‘We’re going to be some dogs this year’: Bears hope to avenge pandemic-ravaged season with new-look offense

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BEAR CREEK — The 2020-21 spring football season wasn’t an easy one for the Chatham Central Bears. The pandemic ravaged their schedule and permitted them to play just four games. They won just once, scored more than eight points just once and allowed more points in one game (77) than they produced the entire season.

But as the Bears prepare to begin their new season this Friday, less than five months after the last one ended, there is hope in Bear Creek.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces,” senior defensive back Collin Lagenor said. “We’ve got more energy, more life, and I think we have a lot more chemistry than before. I think we can get the job done this year.”

Along with fellow senior Trey Clay and junior Hasten Paige, Lagenor will be tasked with stepping up to lead a unit that allowed 10 rushing touchdowns (including a state-record-tying eight from North Moore’s Justis Dorsett) in Chatham Central’s final game last spring.

“A lot of work needs to be done,” Lagenor said. “But we’ve got a lot of potential.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Head Coach Sherman Howze will look for major contributions from his new signal caller, senior Colton McKeithan, along with starting running back Malachi Moore, who led the team with 378 all-purpose yards a season ago. Those two will have to help fill the void left by four-year starting quarterback Michael Moore, as well as Parker Crowley and Tyler Oldham, their top two receivers from a season ago.

Despite those losses, Howze is excited by the addition of seniors Colby Williamson, Nick Jourdan and Joseph Craig, all of whom are new to the program.

“They’ve got speed,” Howze said. “We have more skill guys than we’ve ever had.”

That newfound quickness showed its benefits at last Friday’s Jack Shaner Jamboree at Northwood High School, where the Bears found success with plays that allowed their backs and receivers to get to the edge, including pitch plays and jet sweeps.

“That’s going to be one of our big packages,” Howze said of the jet sweep. “That’s going to be a plus for us because we’ve got speed now.”

One play in particular Friday night seemed to fire up the Chatham Central coach.

Near the end of the Bears’ first scrimmage against Trinity Christian, sophomore running back Devonte Johnson came in motion on a jet sweep, got to the left edge and danced down the sideline into the end zone.

A delighted Howze exclaimed “Yes sir! Yes sir!” as he strutted toward his team to congratulate them.

“That’s the main thing I tell them all the time: ‘Just do your job and we’ll be fine,’” Howze said. “That was a play they did their job on.”

The play seemed emblematic of the kind of growth Howze hopes to see from his team this year.

The Chatham Central coach emphasized the need for the Bears to “just keep learning the game and doing everything right.”

“The main goal is to win the games that we should win,” Howze said. “There’s going to be some tough games, but in these first four I’m looking for us to do something good.”

Those first four contests for the Bears will come against Trinity, South Davidson, North Stokes and Wheatmore, all teams with losing records from a season ago. League play could prove more challenging, however, as Chatham Central will be one of just two 1A teams in the new 1A/2A Mid-Carolina conference, along with inter-county rival Jordan-Matthews (2A).

“Every game we play is a playoff game,” Howze said. “The more we win, the more chances we have to get into the playoffs.”

The Bears appear confident heading into the new season, one they can only hope will be a bit more normal and include a few more games (10 are currently on the schedule). After a tough spring, they’re embracing the idea of this fall’s clean slate.

McKeithan and other players also voiced a goal to avenge last season’s loss to rival North Moore, who the Bears will meet in their regular season finale on Oct. 29.

“We’re going to be some dogs this year,” McKeithan said. “We’re going to work hard. Things are looking up.”

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