The last time Legion Stadium played host to an East Regional football game Trot Nixon was the quarterback and legendary coach Joe Miller was manning the sideline in 1991. On Friday, the Wildcats make their first final four appearance since 2009 when a familiar foe takes the field opposite New Hanover.
One season removed from handing the Wildcats a 47-35 defeat in the first round of the playoffs, fifth-ranked J.H. Rose visits the Port City coming off a 49-47 shootout against No. 1 D.H. Conley last week.
However, second-ranked New Hanover brings a revitalized defense to the rematch and an offense capable of putting up big numbers as seen through this year’s run.
This week’s edition of Sports Round Table features Wildcats’ Head Coach Earl Smith. He talked with Port City Daily’s Joe Catenacci about the 52-15 rout over Durham-Hillside to clinch a spot in the regions, with game highlights and a preview of the 22nd Annual Leon Brogden Holiday Basketball Tournament alongside Hoggard Coach Brett Queen.
For the latest episode of the New Hanover County Schools TV-produced broadcast, scroll down to the bottom of this story.
No. 2 New Hanover (12-2) vs. No. 5 J.H. Rose (11-2)
With Division I talent on the offensive side of the ball, the Rampants hope to find a hole in a New Hanover defense allowing just 13.6 points per game over its three postseason matchups. The Wildcats had a plus-three turnover ratio against Durham-Hillside, while senior safety Ronnie Beatty has six interceptions in his last seven games.
Nigel Hines and Nas Brown have become a pair of key players at linebacker in just their sophomore seasons as two leading tacklers. Brown has 117 total tackles thanks to improved play this year from the defensive front. Jamious Williams has proven to be a big talent in the run stuffing game, with Isiah Crawford and Ka’Town Hill containing the outside at defensive end.
Keaun Wallace also has six interceptions navigating the secondary and Jahann Simmons has stepped in at strong side linebacker for the injured Grant Daley, who suffered a season-ending injury two weeks ago. Daley underwent successful surgery and was on the sideline for the win over Hillside.
J.H. Rose counters with an explosive offense, led by Division I talent Cornell Powell. The senior wide out has 60 catches, 1,436 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns. While Powell is the number one target, as compared to the artillery on New Hanover’s offense when it comes to skill position players, the Rampants also have the ability to spread the ball around.
Six players have at least 20 receptions this year and running back Dontavies Harris has over 2,000 yards of total offense.
Junior quarterback Ryan Goodwin is the player-caller. He’s completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, completing 175 of 292 pass attempts for 2,936 yards, with 43 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
New Hanover has put up eerily similar numbers on offense. Burke Estes surpassed the 3,000-yard mark in passing yards last week. The senior quarterback has connected on 229 of 342 attempts, with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions.
His receiving core is highlighted by University of North Carolina commit and Shrine Bowl selectee Garrett Walston. The big tight end has 61 receptions for 929 yards and 11 total touchdowns.
The Wildcats are also healthy up front for the first time all season, with offensive tackles Andrew Rouse and Gus Sonne returning from injuries this year to help a running game responsible for over 2,100 yards on the ground. At left guard, Tyreke Speller provides athleticism and mobility in guiding an attack with 35 rushing touchdowns.
Tre Age has been the featured back, but Wiz Vaughn and Javeon Hall have complemented Age throughout the season along with Keegan Santos and Freddie Taylor. Age has 1,131 yards of total offense and 15 total touchdowns. Vaughn, Santos and Hall have each made nine trips to the end zone, while Lamont Howard can stretch the field as a big play receiver.
Howard has eight receiving touchdowns and 46 catches for 772 yards. Carl Scott is also a possession receiver for Estes.
On top of the gaudy offensive numbers and stout defensive effort from Hanover during their playoff push, Josiah Eason has also been a key asset in the kicking game. The senior split the upright on a 38-yard field goal last week and consistently connects on attempts of 40-plus yards during warm ups and practice.
New Hanover is riding a 10-game winning streak into Friday’s game, while J.H. Rose is winner of eight straight.
No. 1 Dudley and No. 3 Charlotte Catholic square off in the 4A West Regional. The winners clinch a spot in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A Championship at BB&T Field on the campus of Wake Forest University. The state title game is scheduled for an 8 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, December 12.
2015 New Hanover High School Depth Chart