Having seven of the eight I-Meck 4A schools qualify for the state playoffs provided evidence to support the claim of being the best conference in the state.
Additionally, the league’s third-place team, Hough, was ranked as the No. 8 team in all of 4A. And North Meck cruised through its non-conference schedule only to start I-Meck play with a 1-5 record.
With all the lake-area teams eliminated from the playoffs, here are five games that shaped what Lake Norman coach Jonathan Oliphant calls the “SEC of North Carolina football.”
1. North Meck at Mooresville, Sept. 21
This game was the I-Meck opener for both teams, and it was Blue Devils coach Thad Wells first ever in the league. Scoring went back and forth after the Vikings took a 13-0 lead to start the game.
Both running backs – Quamir Conner for Mooresville and North Meck’s Fabian Duncan – stole the show. Conner finished with 201 yards of total offense, while Duncan compiled 240 yards on 22 carries. Scoring 27 points over the last three quarters, the Blue Devils held on for a 43-26 win and proved Wells had the team headed in the right direction.
And the game was already the second of the year the Devils overcame a two-score deficit to win.
“We’re going to be in more football games like this,” North Meck coach Eric Morman said.
2. Mallard Creek at Hough, Nov. 2
Both Mallard Creek and Hough entered the game unbeaten, and it was a rematch of last year’s state semifinals, which the Mavericks won 20-10.
This game not only had perfect seasons on the line, but it also had major ramifications for conference standings and, therefore, playoff seeding.
The Huskies only trailed 13-10 after three quarters but were outscored 13-0 in the fourth for a 26-10 Mallard Creek victory. The Mavericks defense only allowed 83 passing yards from Kennique Bonner-Steward and 65 from the Huskies’ tandem of running backs, but coach Matt Jenkins came away confident.
And that would pay off later in the month, when the Huskies beat Mallard Creek, 19-7.
3. Hough at Vance, Nov. 9 (and Nov. 30)
The Huskies were coming off their loss to Mallard Creek when they traveled to Vance for the regular-season finale. The two teams had identical records, each with a loss to the No. 1 Mavericks.
Vance shut out the Huskies, who averaged 33 points per game this year. A light rain fell throughout the evening in Huntersville, but to the southeast the weather was more treacherous, making for downright sloppy field conditions. Vance was still able to run and pass the ball, but Hough, who plays on a turf field, was unable to acclimate.
The two teams met again in the third round of the 4AA state playoffs. It was again at Vance and again it was raining. Those who were at both games said the conditions were slightly better for the playoffs, but the turf had a sponge-like field to it. And like in the regular-season finale, Vance was victorious.
4. Lake Norman at Mooresville, Oct. 19
Unlike Wells, new Lake Norman's Oliphant had plenty of experience with the Mooresville rivalry. But Oliphant was on the Blue Devils’ sideline as a player and assistant coach for those games.
Mooresville was coming off losses at Hough and Vance, as well as a delay from the effects of Hurricane Michael, and the Wildcats had yet to pick up an I-Meck win. The teams had alternated victories the previous six games, with all but one of those decided by single-digits.
After a Lake Norman 7-0 lead after one quarter, Mooresville took over and outscored the Wildcats 38-0 the rest of the way, making it two in a row for the Devils.
5. Hopewell at North Meck, Oct. 5
Hopewell went winless in 2017 and had yet to secure a victory this season before facing North Meck in the Huntersville rivalry game.
The Vikings got on the board quickly, but the Titans did not flinch, as they used a series of spectacular plays – including an acrobatic catch by Jalen Jones to make it 13-9. With the Hopewell sideline fired up, North Meck’s Aaron Scott used his legs to score an impressive touchdown of his own and regain momentum.
Following a pair of Justin Olson touchdowns, North Meck had full control by halftime and won the game 54-16. Hopewell again finished the season without a win, but the team did show it had the athletes to match up with other conference foes and first-year coach Jamelle Byrd was making strides with his team.