Wildcats stay above water despite heavy roster turnover from breakout season

First-year quarterback Jackson Garlick is part of a mostly new group on the Lake Norman offense. /Doug Coats

MOORESVILLE – Lake Norman High’s football team may be full of new faces from the spring, but the on-field results haven’t faltered.

The Wildcats improved to 5-1 with a 17-3 win over West Cabarrus Oct. 1, improving their conference record to 2-0. They’ve already matched the win mark from the abbreviated slate last season, when their only losses came to the state champions and the current top-ranked team.

Last season’s roster was chock-full of experienced seniors, but this fall was a chance for others to step in to keep “The Lake” rising under coach Jonathan Oliphant. There are only two returning starters in their same position, with a third, Ranger Glaser moving from defensive line to linebacker. Jackson Garlick has taken over leading the disciplined Wing-T offense following three-year starter and emotional leader Anthony Limon.

“The kids are starting to get some experience,” Oliphant said. “We can’t have steps backwards. We can’t sit on our laurels.”

Aside from being in a new conference, Lake Norman’s schedule looks much different than it did in the preseason, with three games being affected by COVID quarantines. Games against 1A Mitchell County, 4A Davie County and 2A Mount Pleasant all came with little preparation and the team went 2-1 in those contests.

The win over West Cabarrus came with a bend-but-don’t-break effort from the defense. The Wildcats lead the Greater Metro 4A giving up just 14.6 points per game.

“They played well last night, making plays when they needed to,” Oliphant said. “I try to tell them games we haven’t played well, to not have big glaring errors. It’s about technique-wise, discipline, knowing the call. They’ve done a good job fixing alignment issues.”

Up 7-3 at the half, Lake Norman executed a surprise on-side kick, effectively putting the game away with the ensuing touchdown.

“Hopefully we’d get it and go down and score,” Oliphant said. “Offensively, we stalled here and there, but we got first downs when we needed them.”

The growth of the program in Oliphant’s four-year tenure has been evident off the field too. They revamped their weight room over the summer, while the home stands were packed on homecoming watching a team in brand-new deep-blue uniforms. Several former players were on the sideline as well.

“It was a really good crowd,” Oliphant said. “The student section has been great, they’ve been really supportive. When you’re winning, people want to come support you. It’s always good to be somewhere that wants to win and support a winner.”

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