High School Football: No. 9 Mallard Creek finds some offense, upsets No. 3 Independence

It’s been eight years since Mallard Creek won its third straight N.C. 4A state championship and was sitting atop North Carolina’s football elite.

Since then, the Mavericks have sputtered a little, mainly due to a lack of offense, as its tried to stay on top.

But playing Independence at Memorial Stadium Thursday, Mallard Creek gave its fans a reason to think that 2023 might be the year the Mavericks get all the way back.

Mallard Creek, No. 9 in The Observer’s preseason Sweet 16, rallied to upset No. 3 Independence 28-14. In doing so, the Mavericks showed off the staunch defense that’s always been their calling card. Junior Nassor Ashenafi, who moved to Charlotte from Washington, DC, had two interception returns for touchdowns and the Mavericks slowed down a Patriots offense that regularly scored in the 40s and 50s a year ago. The Mavericks had three interceptions overall.

“The first one,” Ashenafi said, “I just saw what the QB was looking at....I said, ‘I gotta get me one.’ So I just jumped it and house call. (Second one), I just read it and I was going for the pass breakup but then I said, ‘I can pick it off now,’ so i just picked it and another house call.”

Beside the strong defense, which was expected, Mallard Creek also showed the type of sudden strike offense that Mavericks fans haven’t seen much of in years.

Sometimes, it was running back Khalil Ali busting through a strong Independence defense for a 50-plus yard run. Then, it was new quarterback Evan Rambert, the junior varsity starter a year ago, finding N.C. Mr. Football nominee Benjamin Black for a 62-yard touchdown.

Black’s fourth quarter touchdown catch gave Mallard Creek a 14-point lead and sealed an impressive season-opening win.

Next week, Independence (0-1) will host Hickory Ridge from Cabarrus County. Mallard Creek (1-0) will host Buford (Georgia), which is ranked among the top 10 in several national polls.

“It’s a blessing to work with these kids,” Mavericks coach Kennedy Tinsley. “I think we’ve been getting better every year....and personally, and I think it feels like we deserve some respect at this point. We play in the toughest conference with Hough and Chambers, and we beat Hough last year. Now we’re playing Indy, nobody believes in us, and we’re doing a good job.

“I think we’re improving. Now to become the Mallard Creek of old, we’ve got a ways to go. But at the end of the day, we said, ‘Man if people don’t respect the job we’re doing, we’ve got to make them respect us.”

PHOTOS: Mallard Creek vs. Independence