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Rose to face Dudley in State Championship

FRI. | 12-10-21 | SPORTS

     On Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 at around 6:55 p.m.; Rose football’s senior captains will meet the captains of the Dudley High School Panthers at midfield of Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. When the eight players meet on the UNC logo, each player's wildest dreams of playing in a state championship game will come true. When Rose defeated Jacksonville in the Eastern Region Final on Friday, Dec. 3, they advanced to their first state championship game since 2015.

     “We are going to go out there and play a very strong, hard-nosed football team,” head coach Will Bland said. “We’re going to show that you might be two times bigger than us but we’re not going to back down; we’ve been through that numerous times this season and won.”

     Dudley is somewhat of a football powerhouse located in Greensboro. They play in the 3A West Conference 46 and are 14-1 on the year with a 7-0 conference record. Dudley’s sole loss came to Hillside High School out of Durham early in the year. Dudley is a high-scoring, offensive-minded team, averaging around 45 points

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Graphic by Keller Fraley

per game while allowing just over 4 points a game. To run an offense like this, Dudley uses a mixture of star power and play calling to blow teams out.

     “Dudley runs a spread offense where they throw the ball around and run a lot of jet sweeps,” Bland said. “They have multiple playmakers, including a star wide receiver, a dual-threat quarterback and multiple running backs with over 1,200 yards this season.”

     These playmakers are seniors Mehki Wall, Jahmier Slade, Michael Shaw and junior RJ Baker. Wall is a 5’11” 175 lb. wide receiver committed to Duke University with over 2,000 all-purpose yards this season. Slade is a three-year starting quarterback who is dangerous through the air and on the ground. Dominating the run game for Dudley are Shaw and Baker who have combined for 32 touchdowns on the year. Lucky for Rose, they have similar star power on their roster.

     “You have to account for Michael Allen even when he doesn't have the ball, so he is usually double covered allowing us to get the ball into Klavon and our wide receivers’ hands,” Bland said. “If you leave him one-on-one, I’ll take Michael nine times out of 10 to be better than your guy.” 

     Allen is a senior running back committed to North Carolina State University and has 1,157 rushing yards and another 610 yards receiving on the year. Paired with Allen in the backfield is senior Klavon Brown who plays defense as well, leading Rose in tackles at linebacker. Allen and Brown have combined for 30 touchdowns on the year. Leading the receiver room at Rose is fellow senior Jayden Grimes who ranks 13th in the state in receiving yards with 1,180. Leading the offense for Rose is junior quarterback Will Taylor. Taylor has had a breakout season throwing for 3,033 yards putting him ninth in the state. Along with star power on the field, Rose is loaded with championship experience on the sidelines.

     “I have been here since 2008 and coached in one state championship, our offensive coordinator (OC) Caleb King has won three state championships and coached in five, our defensive coordinator (DC) Stephen Lovett has won two, and assistant coaches Cannon Pollard and Brandon Cox both won state championships as players at Rose,” Bland said.

     Bland was the defensive backs coach when he first got to Rose then became the JV head coach. He coached JV for seven years before he was named head coach prior to the 2020-21 season. Current OC Caleb King has been a head coach at Havelock, East Carteret and Easley High School in South Carolina. Lovett served as both an assistant coach and DC in his time at New Bern where they won two state titles. In his second year leading the defense at Rose, Lovett has become known for his critical halftime adjustments.

     “The defensive staff has done a great job through watching film and knowing what changes to make at halftime,” Bland said. “They are also getting the players to believe which is half the battle.”

     Both teams are known for their offensive firepower, but the defenses will definitely show up come game time. Rose is headlined by Brown at linebacker but has strong defensive linemen in junior Ajani Farmer and senior Juantre Bradley Jr., who leads the team in sacks. Farmer also starts at right tackle on offense. For Dudley, defensive players to look out for are senior and junior defensive linemen Jhyheem Pittman and Logan Wright. Pittman is a 6’3” 295 lb. senior who has multiple offers to play college football, including Division I Gardner-Webb University. Behind the defensive line is senior linebacker Jeremiah Barnes and senior defensive back Steven Davis who also each have college offers. In order to beat Dudley, Rose’s offense will have to put up big numbers, which they are more than capable of doing.

     “I’m offensive-minded so I’d rather be in a shootout than a defensive game, and quarterback Will Taylor is confident enough to where he knows he can beat anybody right now,” Bland said.

     Bland looks to throw the ball all night long, hoping Taylor will find wide receivers Kendarious Geddis, Montez Green and the aforementioned Grimes. Dudley will target seniors K.J. Morehead and R.J. Baker along with Wall. Rose will look to shut down Dudley’s star Wall with senior cornerback Ty’queron Hines. This should be nothing new to Rose as overcome strong rosters before.

     In the showdown against conference rival Jacksonville, Rose played one of their closest games of the season. In the back-and-forth affair, the Rose faithful were rarely in their seats.The two teams traded scores throughout the game. It was 35-28 in favor of Rose with one minute remaining and Jacksonville had the ball. The game was won when Farmer got a clean hit on the Jacksonville quarterback as he was throwing, directing the ball into the hands of Brown and sealing the Eastern Region Championship for Rose. Rose hopes to have a similar atmosphere and outcome Friday night when they take on the Panthers in their biggest game since 2015.

     “The players feed off the crowd; we are going to need them Friday night if we are going to go out and win a state title,” Bland said. “It would mean everything to turn around from starting 0-3 and win a state title; it would just show how strong our program is as a whole.”

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