It’s really hard to beat the champs.
Chambers coach Glenwood Ferebee, whose team has won the past two N.C. 4AA state championships, is fond of talking about his kids’ hearts; about how they never give up; about how well they play in the playoffs; and, most of all, about how well they play when facing adversity.
All of that showed up in Chambers’ 35-21 come-from-behind win over Hough in the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship.
Down 14 points late in the third quarter, Chambers found its groove just in the nick of time and rallied past a top-40 ranked national power. Reigning N.C. player of the year Daylan Smothers scored the go-ahead points with 58 seconds to play, and as Hough was trying for a miracle score, Chambers star defensive end James Pearce picked up a fumble and ran it in for a put-away finish — and a major celebration.
That allowed Chambers (14-1) to avenge a 16-10 regular-season loss to Hough (14-1) and advance to next Saturday’s state championship game against Cardinal Gibbons. Gibbons beat Rolesville 36-28.
The state final will be a rematch of Chambers’ 35-29 win over Gibbons in August. That game, played at Gibbons, was delayed by weather and didn’t finish until nearly 1 a.m.
Two other Charlotte-area teams played in regional championship games Friday:
▪ Shelby advanced to the 2A final, beating East Surry 45-13. Shelby won the 2016, 2018 and 2019 2AA championships. The Golden Lions also won 2A state titles in 2014 and ‘15.
Shelby was in the regional final for the eighth time in nine years.
▪ In 3A, Belmont’s South Point High fell 38-0 to Dudley High from Greensboro.
South Point was in the regional final for the first time in five years. The Red Raiders won the 2016 3A championship.
▪ Hough was in the regional finals for the first time since 2017. Chambers, which won its ninth straight game, was in its sixth straight regional final and will try to become the first Mecklenburg County public school to 3-peat in the 4A class since Mallard Creek did it six years ago. Mallard Creek won 4AA titles.
This year, the N.C. High School Association reduced the number of state champions it will name, moving from eight to four, so Chambers will play Cardinal Gibbons next Saturday at N.C. State for the 4A rings.
The site will be familiar for one of the teams. Gibbons is literally across the street from N.C. State. The Wolfpack uses the Cardinal Gibbons’ parking lot during home games. Gibbons (13-2) beat Rolesville 36-28 at home in the Eastern Regional final.
In Cornelius, about three hours away from the Gibbons campus, Hough came into the game ranked No. 25 by USA Today, No. 32 by MaxPreps and No. 49 by High School Football America. Chambers was No. 50 by MaxPreps and No. 51 by HSFA.
Other than a 75-yard scoring run from reigning N.C player of the year Daylan Smothers, the Hough defense really kept the Cougars under wraps, until late in the third quarter, when Chambers was down two scores and facing mortality.
Then, Chambers found its championship heart.
Here’s what happened.
A late second-quarter special teams score gave Hough a 14-7 halftime lead, and in the third quarter, the Huskies got a scoring pass from Tad Hudson to Andrew Krystalowych. Hough led 21-7.
Chambers answered back with a 25-yard pass from Anshon Camp to Kevin Concepcion with 1:57 left in the third quarter. That trimmed the lead to 21-14, and set up a frenetic finish.
The Cougars’ defense got a stop and its offense got moving, arriving at fourth-and-1 at the Hough 32 with 4:24 to play. QB Anshon Camp faked the handoff and ran around the end for a first down at the Hough 24.
Later, Camp hit Concepcion with a 30-yard pass to the Hough 2 with 2:44 to play. Concepcion tied the score two plays later on a short run with 2:13 to play.
Chambers defense then forced a three-and-out — Pearce batted down a third-down play — and Hough punted with 87 seconds left. Concepcion returned it from his 36 to the Hough 40.
On the next play, Smothers ran to the Hough 25. A Hough face-mask penalty added 15 more yards. And a few plays later, Smothers took a shovel pass from Camp and ran 9 yards for the score with 58 seconds left.
▪ Hough started the game with a big run, a big pass and and an eventual score on a 25-yard scoring pass from Tad Hudson to Markell Quick less than two minutes into the game.
Chambers got an answer with 5:51 left in the first half. Smothers ran for a 75-yard score.
But perhaps the biggest play of the first half came after Chambers got a huge break.
Hough QB Hudson threw a pretty long pass to Quick down the left sideline, giving the Huskies a first down at the 2. But Hough fumbled and lost it. The Huskies defense made a stand and forced a punt. A 5-yard penalty made the punt tougher, and put the punter closer to the line of scrimmage.
Hough blocked the punt, recovered it and went up 14-7.