BARCO — Currituck’s football team has not had a playoff run like this since 1989 and the school is taking notice.
“It’s been one of the most emotional atmospheres I’ve seen in this building in a long time,” said Currituck coach Johnny Wheeler, who is also a former player and 2001 graduate of the school. “For us to make this run in the playoffs, it has brought out a lot of people. Alumni have contacted me, other teachers and some of the students and just said, ‘Hey, keep it up.’”
The excitement was most evident last week during and after a thrilling 48-42 overtime win over South Brunswick.
“We had a pretty decent crowd at the game and when we were able to score that touchdown in overtime, the stadium exploded. I’ve never seen a stadium that alive or that amped at the end of a football game,” Wheeler said. “The kids are talking about it. Teachers that typically don’t come to the games, they knew well ahead of Monday that we won the game. Administration was excited. It’s a different level of enthusiasm that I’ve never seen here. We’re getting the school spirit back in this building.”
Currituck (9-3) has ridden that wave to the third round of the 3A state playoffs where it will play at Havelock (13-0) tonight at 7:30 p.m. This is the deepest postseason run for the Knights since they appeared in the 1989 1A state title game. Currituck lost to Swain County in the ’89 final, which began a string of 10 straight playoff losses spanning 22 years — until this season.
“For a long time, a first-round exit from the playoffs was typical for Currituck football,” Wheeler said. “We went into the playoffs this year, and that was just not acceptable. We want to make sure we keep this train rolling.”
It should not come as much of a surprise since this has been a season of firsts for the Knights, who claimed their first-ever road wins at Bertie and Hertford during the course of the season. What could be another first awaits the Knights if they can win tonight — hosting the Eastern Regional final next week.
Standing in their way is Havelock, widely regarded as one of the top 3A teams, as well as one of the best teams in the state period, regardless of classification.
“They’ve earned their record,” Wheeler said. “They are very fundamental, they’re fast, well-coached. They do not have a lot of tendencies. They are well-balanced.”
Currituck, though, is familiar with Havelock. The Knights fell to the Rams 55-23 in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.
“They have the same personnel, and we return a lot of our personnel,” Wheeler said. “We went down there and scored 23 points and it was almost like a shock to them. I don’t think many people really thought we had a lot to bring to the table last year.”
Currituck is led by record-setting tailback Marquise Grizzle. Grizzle is the state’s second-leading rusher with 2,903 yards and leads all of North Carolina with 51 total touchdowns.
Havelock boasts a balanced offense, averaging 211.9 yards passing and 261.8 rushing. Senior quarterback Garrett Crowe has thrown for 2,728 yards with 29 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. A pair of sophomore running backs lead the Rams’ ground game in Derrell Scott (1,658 yards, 20 TDs) and Taylor Woods (831-12).
“Defensively, it’s going to be a challenge for us and we’re making adjustments the best we can,” Wheeler said.
Despite what seems like tall odds, Currituck has no intention of making the 160-mile journey just to roll over.
“We don’t practice to lose, so we’re not going to play to lose,” Wheeler said. “Anything is possible in the third round. That’s why we play the playoffs.”