If there's anything the Shelby Golden Lions didn't want, it was to be seen in Sunday's (Dec. 16th, 3 PM) Shelby Christmas Parade as the team that almost won another state championship.
They left no doubt about it on Saturday at Raleigh where they beat North Davidson 42-21 to claim Shelby's fifth state title in the last six years.
Shelby took the opening kickoff but had to punt. Then North Davidson drove to the Golden Lions' 15-yard line, but that's when things changed. It started when sophomore linebacker Jack Hollifield picked off a pass from North Davidson quarterback Landon Moore and took it 94 yards to the end zone.
After that, Shelby owned most of the rest of the first half. Junior quarterback Isaiah Bess connected with fellow junior Diavonni Daley for a pair of touchdown passes of 20 and 22 yards and with Caden Sheeley's extra point kicks (he was perfect for the day) the lead swelled to 21-0 early in the second period.
North Davidson managed a score before halftime to cut the lead to 21-7, but on the Lions' second possession of the second half, Bess tossed an 18-yard TD pass to Fabian Pettis, who nobody from North Davidson covered, and Shelby led 28-7.
A questionable pass interference call kept a North Davidson drive alive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run on a 4th down play at the Shelby three-yard line, cutting the lead to 28-14, but an on-side kick attempt by the Black Knights gave the Golden Lions the ball at the North Davidson 44 and they drove for another TD as Donye Fuller carried the ball several times and finished the drive with a two-yard run.
It looked like the game was about over when Dorian Davis intercepted a North Davidson pass with seven minutes to go, but when the Lions had to punt, a bad snap resulted in a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 35-21.
After another failed on-side kick attempt by the North Davidson, senior Jaylon Scott, who had shared second half carries with Fuller, got a three-yard TD with a minute left in the game to produce the final 42-21 score.
There's no doubt that Shelby's offense this season was largely the result of Isaiah Bess and some very speedy receivers. Bess finished Saturday's championhip game with 192 yards passing and three touchdowns, completing 17 of his 26 throws; but perhaps the biggest difference in the Golden Lions, who were 1-3 and lost two of their first four games to county rivals Burns and Crest, may be Fuller.
He had only two games this season in which he ran for over a hundred yards--the first of those the rout of R-S Central, the second on Saturday. He didn't get 170 yards as he did against the Hilltoppers, but he did get 112 and his carrying the ball helped the Lions run out the clock in the second half.
Fuller didn't start the season as the primary running back--he got his first start at that position in the loss to Burns, but while Bess and the air attack were running up the points on opponents, he had several games just shy of 100 yards rushing and that helped Bess not to have to worry about the opponents going after him on every play.
The Golden Lions have now won five of the last six NCSCHAA state titles in their division (just missing last season). They can claim ten overall (some say more dating to before the NCHSAA era that started in the 1970s).
They'll most likely be back in the title game again next year. Bess is back as are receivers Divonni Daley and Jahari Mitchell. Defensive standouts Jack Hollifield and Fuller also return. Kicker Caden Sheeley will also be back. Coach Lance Ware, whose record as head coach is now 99-25, has a lot of reasons to smile: another state championship just one of them.