West Cabarrus, whose season was postponed after its opening was moved back a year.
“We just want to keep the kids grounded, and I think they are,” Gentry said. “We just try to take it one game at a time.”
The Trojans won last month’s meeting with Cox Mill, 37-7, coasting after early long drives and running-game domination pushed the lead to 14 points in the first period.
This time, a win would mean a second consecutive South Piedmont championship, a second consecutive undefeated regular season and a solid setup for a postseason run.
“It just gets us ready for the second season,” said Gentry. “It carries some positivity into the next week, and it also gives us time to heal up, because we’ve been kind of banged up the last few weeks.”
Banged up they have been. The Trojans have had to fight through some injuries all year long, but even more so in the last few weeks.
Tyrese “Shady” Blake broke his left lower leg in a victory over Marvin Ridge on Sept. 13, so the Trojans have been without their starting running back for almost two months now. That may be their biggest injury on the year, but it isn’t the Trojans’ only on.
Multiple starters have missed time over this season, but the Trojans have had success with guys stepping up in their absence.
Maybe the most important thing going into Friday’s matchup for Northwest Cabarrus is its experience.
“It’s a little bit more maturity and a little bit of a different scheme,” Gentry said of this year’s squad. “We have guys that played in this game last year and know how it felt to get down and have to claw, fight and scratch to get back in it.”
In last year’s matchup, the Trojans had to fight for every inch. The Chargers had momentum and led throughout, but the Trojans forced overtime, and backup quarterback Sam Walker threw the game winner to Cam Saunders to take the lead
and the game.
The experience from that game means a lot, and this Trojans roster is filled with guys who were a part of that 2018 comeback. That game propelled the Trojans to two playoff wins and showed impressive mental toughness.
That same mental toughness flashed again this year when the Trojans were down against Hickory Ridge in September and then again when they visited Central Cabarrus and lost quarterback Nick Wilds-Lawing for nearly half the game.
As far as maintaining focus on this week’s challenge while still getting ready to make another strong playoff run, the Trojans say it’s hard not to think ahead.
“A little bit of both,” said Gentry . “We understand that we have talent and (a state championship) is the ultimate goal. But we try to focus on the week we’re in and the challenges ahead.”
With the success the Trojans have seen over the last two falls, highlighted by a 13-1 season last year that included their first conference championship in 31 years, celebrating team
success would seem like commonplace.
That hasn’t exactly been the case for these 2019 Trojans. They say they’re just trying to make it to the ultimate celebration, after lifting a state championship trophy.
“I’ll be honest with you, we really haven’t sat back and enjoyed it all yet, because we’re in the middle of it,” said Gentry. “It’s been a weekly grind. Hopefully, we get to look back on it in late December.”