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Maiden football visits Reidsville in 2A state quarterfinals

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Wesley Thompson

Maiden’s Wesley Thompson, 13, makes his way across the field during a rushing attempt against Bunker Hill in the third round of the 2A state playoffs Friday in Maiden.

A highlight film of the 2022 Maiden football team's offense will likely have the ballet-like leaps and afterburner speed of wide receiver Chris Culliver, the rhythmic pitter-patter steps of running back Ben Gibbs, the strong-armed Wesley Thompson making tight-spiraled rainbow tosses downfield and the precise routes of slot receiver Jacob Sigmon.

They lead a team that has picked up 5,545 yards in 13 games this season, which has earned the Blue Devils a 2A state quarterfinal game for the second year in a row, this time at Reidsville High. Game time is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

However, when asked about the team’s offense following any given game, head coach Will Byrne will always point to the reason for its success — the offensive line.

Each week, without fail, Byrne will cite the names of the linemen in a way that is almost like chanting the liturgy of a church service: Jackson Hensley, Quinn Rembert, DJ Springs, Mack Adams, Tron Navarro, Gerald Danner.

It is the play of those six that has made fans of the Blue Devils true believers, as their team seeks its first regional final berth since 2004.

Hensley at left tackle, Rembert at left guard and Springs at center are all seniors, while right guard Adams and right tackle Danner — referred to as “G Baby” by the coach and teammates — are sophomores. Navarro, a senior, splits time with Adams at right guard.

It’s a cohesive group that has jelled as the season has progressed, but that bond has been built by camaraderie off the field and competition in the weight room.

“It's awesome,” said Hensley of the friendship. “We're all friends in and out of school and we hang out a lot during the summer, during the offseason, really anytime. ... Whether that's school, whether that's just being friends generally, and that's translated really well onto the field.”

Spring echoed Hensley’s comments in a separate interview.

“It's just that connection we have," said the senior center. “We’ve all known each other for so long. We're all such good friends, it just makes everything work and makes everything go.”

While all high school teams at this level are expected to have strong line play, Byrne feels this group’s commitment started in the weight room. He calls this team the “strongest I’ve ever coached.”

“The weight room is unreal,” said Byrne. “The weight room is so competitive, and I think the weight room has been the difference. Kudos to those seniors. DJ and Quinn have this competition going on who can be the strongest and it's incredible. And it just filters down to everybody else. Now, we’ve got Mack Adams, who's a sophomore, and he's competing in the weight room already with them. He’s catching up to them, and those guys, the seniors, love it.”

Danner said the competition has been helpful in becoming a varsity lineman.

“It’s contributed a lot on the offensive line, pushing each other to get that right block, get the right assignment done,” said the sophomore. “I'm collecting a lot of things from the from those guys. They’ve been really inspirational to me.”

The prodding of the younger linemen has become a common thread of the program that has made the playoffs each year under Byrne since he took the helm in 2016, a stretch that includes four conference titles, including the last three. Getting the younger players on the line to understand the commitment it takes to play on the varsity level has been built into the program in the weight room and on the field.

“That's the great thing about Maiden and Maiden football,” Byrne explained. “Is that it's a trickle-down effect and people buy into the weight room. They buy into the culture. They buy into what we're trying to do offensively in the run game or whatever it may be. These guys are going to graduate and then it’s going to be Mack and G Baby’s turn to carry it on.”

When asked he wants his legacy to the younger linemen to be, Spring simply said, “Hopefully, to work hard and focus on your job and do whatever to make your team successful.”

(NOTE: Where available, some stats and game accounts are from MaxPreps, posted by the schools. Playoff records and state titles noted from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association date back to 1972.)

Playoff schedule: Quarterfinals: Friday, Nov. 25. Regionals: Friday, Dec. 2. State championships: 1A and 3A at Carter Finley Stadium, North Carolina State, 3 & 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10. 2A and 4A at Kenan Stadium, UNC-Chapel Hill on Friday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 10 at 11 a.m. Specific game time assignments to be made at a later date.

