Chapel Hill coach Issac Marsh thought no one gave his Tigers much of a chance against Southern Durham. But there was at least one other person in Spartan Stadium last Friday night who was worried about the Tigers.
Southern coach Adrian Jones.
“We talked about it and talk about it all week with our players. Don’t take Chapel Hill for granted. Don’t look at the score of the last time we played them,” Jones said.
On their way to the newly formed Big-8 Conference’s first championship, Southern had beaten Chapel Hill 59-20 Oct. 4 in Durham.
The Spartans went on to close the season with eight straight wins, earning the NCHSAA East 3AA’s No. 2 seed in the post-season.
That was just one reason Marsh said last Friday night: “No one gave us a chance coming into this game.”
The 15th-seeded Tigers lived up to both of the opposing coaches’ expectations.
Chapel Hill quieted the usually raucous Spartan fans — among the loudest and proudest in the Triangle — after Southern fumbled away its first possession. Quarterback Grant Deselm drove the Tigers 53 yards on eight plays, capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by junior fullback Brandon Wendel.
“I think we shocked some people in the first quarter,” Marsh said.
“We got into the red zone three, four times without getting any points,” Marsh noted.
Chapel Hill lost by a final score of 40-6, but came away with something valuable: confidence that its 4-8 season had been worthwhile.
“You learn from losses, and we learned a lot this season,” Marsh said.
Chapel Hill seems poised for a resurgence in 2014. Unlike this season — when Marsh had to reconstruct a defense almost from scratch and then had to rebuild the offense mid-year after his top two running backs were injured — most of the Tigers are expected back next year.
The entire offense line, except graduating senior Joey Raines, will return in 2014, as will eight starters of the defense. On offense, the Tigers found a new running back in sophomore Ricki McDowell.
Few people looking back at 2013 from the vantage point of next summer will remember the injuries that crippled Chapel Hill. And few will note how close the Tigers came to winning several games that slipped away.
Even last Friday’s 40-6 score belies the fact that it was the fewest points scored by Southern in any of its last eight wins. The Spartans had scored an average of 57 points against Big-8 teams.
“Looking back at the season, I think we could have been 8-2 heading into the playoffs,” Marsh said.
Durham correspondent Bonitta Best contributed to this report.