This year’s A.L. Brown football team has faced more than its share of adversity.
Before the season even started, the Wonders learned Artrelle Louis, the team’s leading rusher in 2007, wouldn’t be able to play.
Star linebacker Terrance Johnson suffered an offseason knee injury that kept him out until late in the year.
Two graduates of the school â€“ one a former teammate â€“ died after being shot on the day of the regular-season finale against rival Concord.
And this week, Jimmy Smith, the school’s longtime equipment manager, passed away after a heart attack.
So it’s no wonder Kannapolis didn’t blink when Kings Mountain scored a touchdown on the first possession of Friday night’s NCHSAA 3AA Western Regional championship game.
“I knew they were going to score,” senior quarterback Jamill Lott said. “They’re a good team. They’re not here for no reason. So we knew coming into the game we had to put points on the board.”
That’s exactly what the Wonders did, scoring 21 straight points in the second quarter to seize control on their way to the 30-14 win and berth in next week’s state title game.
“We’ve been down a lot this year,” emotional head coach Ron Massey said. “Our kids are tough. Someday when I’ve got time, I’ll tell you about all the adversity they had to go through this year.
“It’s an honor to be part of these young men’s lives. I’m happy for them.”
Even a missed opportunity â€“ a rare missed field goal by Morgan McDaniel â€“ on its first possession didn’t deter Kannapolis.
Billy Simiton’s interception and return to the Kings Mountain 10 set up the tying score, giving the Wonders the momentum.
Touchdown runs by Travis Riley and Lott put Kannapolis ahead and a big score right before halftime provided a cushion.
A series of penalties for both teams left the Wonders with 2nd and 26 with less than 20 seconds left. But Lott threw deep down the sideline to T.J. Johnson, who hauled it in for a 33-yard gain.
Johnson followed with an 8-yard scoring catch on the next play.
“T.J. Johnson’s a great receiver,” Lott said. “I know he can catch the ball anywhere I throw it. We had two plays to him, a go and a fade and he did what he had to do to catch the ball and we went up 21-7 at halftime.”
Kings Mountain got back within seven early in the fourth quarter, but Kannapolis made sure there would be no rally.
Lott and the offense marched 56 yards and took almost six minutes off the clock to make it a two-score game again. Lott scrambled for 11 yards on 4th and 8, diving forward for the first down. He nearly scored on a run later, but was marked out of bounds at the 3.
No matter, McDaniel came on to boot a key 20-yard field goal to make it 24-14 with just 5:08 remaing.
“I was in there with a touchdown,” Lott said. “I was trying to make a big play for my team and come up with six. We came up with three, but that was enough to seal the game.”
The defense took it from there.
Dana Moss and Landon Morgan combined to sack Kings Mountain quarterback Mike Roberts and the Wonders held on downs.
After the Mountaineers methodial drive on the game’s first series, Kannapolis’ defense shut down Roberts and company. Kings Mountain rushed for just 57 yards on 42 carries in the game.
“Our defense after the first series played lights-out,” Massey said.
“I think our coaching staff deserves a tremendous amount of credit too. They did a tremendous job.”
A 15-yard touchdown run by Antwoine Jordan iced the victory, sending the Wonders to their first state championship game since 1997.
“I don’t think we really played our best game, but we were resilient,” Massey said. “We did what we had to do to win, and when you get in the playoffs that’s all that matters.”
“I think probably us being in the playoffs and a lot of our kids going to the fourth round three years ago helped us a little bit.”
Even this win didn’t come without some adversity, though. Terrance Johnson left with an injury in the first half and Riley was hurt on his touchdown run and didn’t return.
“That took away part of our offensive package a little bit,” Massey said of Riley’s absence. “Hopefully they’ll be alright.”
Despite those bumps, the Wonders were definitely feeling more than alright after their latest triumph.
“It means everything to us,” McDaniel said about getting a chance to play for the state championship. “When you look at it, it wouldn’t be right for us not to go. Everything that’s happened this year. All the emotional ups and downs. I just wanted to do it for Smitty, for everybody that’s passed, for everybody that’s injured.
“We’re where we want to be right now.”
*****from the independenttribune.com*****