WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — By now you know the narrative, the New Hanover Wildcats are ready for their first state title game in almost 90 years.
During their playoff run, the Cats showed heart as they scratched and clawed their way back from deficits to move on to the states biggest stage.
“It’s something you don’t practice and you really don’t want to be in that situation but it’s part of the game,” New Hanover Head Coach Earl Smith said. “The championship teams find a way to win and that’s what we did both weeks. That’s what you do when you have a good coaching staff, which we do, and players that don’t give up. You find a way always to win.”
That champion mindset has lead the New Hanover Wildcats through the season and to the state championship this saturday at Wallace-Wade Stadium. This season, the team in orange and black proved to everyone they are a force to be reckoned with and a legitimate title contender.
While it may have taken others some time to get on board, Coach Earl Smith had confidence in this group from day one.
“Honestly, I’ve felt this way going into the season,” Coach Smith said. “Then after the preseason, we were looking at our non-conference schedule thinking we could’ve been 0-4 if we didn’t play like we were supposed to. But we went 4-0. I felt then that we had an opportunity to be here.”
Now just getting to this point is not what this group wants. They want to bring back a championship to Wilmington, the first football title since Hoggard won in 2007. The A.C. Reynolds Rockets pose a challenge for the Cats, but New Hanover is a team that concerns Rockets Coach Shane Laws as well.
“First and foremost I see a very well-prepared team,” Coach Laws said. “One that’s very well-coached. They don’t make a lot of mistakes, they don’t hurt themselves and they know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Offensively they can score a lot of points, both in the big play and they can be methodical at times if they need to be.”
The star power on this team is highlighted by their seniors including the big play ability from Wiz Vaughn who has scored 12 times this season.
Then there is the opportunistic defense from Nas Brown, Francis Meehan and company who have 20 team interceptions on the year.
What’s scary for the Rockets, is Coach Smith says this team hasn’t even played to their full ability and could save the best for last.
“That’s something that we haven’t peaked out,” Coach Smith said. “We didn’t play our best game last week and we didn’t the week before. But we did get a little better in some areas. I feel like they know that this might be it. Well, it will be it because for these seniors, it may be the last time they play football. There’s no guarantees. So I hope that leadership will really shine.”
Tune in to WWAY Weekend Edition on Sunday for highlights and postgame reaction from the 2A and 3AA Championship games.