Since taking over the Charlotte Catholic football program prior to the 2014 season, coach Mike Brodowicz has not only perpetuated the Cougars’ winning tradition but is now taking it to new heights following a 17-14 win over Jacksonville in the 3A title game.
It was Brodowicz’s third championship and fourth trip to the title game in five seasons and his second consecutive. He has gone 83-5 as head coach, winning nearly 95 percent of the time.
After Jacksonville jumped on the Cougars early, it didn’t look good for Catholic.
The Cougars got the opening kick, but would
eventually stall before George Griggs put Catholic up 3-0.
But the lead wouldn’t last.
Jacksonville quarterback Justyn Benton ran the first Cardinal play 48 yards and later connected with Kendrick Blake Jr. to put the Cougars down 7-3.
After a Cougar 3-and-out, and with the Cardinals driving into Catholic territory, Brian Jacobs intercepted Benton and changed the game’s momentum.
“We were sitting in cover,” he said. “I saw out of the corner of my eye that he ran a dig, so I just moved on it.”
The interception was huge, and Walton capitalized with a 42-yard strike to Adam Robbe that would set up Lamagea McDowell’s touchdown that gave the Cougars a 10-7 lead.
But Benton orchestrated a 15-play drive and Graham Brinker ran it in for a 14-10 lead before the half.
Benton was hurting Catholic – he finished as the Jacksonville MVP with 17 carries for 123 yards – and the Cougar defense was struggling to stop the option.
“The first half they took it to us a little bit,” Brodowicz said. “We had guys in the first half that were on their heels a little bit for the first time all year and we started trying to sit back and read.”
But Brodowicz and the Cougars didn’t panic. The defense that had been gouged for 207 yards surrendered just 46 in the second half, but the Cardinal defense tightened up, too.
Jacksonville went three-and-out to open the second half and Neel blocked Benton’s punt in Jacksonville territory.
McDowell controlled the ensuing drive, running seven consecutive plays to the Cardinal 3. But he fumbled on the goal line giving the ball, and the momentum, back to Jacksonville.
But the Cougars would not break.
Joseph Sartori had perhaps the defensive play of the game when he intercepted Benton in Catholic territory, stopping the Cardinals best second half drive in its tracks.
The Cougars threatened on their next possession, but Walton’s fourth down pass slipped through Robbe’s hand. After a 3-and-out for Jacksonville, the Cougars got the ball with 8:32 to play.
“The one thing I said when I took over the program is I love the Wing-T,” Brodowicz said. “I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, but I also said if teams are going to put eight or 10 guys in the box to stop us that we’re going to be good enough at throwing the football to win.”
Walton hit Robbe with a 12-yard pass and then hit Jacobs with a huge 32-yard pass play on 3rd-and-13.
“The whole line gave me so much time to throw,” said Walton, who finished 6-of-11 for 144 yards and touchdown. “Usually I hit (Robbe), but they gave me so much time to extend the play and Brian did a good job to get open in the middle.”
Two plays later, Walton said he saw the linebackers sneak up again. The play called for Robbe and Jacobs to flare toward the corners of the end zone, leaving the middle open.
“It’s a deadly play,” Brodowicz said. “We saw they had two high safeties and we said, ‘This is going to be a touchdown right here’”
Walton hit Neel for 22 yards and the 17-14 lead.
Jacobs was sensational, earning Most Outstanding Player honors for his two receptions, return work and two tackles including one for loss and the big interception.
McDowell was the Offensive MVP after rushing 17 times for 78 yards and the touchdown.
Nick King, who had transferred from Providence before last season, was the Defensive MVP after recording a team-best 6.5 tackles.
Robbe (five tackles), Kevin Coss (4.5 tackles including three for loss), Sartori (4.5 tackles and the momentum-changing pick) and Daniel Boll and Liam Barbee, who had four tackles each, all shined defensively.
Brodowicz pointed out his offensive line, in particular Billy Hambrick, who would have been playing in the Shrine Bowl on Saturday, but instead won another state title with his teammates.
“When you have the community that we have here and 26 seniors on this team that have that experience,” Brodowicz said. “They were very calm in the locker room and they knew exactly what I was saying. It had nothing to do with their technique and everything to do with what’s in their chest. I said, ‘Guys, somebody needs to make a play,’ and they stepped up and made a play.”