Prep Preview 2014: Challenges loom, but Orange has answers
The Orange Panthers’ House of Pain was nothing if not an inhospitable wasteland for visiting teams last season, where seven foes were vanquished and outscored 312-60.
This year’s schedule only has five regular season home games, but that doesn’t necessarily mean opponents get a break as Orange comes out hungry for that Big Eight 3-A Conference title they lost to eventual state champion Southern in 2013.
Orange coach Pat Moser says most of his punishing defensive unit is back. The Panthers defense threw four swarming shutouts, allowed 7 or fewer points in four other games, and gave up only 224 points last year while Orange scored 577 total.
“I think we’re going to be good on defense again. We’ve got all of our kids back on defensive line. We have two linebackers returning, and of course one defensive back that was all-conference coming back,” Moser said.
“We’re just going to have to continue to be hungry. That is going to be our main theme,” Moser said. “We’ve had a couple of good years, and we have to continue what we’re doing.”
The Panthers will be bolstered by a host of returning all-conference players from a team that went 6-1 in conference play, 12-2 overall.
They are: Seniors Zach Wagoner at offensive right guard, wingback Tay Jones, defensive end Mark Holt, defensive lineman Jack Lemaster, cornerback AJ Bradsher, and junior linebackers Drew Lemaster and Bryse Wilson.
Senior Garrett Cloer, an all-conference honorable mention, will be back as signal caller, and Moser said it is a plus to have the “phenomenal quarterback” in the huddle again.
Cardinal Gibbons quarterback Shawn Stankavage and Southern quarterback Kendall Hinton got the 2013 all-conference quarterback picks. Stankavage graduated and is playing at Vanderbilt; Hinton has committed to Wake Forest for 2015.
“Garrett had 2,800 yards throwing last year, and because of those two kids he didn’t make all-conference, but he truly could have,” Moser said.
Cloer won’t have as many familiar hands reaching out for his passes this year.
“We lost our receivers from last year, we lost three good ones, so we’ve got to have some younger kids step in,” Moser said.
“We were a little bit concerned about it,” he said. “Josh Kiehle and Austin Wood, it’s early, but they’ve looked extremely well. I think they’re going to be fine.”
And running out of the Orange high-yield, trademark double wing offense, “our wingbacks get out and run routes, too. Tay Jones is a good receiver as well as a running back, so Garrett will have plenty to throw to,” Moser said.
“We’re always looking to add things offensively, and we’ll do a little bit more stuff with our quarterback than normal because he is so good,” Moser said. “I imagine we’ll throw the ball a little bit more than we have in the past. But we have good running backs so a lot of what we have done in the past is what we’ll continue to do.”
Jones ran for 1,800 yards last season, and his dashing, dancing, breakaway speed will be complemented by bruising fullback Michael Bolden, a 6-2, 245-pound mountain of intimidation.
“He’s a really good, hard, inside runner and blocker for us,” Moser said of Bolden.
“I think our offensive line will be pretty good,” he said. The unit “has worked hard in the off-season, especially in the weight room, so I expect them to do well.”
Moser said Southern is returning many players off its state title team, would be the odds-on preseason favorite to repeat as conference champs, and likely would be ranked preseason No. 1 or No. 2 in the state.
“I don’t know of anybody else in the state who can [surpass them]. Maybe Havelock,” Moser said.
“We played them well, and we were in those two games that we played them. We lost to them in the third round [of state playoffs] by seven. We had our chances, but they are extremely good, extremely talented. In order to beat Southern Durham you have to have some things go your way, you have to play real well,” Moser said.
“Chapel Hill was extremely young last year and they’re returning a lot of kids. As the year went on, they played better and better. I think Chapel Hill is going to be a really good team. I think Northwood is going to be a really good team, and Cardinal Gibbons is always good,” Moser said.
“I don’t know how any other conference from top to bottom could be any better than ours, and I have to say especially since we’re in this conference that if it’s not the top conference in the state then I don’t know who is,” Moser said. “I think there are five teams in our conference that can cause problems for anybody in the state.”
PREP PREVIEWS 2014: This is the ninth in a 17-part series looking at area football programs and the 2014 season. The series runs daily through Friday, Aug. 22, opening day for most high school football teams.