The Weddington Warriors earned their second N.C. High School Athletic Association 3AA state football championship in the last three years with a 27-14 victory over Southeast Guilford on Friday night at a soaked Kenan Stadium.
Warriors senior receiver James Shipley earned the game’s most outstanding player honors, catching 10 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown and throwing a TD pass to younger brother Will.
Weddington (15-1) also won the state title in 2016. Quarterback Whitner Litton (12-of-18 for 172 yards and two touchdown passes) won offensive player of the game for his team, while senior linebacker Eamon Murphy won defensive player of the game. Murphy capped his football career (he’s going to West Point to play lacrosse) with an interception late in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory.
“That’s a great way for our seniors to go out,” James Shipley said. “It’s the thing we’ve been dreaming for since we were in sixth grade. We won the sixth-grade championship, and it’s been a mentality of winning ever since then. It’s like a fairytale ending. There’s nothing more you could ask for, especially with all your best friends beside you.”
Southeast Guilford (from Pleasant Garden) played in its first state title game. The Falcons (14-2) trailed 20-7 early in the fourth quarter but recovered a fumble. Quarterback Ryan Douglas, though, threw an interception that James Shipley returned to the SE Guilford 5-yard line.
Will Shipley scored from 1 yard out as Weddington took command 27-7. Will Shipley rushed for 52 yards and a score and caught one pass for 50 yards and another TD.
WEDDINGTON CALLS ON ‘BLACK KNIGHT’
Weddington called the play “Black Knight,” named after the West Point football team.
Warriors coach Andy Capone had seen Army run it, so he put it in the playbook for the 3AA state championship game against Southeast Guilford and it worked beautifully.
Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, Weddington coach Andy Capone sent the play in. He said he “stole it” from Army, which used it against Navy last weekend. A receiver was to take a pitch on a reverse but instead of running it, he was to throw it deep.
Senior receiver James Shipley took a pitch on a reverse but was immediately under heavy duress. Capone had told him to throw it no matter what.
Will Shipley, James’ younger brother, was the receiver on the play.
Will recalled: “When coach called that play, I was like, ‘What? Oh, God, here we go.’ (Quarterback) Whitner (Litton) had to tell me again because I was like, ‘What?'”
“Honestly, I got the ball and saw a sea of orange,” James said. “I closed my eyes and threw it as far as I could. Will went up and made a play.”
James Shipley said the pass was a “duck,” but his brother made the play and got in the end zone for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
“I saw the safety coming over, and I was ready to take the hit,” Will said. “Sometimes things roll your way, and that play did. I’m thankful for it. … It’s just a fairytale. We’ve been best friends ever since we can remember. To get to chest-bump him in the end zone, that’s really what it’s all about. I couldn’t ask for a better brother, better teammate.”
SOUTHEAST GUILFORD PROUD OF TURNAROUND
Falcons coach Kennedy Tinsley worried about his senior class at the start of the season. In a sport and a program that depends on leadership from older players to be successful, no one was stepping up.
But that changed, and Southeast Guilford’s senior class led their school to the state championship game.
“It was a senior class we were worried about,” Tinsley said. “At the beginning of the year, we felt like they were very immature. They had talent, but they lacked leadership. I’m being totally honest. … They totally flipped that around, bought in and changed. That makes them even more special than some of my other senior classes.”
Tinsley said his squad had a senior leadership team, led by Chad Stephens, that helped mentor younger players. Stephens, a running back and linebacker, was in tears after the game.
“He’s done a great job in buying in and changing,” Tinsley said. “It’s fun to see. … This is my second year, and the fact that these guys have done all this hard work to put us into a state championship – it’s probably unrealistic, and a lot of people would love to be in the same shoes. …. Even though we’re disappointed, they have a ton to be proud of.”