Panthers look for another playoff run
Facing one of the most challenging 3-A football schedules in the state, Orange High School either will crumble or soar in 2013.
Bet on the latter.
Coming off an 11-3 season that included a run to the state 3-A East Regional title game, a 42-7 road loss to eventual state champion Havelock, the Panthers were good and expect to be very good again.
Fueling that optimism is an influx of talent from an undefeated junior varsity program and experienced returning stars and prospects up and down the roster.
Orange, which finished second in the now-defunct Carolina 6 Conference to perennial power Cardinal Gibbons a year ago, joins the new Big Eight Conference, which should be an even stronger league.
Dropping down from the 4-A ranks into the Big Eight is Southern High, while crosstown rival Cedar Ridge and Northwood move up from the 2-A ranks. Former Carolina-6 members Chapel Hill, Gibbons and Oxford Webb join the Big Eight, as well.
Factor into that mix a non-conference schedule that features 4-A schools Northern, Person and Riverside along with a strong 2-A Graham program, and Orange won’t be playing many gimmes this fall.
Asked if he “scheduled up” in non-conference games to prepare his players for the playoffs, fifth-year Orange coach Pat Moser laughed.
“No; we can’t get 3-A teams to play us,” Moser said. “It’s a killer schedule. The key for us is staying healthy. If we do that, I think we’ll be OK.”
The Panthers roster took some heavy graduation hits including stars Sean Motley (quarterback), Jalen Pittman (wingback), Jamal Pittman (outside linebacker), Jon Evans (cornerback) and Matt Gattis (receiver). Motley is a walk-on freshman at Gardner-Webb who Moser expects to earn a scholarship soon.
But the replacements are solid, if not potential stars themselves.
Junior quarterback Garrett Cloer (6-3, 195) “is a college prospect and could have started last year,” according to Moser, who acknowledged that Motley’s senior status gave him the edge in the end.
His backup has talent, too. Sophomore Bryse Wilson recently was named a national freshman All-America baseball pitcher and has a cannon of an arm, but he’ll start at linebacker.
At wingback in Orange’s double-wing offense, college recruiting target Patrick Pettiford (6-0, 191) is back after rushing for close to 1,200 yards a year ago along with fullback Antoine Bowden (6-2, 240). Joining them at the other wingback spot is junior Tay Jones, who starred on the jayvee team and is called “a phenomenal young talent,” by Moser.
The double-wing doesn’t call for a tight end, but Moser vowed to find a way to get senior transfer Dwyne Watkins (6-3, 210), who moved from Cedar Ridge, into the lineup.
“We’re going to have to run some tight end (formations) to get him in there,” Moser said.
At receiver, Joe Piscitelli is back and is the top option for Cloer.
“He’s a great runner and he catches everything,” Moser said, adding that another group of three wideouts are also in the mix for playing time.
The strength of the offense — and the defense, for that matter — is the all-veteran line, including Adam Reynolds (5-11, 230) and Hunter Wagoner (6-1, 250).
“Those are the best two we’ve got,” Moser said. “But there’s a lot of other talent around them.”
The D-line should stand out as well.
Artrell Stewart (6-0, 190) is a top defensive end, and junior linemen Byron Stephenson (6-2, 250) and Jake Frederick (6-0, 295) are imposing along with newcomer Mark Holt.
“Stephenson is huge and he can move,” Moser said.
At linebacker, leading tackler Nic Schultz is back, and Wilson leads an intriguing group of young prospects.
“We’ve got some great athletes in that group,” Moser said.
The defensive secondary is loaded with size that would make most college coaches jealous, including college prospect J.D. Brooks (6-3, 185) at free safety and Ky-Jzir Muller (6-2, 185).
“We’ve got some size, got some big kids,” Moser said. “But we’ve got a killer schedule, and we need to stay healthy. We lost 12 seniors who were all very good players, but we’ve got a good group coming back and great kids coming off that (junior varsity) team.
“Each year is different. You have to see how the chemistry develops. We’ll see.”