2A WEST REGION

No. 5 Maiden (12-1) at No. 1 Reidsville (12-1), 7:30 p.m.

About the Blue Devils (Catawba Valley 2A champion, 53-40 NCHSAA playoffs, 1 state title (1978))

Playoff schedule: 11/4 vs. No. 28 Polk County (68-33); 11/11 vs. No. 21 Mount Pleasant (46-13); 11/18 vs. No. 13 Bunker Hill (38-14).

Coach: Will Byrne

Starting offense: QB: Wesley Thompson, Sr. (Pass: 177-265-7, 3597 yds., 42 TDs). RB: Ben Gibbs, Sr. (West Point commit. Rush: 253-1647 yds., 23 TDs; Rec: 16-241 yds., 4 TDs). Slot: Jacob Sigmon, Sr. (Rec: 47-746 yds., 3 TDs); Bryson Foard, Sr. (Rec: 9-112 yds.); Alec Hall, Sr. (Rec: 2-57 yds.). WR: Chris Culliver, Sr. (North Carolina commit. Rec: 78-1764 yds., 25 TDs); Raheim Misher, So. (Rec: 18-582 yds., 8 TDs). LT: Jackson Hensley, Sr. LG: Quinn Rembert, Sr. C: DJ Spring, Sr. RG: Mack Adams, So.; Tron Navarro, Sr. RT: Gerald Danner, Sr.

Starting defense: DT: Jackson Hensley, Sr. (61 tackles, 4 TFL, 4 sacks); DJ Spring, Sr. (58 tackles, 3 TFL). NG: Tron Navarro, Sr. (30 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks). ILB: Korbyn Lawing (45 tackles, 3 TFL); Quinn Rembert, Sr. (49 tackles, 2 TFL); Zane Williams, So. (21 tackles). OLB: Alec Hall; Jacob Sigmon, Sr. (36 tackles, 8 TFL); Josh Stover, So. (43 tackles, 8 TFL). CB: Caden Brantley, Sr. (41 tackles, 2 TFL); Ben Gibbs, Sr. (31 tackles); Caron McDaniel, Sr. (32 tackles). S: Chris Culliver, Sr. (15 tackles, 5 INTs – 1 for TD, 1 fumble rec. for TD); Keegan Dixon, Sr. (22 tackles); Will Stover, Jr. (30 tackles).

Special Teams: K: Carson Foard, Sr. (43-52 PAT, 2-5 FG); Chris Culliver (1 kickoff ret. for TD).

Last week: Maiden built a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, fended off a threat late in the first half and cruised to a 37-14 win over CVAC rival Bunker Hill. Wesley Thompson threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns, while Chris Culliver had nine catches for 176 yards and two scores and slot receiver Jacob Sigmon had five receptions for 166 yards. On the ground, Ben Gibbs ran it 24 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns. This is the second year in a row the Blue Devils have made it to the quarterfinal round. They look to make the first regional final since playing in the 1AA West final in 2004.

About the Rams (Mid-State 2A champion, 89-26-1 NCHSAA playoffs, 9 state titles (2002, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020-21))

Playoff schedule: 11/4 vs. No. 32 Madison (76-14); 11/10 vs. No. 17 Providence Grove (51-25); 11/18 vs. No. 8 Chase (30-0).

Coach: James Teague

Key players: QB: Al Lee, Jr. (Pass: 116-181-6 1856 yds., 26 TDs; Rush: 62-164 yds., 4 TDs). RB: Jeremiah Redd, Jr. (Rush: 95-644 yds., 8 TDs); Trey Poteat, Sr. (Rush: 52-549 yds., 5 TDs); Paul Wilderman, Jr. (Rush: 37-324 yds., 6 TDs). WR: Que’shyne “Flip” Flippen, Jr. (Rec.: 44-429 yds., 10 TDs); Dionte Neal, Fr. (Rec.: 43-691 yds., 9 TDs); Tamir Johnson, Sr. (Rec.: 29-393 yds., 3 TDs). LB: Aiden Mansfield, Jr. (116 tackles, 7 TFL, 4 INTs); Paul Widerman, Jr. (112 tackles, 14 TFL, 5 sacks). DL: Nycer Kelly, Sr. (84 tackles, 19 TFL, 5 sacks). OLB: Tamir Johnson, Sr. (75 tackles, 8 TFL). DE: Kendre Harrison, Fr. (73 tackles, 17 TFL, 6.5 sacks). CB: Dionte Neal, Fr. (12 INTs – 3 for TDs). K: Ivar DeJong, Sr. (25-30 PAT, 1-2 FG).

