The Eagles couldn’t contend for the Class A private-school playoffs last year with a 3-7 record, but they bounced back to challenge for the Region 6A championship before finishing with an 8-2 mark and a No. 3 spot in the latest Class A private-school power ratings.
The lofty standing guarantees Mount Paran a spot in the playoffs, where it has gone three of the last four years.
“All of the credit really goes to the kids and the coaching staff,” Mount Paran coach Mitch Jordan said. “We played a difficult schedule, just like we did last year, but things worked out better for us this time around compared to last year.
“The kids bought in to what we were teaching and showing them and I feel like we’re in a good spot with this team and in the rankings.”
Mount Paran’s region rival, Whitefield Academy, also had a chance at making the postseason, but the Wolfpack fell short with a 4-6 record.
Whitefield lost its season finale 37-7 to a highly rated Darlington team and finished 18th in the power ratings — just two spots below the 16-team threshold.
Whitefield was 2-5 at one point, but it came on strong with back-to-back victories over Walker and King’s Ridge Christian to put itself in position for a possible playoff spot.
“I think we knew going into the Darlington game that we needed to win to certainly help our chances for the state playoffs,” Whitefield coach Jimmy Fields said. “It would not only have helped us get into the playoffs, but probably even get us as high as an 11 or a 12-spot.”
It’s the second straight season Whitefield narrowly missed the playoffs. The Wolfpack finished as No. 17 a year ago.
“We missed it by like one-hundredth of a point last year,” Fields said, “so we knew a little bit more about the power ratings going into this year.
“Unfortunately, we lost a game or two that we felt like slipped away from us. We knew at the latter part of the season that we needed to win, and we were able to put together some good wins late, but against we came up short.”
Mount Paran’s production stemmed from its additions, with players such as Emoni Williams and Dorian Walker added to the fold. Whitefield, on the other hand, graduated 18 seniors and suffered season-ending injuries to three starters — seniors Braelen Phillips and Lawrence Waters, and junior Nile Ball.
“To have a shot there at the end, I think our kids stood the test,” Fields said.
The playoffs brackets will be released today after the appeals process runs its course, meaning Mount Paran will know its first opponent soon. Region champions typically occupy most of the top spots, so the Eagles could fall somewhat in the standings.
“Any game you have there is going to be difficult because it’s the first game,” Jordan said of the 16-team field his team faces, unlike the 32-team brackets of higher classifications. “And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a region champ or a double-digit seed, they’re all tough opponents.”
As Mount Paran awaits its next opponent, Fields and the Wolfpack will be preparing for next season.
“You think back to one more game,” Fields said. “We’re close. We’re right there. We just got out of a coaches’ meeting (Tuesday), so certainly there are things we’re looking at to evaluate. Not just to improve, but what can we do differently to get over the hump.
“So we’ll take a close look at that in the offseason and even right now. We won’t wait until the spring or the summer. We’re working on that now. What are some of the things we can do differently now, to get us over that hump? You can’t stay the same or you’ll stay right there on the edge at 17 or 18. We have to do something to help our kids get over that hump.”