CHAPEL HILL — What does a defense-first Dudley football team do on a night when it gives up 40 points? It scores a state-record 69.
That’s what championship teams do. And that’s what the Panthers are once again after beating Greenville J.H. Rose on Friday night in the NCHSAA Class 3-A title game at Kenan Stadium.
The title is Dudley’s fifth in NCHSAA, all of them coming in Steven Davis’ 18 seasons as head coach, and the school’s seventh overall. But this one was different.
A Panthers team that had given up a total of 41 points during the 12-game winning streak that carried them to the championship game led 21-0 after less than six minutes. But Rose scored twice in the final three minutes of the quarter, and the Rampants seemed to have momentum after closing to 27-20 with 5:17 to go in the half.
“We made a lot of mistakes in the first half that gave them the 20,” Davis said. “We just did uncharacteristic things, things we hadn’t been doing all year.”
Brandon Anderson, defensive coordinator on a Dudley state championship team for the third time, said, “All of them came from mistakes that we made. We weren’t lined up right. We missed a tackle ...”
Rose then forced a punt and drove from its 22-yard line to the 46. A Panthers defense that had given up just 26 points in five playoff games suddenly looked vulnerable.
That’s when one of Dudley’s offensive playmakers came through on the defensive side of the line. Mehki Wall, who carved out a significant role at cornerback in the playoffs, recovered a fumble by Rose quarterback Will Taylor.
“As soon as he fumbled I knew it was my time to shine,” Wall said.
Then it was Wall’s turn to shine on offense. On the first play after the turnover, quarterback Jahmier Slade found his fellow senior on a 20-yard pass to the 5-yard line. Wall took a handoff from Slade and went the final 5 yards on the next play for a TD that swung the momentum back to the Panthers with 43 seconds left in the half.
That’s when things really unraveled for Rose (11-5).
A pooched kickoff by Dudley’s Adoul Bayor was mishandled by the Rampants and recovered by the Panthers’ Kameron Baldwin. Four plays later, Slade connected with R.J. Baker on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 2 seconds left in the half.
“They had a little momentum going at 27-20 and for us to get that fumble recovery and score and then the pooch kick we recovered and scored again, that was a huge swing,” Davis said. “It meant a lot to us.”
It meant the Panthers (15-1) had a chance to break open the game when they received the second-half kickoff. They did just that, driving 50 yards in four plays, the last an 18-yard TD run by Slade with just 1:30 gone in the second half.
At 49-20 Dudley, the only thing in doubt was the final margin. The Panthers didn’t just win. They set an NCHSAA record for points in a neutral-site state championship game, surpassing the 68 Reidsville scored against Catawba Bandys in 2003.
The 109 points scored by the two teams also set a record, topping the 98 scored by Western Alamance and North Gaston in a 62-36 Warriors win in 2007.
It wasn’t the kind of game Dudley expected, but it was the type of game the Panthers were uniquely equipped to play. With a stout line and array of playmakers unmatched in this year’s playoffs, offensive coordinator Antonio Hall’s group flexed as never before.
Slade finished with 115 yards and two touchdowns passing and 98 yards and three TDs rushing to earn MVP honors.
Senior running back Michael Shaw rushed for 191 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion and was named the Panthers’ outstanding offensive player.
Baker ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and returned a punt for a TD.
Wall caught three passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in addition to his TD run.
“We knew we had to get all of those guys the ball,” Davis said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be a one-man show. If they lined up over Mehki, we’d go to R.J. If they lined up over R.J., we’d get the ball to Michael.”
When the show was over, the Dudley players and coaches celebrated with the Panthers fans who made the drive from Greensboro.
“It’s a dream come true,” Slade said.
It was that and more for Davis, who celebrated with his son, senior defensive back Steven II.
“They’re all special to me, but this is a little more special because my son is here and he’s a senior,” the head coach said. “That means a lot.”
For Wall, who was a ball boy when Dudley won the Class 4-A championship in 2016 along with Steven Davis II, it was a chance to share the moment with his friend.
“It feels amazing!” Wall said. “Me and my dog, Deuce, going at it since freshman year. In 2016 we took a picture with the state championship team and we just knew that when we grew up we were going to get a state championship, and that’s what we just did.”
QB Will Taylor: 16-of-31 passing, 228 yards, 3 TDs, INT.
RB-LB Klavon Brown: 20 carries, 115 yards, 7 tackles, 4 TFLs, sack (Rose outstanding defensive player).
WR Jayden Grimes: 9 catches, 150 yards, 2 TDs.
DB Jameer Roach: Pick-six.
QB Jahmier Slade: 7-of-12 passing, 115 yards, 2 TDs, INT, 11 rushes, 98 yards, 3 TDs (game MVP).
RB Michael Shaw: 12 carries, 191 yards, TD.
ATH R.J. Baker: 8 rushes, 43 yards, TD, 2 catches, 29 yards, TD, punt-return TD.
ATH Mehki Wall: 3 catches, 79 yards, TD, fumble recovery.
DT Logan Wright: 8 tackles, TFL, sack (Dudley outstanding defensive player).
DT Jhyheem Pittman: 9 tackles, TFL.
DE Austin Lloyd: 5 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2 sacks.
LB Jaylan Richmond: Pick-six.
Rose 14 6 14 6 — 40
Dudley 21 21 27 0 — 69
D – R.J. Baker 3 run (Adoul Bayor kick), 1st, 8:43
D – Jaylan Richmond 56 interception return (Bayor kick), 1st, 7:40
D – Michael Shaw 76 run (Bayor kick), 1st, 6:19
R – Jayden Grimes 13 pass from Will Taylor (Will D’Alonza kick), 1st, 2:40
R – Jameer Roach 59 interception return (D’Alonza kick), 1st, :54
D – Jahmier Slade 24 run (run failed), 2nd, 9:55
R – Klavon Brown 6 run (kick blocked), 2nd, 5:17
D – Mehki Wall 5 run (Shaw run), 2nd, :43
D – Baker 14 pass from Slade (Bayor kick), 2nd, :02
D – Slade 18 run (Bayor kick), 2nd, 10:30
R – Grimes 42 pass from Taylor (D’Alonza kick), 3rd, 8:34
D – Wall 43 pass from Slade (Bayor kick), 3rd, 6:58
R – Montez Green 34 pass from Taylor (D’Alonza kick), 3rd, 3:54
D – Slade 6 run (kick blocked), 3rd, 2:09
D – Baker 46 punt return (Bayor kick), 3rd, :25
R – Brown 3 run (kick failed), 4th, 2:36
Contact Joe Sirera at 336-373-7034, and follow @JoeSireraSports on Twitter.