Last week: Reidsville blew out its third straight playoff opponent with a 31-0 rout of No. 8 Chase. The defense appeared to be the big key, as the Rams allowed 164 yards of offense and forced five turnovers. Al Lee completed 12 of 18 passes for 163 yards and two TDs. This is the seventh quarterfinal appearance in a row for a program that has won five regional titles in that stretch and four state championships.

Next up: No. 7 Monroe (12-1) or No. 3 Burns (12-1)

1A WEST REGION

No. 6 Draughn (12-1) at No. 2 Andrews (13-0), 7:30 p.m.

About Draughn (Western Highlands 1A/2A champion, 5-4 NCHSAA playoffs)

Playoff schedule: 11/4 vs. No. 27 Union Academy (66-14); 11/11 vs. No. 11 Mitchell (35-10); at No. 6 Thomasville (19-14).

Coach: Chris Powell

Starting offense: QB: Eli Tillery, Jr. RB: Nigel Dula, Jr. TE: Jacob Mull, So.; Elijah Pritchard, Sr. WR: Tywan Nemorin, Sr.; Zach Pinkerton, Sr.; Connor Pinkerton, Jr. LT: Jesus Becerra, Jr. LG: Josh Elkins. C: Luke Rector, Sr. RG: Tristan Hines, Jr. RT: Bryan Sanchez, Sr.

Starting Defense: DE: Luke Rector, Sr.; Kelton Mitchell, Jr. NG: Will Seagle, Jr. ILB: Donnell Wilkins. Sr.; Thomas Lambert, Sr. OLB: Elijah Pritchard, Sr.; Hampton Blackwell, Jr. CB: Trevor Houston, Sr.; Shayden Pino, Jr. FS: Will Price, Sr. SS: Connor Pinkerton, Jr.

Special teams: K: Rudy Mendoza, Jr. P: John Abernathy, Sr.

Last week: Nigel Dula ran for two scores and surprised No. 3 Thomasville with a halfback pass for a touchdown in a 19-14 win. The junior rushed for 115 yards. Draughn was able to hold the margin with a fumble recovery deep in its territory, then run out the clock to secure the win. The 19 points scored were a season low for the Wildcats, who have scored 634 points in 13 games. This is the program’s first state quarterfinal game.

About Andrews: (Smoky Mountain 1A champion, 12-18 NCHSAA playoffs)

Playoff schedule: 11/4 vs. No. 31 Highlands (77-8); 11/10 vs. No. 15 Mountain Island Charter (35-0); 11/18 vs. No. 2 Murphy (50-23).

Coach: James Phillips

Key players: QB: Donovan Bateman, Sr. (Pass: 63-114-2 1255 yds., 13 TDs); RB: Isaac Weaver, Sr. (Rush: 133-1147 yds., 19 TDs; Rec: 16-302 yds., 3 TDs); Austin Martin, Sr. (Rush: 126-1009 yds., 17 TDs). WR: Cole Anderson, Sr. (Rec: 16-302 yds., 3 TDs). DB: Isaac Weaver, Sr. (10 INTs); Cole Anderson (5 INTs, 2 fumble rec.). DL: Dalton Rose, Jr. (9 sacks).

Last week: Leading by five at the half, the Wildcats scored 28 straight in the second half and routed conference rival Murphy 50-23. This is the second visit to the state quarterfinals for Andrews, with the other coming in 2011.

Next up: No. 4 Mount Airy (12-1) or No. 1 Eastern Randolph (11-1)

3A WEST REGION

No. 4 East Lincoln (13-0) at No. 1 Kings Mountain (13-0), 7:30 p.m.

