Pirates playing for it all
Since the 2002 season, only two high school football teams in North Carolina have played for at least five state championships — and one of them is New Bern, Porter Ridge’s opponent tonight in the 4A state title game.
The other is Independence, which won the 4AA title from 2002-2006. The Patriots made a sixth appearance in 2007, but were upended by New Bern in the final.
New Bern (14-) faces Porter Ridge (13-1) in today’s 4A state championship, which starts at 7:30 in Chapel Hill.
The Bears (14-0) are making their fifth appearance in the title game since 2002.
“They execute well and they play very fast,” said Pirates coach Blair Hardin of the Bears. “They’re a physical group and they don’t make mistakes. They’re really senior heavy, so they have a lot of guys with experience. It’s just another great challenge four our team and program.”
New Bern hasn’t been challenged much this season. The Bears have won 11 of their 14 games by 20 points or more and have held nine of their opponents to eight points or less.
New Bern is averaging 43.3 points per game while giving up just 13.6 ppg.
The Pirates are making their second straight appearance in the 4A final. They dropped a 42-16 decision last year to Scotland County, which lost to New Bern in the semifinals last Friday.
Hardin hopes the experience his team gained last year will give them an edge tonight.
“I think it’s really good to have experience,” said Hardin. “Being there last year, we have a lot of kids back who got an opportunity to see what it was like, but for us this is just another game in a bigger stadium. We want to block, tackle and protect the football. That’s what we’ve been preaching all week.”
Since the NCHSAA split the four classifications into eight in 2002, the Eastern half of the state has been dominant in 4A state championship games.
The East has won nine of the previous 11 4A title games. A.C. Reynolds has provided the West with its only two victories in 2002 and 2009.
Rose High won four straight 4A championships from 2003-2006 while Hoggard won the title in 2007.
New Bern, Rose and Hoggard all compete in the Mideastern Conference.
Tonight will mark the fifth state championship appearance for New Bern coach Bobby Curlings, either as an assistant or head coach.
“It’s always amazing to come here no matter if it’s as an assistant coach or a head coach or a player,” Curlings told the Sun Journal. “Every time is just as special. To be able to bring the quality of kids that we have on our team to experience it makes it that much better. I’m very happy for our assistant coaches, players and the community.”
Bears senior quarterback Josh Taylor is in the midst of a phenomenal season.
Taylor, who has started since his freshman year, has thrown for 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 1,207 yards and 13 scores.
Taylor has led New Bern to at least the state semifinals each of the last three seasons.
“He can beat you with his arms and legs, and he makes great decisions,” said Hardin of Taylor. “He engineers their offense. We’re just going to try and contain him and limit his big plays. You can tell from watching film that he puts them in good situations.”
Curlings raves about his star quarterback.
“Josh has set all kinds of records, throwing and running,” Curlings told the Sun Journal. “The thing that impresses me the most about him is his leadership ability and never-say-die attitude. He is a tremendous athlete and an even better person.”
Taylor has help in the backfield.
Senior running back Jac Watkins, a 6-foot, 225-pounder, is the team’s leading rusher with 1,412 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Watkins has run for 499 yards in four playoff games, including a 240-yard performance in a quarterfinal victory over New Hanover.