(tncms-asset)61a7cc46-e245-5feb-85b7-d3d417c407070 —(/tncms-asset)An early loss to Glenn in September has been an anecdote recycled all season long.
It’s the answer Coach Tiesuan Brown of Mount Tabor gives, when asked to pinpoint the beginning of the team’s turnaround. The Spartans were 1-4 after a 41-25 loss against the Bobcats.
“I remember coming into the Sunday meeting right after the Glenn game, and I told my staff, ‘I don’t care if it takes playing 20 guys, we’re going to play the 20 guys that want it,’ ” Brown said. “We wanted to get better, and it was contagious ... Guys started seeing their playing time get cut down, and they started going a little harder in practice.”
Since then, the Spartans (10-4) have won nine straight games, claimed the Piedmont Triad 3-A conference championship for the second consecutive season and outscored opponents 100-63 through three rounds of the NCHSAA Class 3-AA playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the West.
Tonight at 7:30, Mount Tabor faces No. 5 Weddington in the West Region final at Bob Sapp Field.
It’s the first time the Spartans advanced this far in the playoffs since 2007, when Mount Tabor appeared in the Class 4-A championship game.
But, according to Brown, the Spartans have been playing at this level since entering conference play, which started with a 22-13 win against Southwest Guilford.
Senior quarterback JaQuan Albright has passed for more than 1,100 yards and run for over 1,700 this season, scoring 24 rushing touchdowns. The most recent of those was a last-minute score last week against No. 2 Asheville Reynolds in a 24-21 victory in the state quarterfinals.
In the second round, the Spartans got an impact performance from junior running back Amar Aikens, who rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-28 victory against No. 6 Asheville Erwin. It was close to half of his 500-yard total this season. But Mount Tabor faces a tough task in Weddington — a team which has racked up 10-win seasons in each of the past six years.
The only loss for the Warriors (13-1) this season was a 20-0 shutout Sept. 28 against Charlotte Catholic.
According to first-year Coach Andy Capone, it’s a byproduct of a longstanding winning mentality. Weddington won the Class 3-AA state championship in 2016 and appeared in the 2014 championship game. Capone also has 11 players on his team who won the Class 1-A/2-A/3-A lacrosse championship in May.
“I think it’s a winning culture, but it’s a culture of brotherhood and fighting for each other — every play, every snap,” Capone said.
The Warriors’ solid ground game features running backs Eamon Murphy and Will Shipley, a sophomore with scholarship offers from Duke, N.C. State, North Carolina, South Carolina and Arkansas.
Capone said his team needs to take care of the football against Mount Tabor. The Spartans’ defense, which also includes Albright in the secondary, has a combined 27 interceptions. Against Charlotte Catholic, Weddington turned over the ball five times.
“As soon as you get in that red zone, they really clamp down,” Capone said. “We just have to protect the football and not get into a turnover battle, especially offensively.”
The Warriors, meanwhile, are the next obstacle for Brown and the Spartans, who are on the cusp of appearing in a state championship game.
“Just a chance to get to a state championship and give ourselves a chance, that’s huge,” said Brown. “We’re just one game away.”