About the Mustangs (Western Foothills 3A champion, 36-23 NCHSAA playoffs, 2 state titles (2012, 2014))

Playoff schedule: 11/4 vs. No. 29 Ashe County (51-6); 11/10 vs. No. 13 Tuscola (35-7); 11/18 vs. No. 12 Ledford (28-7).

Coach: David Lubowicz

Starting offense: QB Tyler Mizzell, Sr. (Pass: 159-244-4, 2184 yds., 33 TDs; Rush: 95-577 yds., 14 TDs). RB: Chris Daley, So. (Rush: 138-1375 yds., 16 TDs). Slot: Jackson Beam, So. (Rec: 33-328 yds., 7 TDs); Markell Clark, Sr. (Rec: 53-689 yds., 15 TDs). WR: Keandre Walker, Sr. (36-748 yds., 7 TDs); Riley Shropshire, Jr. (Rec.: 22-238 yds., 3 TDs). LT: Blake Bradford, Sr. LG: Cole Schenck, Sr. C: Christian Garcia, So. RG: Josh Gilbert, Sr. RT: Terry Bryant, Sr.

Starting defense: DE: Blake Bradford, Sr. (55 tackles, 7 TFL, 3 sacks); Marcell Johnson, Jr. (80 tackles, 30 TFL, 12 sacks). NG: Diego Neira, Sr (58 tackles, 10 TFL, 9 sacks). OLB: Hampton Good, Jr. (69 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INTs); Parker Davis, Sr. (89 tackles, 11 TFL, 3 sacks). MLB: Ben Cutter, Sr. (West Virginia commit, 158 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 INTs); Aiden Terrell, Sr. (93 tackles, 10 TFL, 3 sacks). SS: Nate Stevenson. FS: Landon Glezen, Sr. (42 tackles, 2 TFL). CB: Jalen Roseboro, Jr. (58 tackles); Keandre Walker, Sr. (Virginia commit, 30 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 INTs).

Special teams: K: Christopher Mileta (9-9 PAT, 2-3 FG); Keandre Walker (2 punt return TDs).

Last week: The Mustangs put up 21 in the first quarter en route to the easy 28-7 win over Ledford. East Lincoln’s defense had four sacks among nine tackles for losses, as the group gave up 129 total yards. Chris Daley ran for 127 yards on 17 carries and scored once. This is the first quarterfinal appearance for the Mustangs since making it in the 2AA bracket in 2016. A win puts East Lincoln in a West final for the first time since 2015.

About the Mountaineers (Big South 3A champion, 33-20 NCHSAA playoffs)

Playoff schedule: 11/4 vs. No. 32 St. Stephens (42-6); 11/11 vs. No. 17 Smoky Mountain (42-0); 11/18 vs. No. 8 West Charlotte (22-19).

Coach: Greg Lloyd

Key players: QB: Lamont Littlejohn, Sr. (Pass: 126-182-8 2107 yds., 20 TDs). RB: Teddy Jeffries, Jr. (Rush: 139-1042 yds., 19 TDs); Caleb Holland, Sr. (Rush: 110-553 yds., 8 TDs). WR: Jaqualyn Sanders, Jr. (Rec. 37-615 yds., 5 TDs); Jake Lloyd, Sr. (27-340 yds., 2 TDs). LB: AJ Richardson, Sr. (78 tackles, 32 TFL, 15 sacks); Curtis Simpson, Jr. (69 tackles, 34 TFL, 22 sacks); Jason Melton, Jr. (71 tackles, 12 TFL). DB: Bryson Brown, Jr. (6 INTs). K: Jaden Ellis, Sr. (54-58 PAT, 3-6 FG).

Last week: The Mountaineers trailed 19-7 after three quarters, but quarterback Lamont Littlejohn threw for one touchdown and scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute left to win it 22-19. Kings Mountain is back in the state quarterfinals for sixth time in eight years. In that stretch, the Mountaineers have advanced to the 3A West final three times.

Next up: No. 23 Eastern Guilford (9-4) or No. 11 South Point (12-1)

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