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Cardinals Cap Big-Win Weekend with NC Tier 1 Three-Peat

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Cardinals Cap Big-Win Weekend with NC Tier 1 Three-Peat

Cardinals (red and blue) vs Tigers (white and orange). Photo Jim Eversole.

Charlotte Cardinals beat Charlotte Tigers 50-7 to secure their third successive North Carolina State Championship.

In the semifinals, these teams dispatched the Raleigh Redhawks and Clayton Cobras respectively, and this was a high quality contest as one would expect in a state final.

Due to injuries, Cardinals brought in three freshmen: Max Colson starting at flyhalf in place of older brother Zach, Luke Zehmke coming in at fullback, and Evan Culicerto in the front row. All three players made strong claims for starting jerseys at the upcoming National Championships with Colson and Zehmke composed in the backfield, and Culicerto carrying strongly and scoring a try.

In the opening 10 minutes, both teams probed their opponents for weaknesses and the Cardinals' Matt Hogston set his stall out early as a force in the lineout, going on to steal five Tigers lineouts and help Cardinals maintain 100% on their own throws.

Cardinals opened the scoring on 11 minutes when No. 8 Nate Rawls dove over after a rolling maul. Colson converted. Within two minutes, however, the Tigers struck back with some smart handling allowing fullback Jackson Wilson to dissect the Cardinals defense. Vincent Keller converted to tie the game at 7-7.

In the 20th minute, speedy kick chase pressure from Cardinals winger Beyond Bembry forced Tigers into loose passing with his captain Finlay Mitchell capitalizing by kicking through and collecting it to score under the posts. Colson again converted for a 14-7 lead.

The game ebbed and flowed, with no quarter asked or given, until the Cardinals delivered a hammer blow with tries either side of halftime. First Bembry scored in the corner, and then from the second half kickoff the Cardinals maintained possession through multiple phases, with backs and forwards combining neatly, for hooker Colby Marr to power over. That made the score 26-7.

For the remainder of the match, the Cardinals scored 31 unanswered points and largely dominated territory and possession. Tries from Culicerto, two from Sean Butler, and a second from Rawls took the Cardinals to 50 points.

"We are delighted to secure another state championship and especially pleased with how our freshmen seamlessly slotted in at key positions," said Cardinals captain Finlay Mitchell. "We will enjoy this tonight and be 100% focused on Nationals now."

Double try scorer Rawls added: "our set piece was good today but we conceded far too many penalties so this is something that we'll be working hard on to correct."

Head Cardinals Coach Jason Zhemke was delighted with the Cardinals State Championships triple—the Cardinals Blues beat Sandhill Sharks in the Tier 2 Championship 61-12 and the girls Roonies edged out the Raleigh Cobras 26-20 in thriller to get their third consecutive state title.

"Our captain Rory Nealon once again led from the front and had an excellent captain's season overall," said Cardinals Blues Coach Dan McLaughlin. Nealon scored two tries on the day while scrumhalf Logan Sheets touched down three times and flyhalf Cameron Mitchell was 8-for-9 in conversions.

"We've had great camaraderie as usual with the boys and I'd also like to call out Blye Armstrong who started at eightman every game, and our hooker, Tyler Valverde who played every minute of every game this season," added McLaughlin.   

Roonies Coach Alicia Tice was also delighted with their season, noting that, "like the boys, this is our third State Championship in a row, and both this year and last we finished first in the EGRL South Division. Big congrats to today's try scorers, Caroline Cook, Jemmely Rivera with two, Joelle Taylor and three conversions from Alexa Kirschner. It's a bittersweet end to the season as we're graduating a number of seniors, but the future looks bright as Roonies were the Tier 2 runners-up and new player interest continues to grow."