Since he took over as Seventy-First head football coach in 2013, Duran McLaurin has consistently turned the Falcons into a winner again.
Now he’s one game away from putting the final and most important brick into his impressive structure.
On Friday, the Falcons make their first bid for a state 3-A football title under McLaurin as they take on Hickory in the NCHSAA 3-A title game at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 at GoFan.com or digitally at the gate tonight. There will also be a $15 parking fee.
Since the former Seventy-First quarterback replaced the late Bob Paroli as head coach, McLaurin has six seasons of 10 or more wins, including the last three where he’s rolled up 41 wins but fallen just short of making the championship game.
“There was too much nostalgia for me not to give it a shot,’’ McLaurin said of leaving E.E. Smith after 2012 and returning to his alma mater.
He was familiar with the history of talent in the Falcon district and its previous success in championship games.
McLaurin credited Paroli for setting the table for him to turn things around.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Coach Paroli would have been just as successful with that group if he had been able to see them all the way through to their junior and senior years,’’ he said. “I couldn’t have done it without him being brazen enough to put all those young guys out on the field.’’
McLaurin knew early on this year’s Seventy-First team was going to be good. The players made it happen.
“They took control of the program,’’ he said. “One thing I’ve always told them, this is a program. We haven’t lost a jayvee game in years.’’
One player who took a lot of control was quarterback DeAndre Nance. In last week’s 50-36 win over Northern Nash, Nance completed all seven of his passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed 17 times for 121 yards and four scores, plus a two-point conversion.
“What ever it takes to pull out the win, I believe in my teammates and they believe in me,’’ Nance said.
Tonight the Falcons will face an explosive Hickory team with a passer who has thrown for more than 3,000 yards this season and a pair of receivers with nearly 120 catches combined. They also have a running back with nearly 2,000 yards rushing.
“We’ve just got to treat it’s like it’s a regular game,’’ Nance said. “Stick to our game plan and be disciplined and do what our coaches taught us all week.’’
McLaurin agreed and said the Falcons have a few specific keys to achieve in pursuit of a win.
“Take away the big play,’’ he said. “No turnovers. Just continue to control the game. Be patient offensively. Take our shots when we get them.’’
With Hickory’s offensive capability, ball control and keeping the clock moving will be essential.
“We want to limit their possessions and their ability to score quick,’’ McLaurin said. “Take away the big plays. If we can do those things, we can definitely have it in our favor. It definitely helps us if the offense stays on the field.’’