Cougars’ Craig shares Player of Year with South Caldwell’s Raynor
By CHRIS HOBBS
Four seniors and a junior led voting for the top awards in Northwestern 3A-4A football for spring varsity football.
Conference head coaches voted for:
— Zak McLauchlin, a 5-foot-7, 160-pound senior running back for St. Stephens who led the league is rushing, as Offensive Player of the Year.
— Orlando Leon (6-2, 190), a junior linebacker for Watauga, as Defensive Player of the Year.
— Senior running back Rhyeem Craig (6-3, 220) of Alexander Central and South Caldwell senior quarterback Avery Raynor (5-11, 195) as co-Players of the Year.
— Josh Abernathy (6-0, 200), a senior from Alexander Central, as the conference’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
The league’s Coach of the Year award went to Marc Kirkpatrick of South Caldwell, who has been Spartans head coach for four seasons.
Unofficially, McLauchlin ran 134 times for 779 yards for the Indians and had 21 catches for 394 yards. He ran 22 times for 265 yards in a win over Bessemer City and had eight catches for 127 yards against Alexander Central.
St. Stephens (2-5) finished sixth in the conference and had five of the conference’s 57 players selected All-Northwestern 3A-4A.
Leon led league champion Watauga (5-2) defensively with 18 solo tackles and 18 assists and added 10 ½ tackles for lost yardage (he has 22 ½ of those in his career).
Craig’s unofficial rushing totals for Alexander Central are 63 carries for 493 yards, highlighted by seven carries for 118 yards against Hickory. He averaged 61.6 rushing yards as the Cougars went 5-3.
Raynor had an explosive offensive year for South Caldwell (3-3(, unofficially averaging 210.6 yards of total offense per game. He ran for nearly 500 yards and threw for another 112.
Kirkpatrick is a second generation head coach. A former starting quarterback as his alma mater, he is the son of Don (Red) Kirkpatrick, the Spartans’ head coach when the school opened in 1977 (Red retired after the 1983 season).
Marc Kirkpatrick’s older brother, Donnie, was the starting quarterback on South Caldwell’s first team that went 11-3 and lost in the state 3A final. The elder brother is currently offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at East Carolina.
The Spartans are 11-32 under Marc Kirkpatrick with three state playoff appearances in his four seasons that include a first-round 4A home loss to Durham Hillside last Friday in Hudson (46-26).
In a COVID-shortened season, the Spartans went 3-3. They were 3-1 in the league, finishing third for their best league finish since a second place in 2015.
South Caldwell has now qualified for the state playoffs in 14 of the last 17 seasons – 11 of those under Butch Carter, now head coach at Alexander Central and the other three under Marc Kirkpatrick.
ALL-NORTHWESTERN 3A-4A FOOTBALL
(as voted on by conference head coaches)
Alexander Central: Rhyeem Craig, Dalton Beck, Tanner Abernathy, Lance Justice, Blake Martin, Ibrahim Boston, Thomas Cline, Josh Abernathy, Russell Frasier, Connor Zink, Landon Dula, Kobe Burns-Ceasar, Dayante Calhoun, Cameron Lackey.
Freedom: Avery Pollard, Demarcus Lawrence, Desmond Caldwell, Cam Silvers, Eli Thomas, Jadden Corpening.
Hickory: Henry Stewart, Nick Everhart, Rico Walker.
McDowell: Grayson Blackwelder, Harley Allison, Jacob Pearon, Riley Moore, James Day, Bradley Biddix, Seth Baird, Gabe Marsh, Bryson Effler.
St. Stephens: Zane McPherson, Omar Orozco, Randall Lyons, Troy Hicks, Zak McLaughlin.
South Caldwell: Isiaha Kirby, Avery Raynor, Steven Reid, John-Robert Boyd, Cole McCall, Will Conner, Kaleb Icenhour, Tristan Adkins, Christian Hurt, Jason Wilkerson.
Watauga: Isaiah Shirley, Jake Gragg, Ben Myers, Grant Lawrence, Lucas Towle, Joe Penley, Carter Everett, Carlon Horine, Seb Best, Orlando Leon.
Offensive Player of the Year: McLauchlin, St. Stephens
Defensive Player of the Year: Leon, Watauga
Specialist of the Year: Abernathy, Alexander Central
Player of the Year: Craig, Alexander Central and Raynor, S. Caldwell
Coach of the Year: Marc Kirkpatrick, S. Caldwell