Newton-Conover reached the top of the hill in 2008, and it set some records and high standards during that season. The Red Devils’ 15 wins that season set a school record, and their state football title is still the only one in school history.
“That was a dream come true,” said Tevin James, a former Newton-Conover lineman who now plays at Elon. “I guess we were the team to beat that year.”
The Red Devils were North Carolina’s best football team that year, and now the Red Devils have been named The Decade’s Best. The Newton-Conover Red Devils were voted — by The Observer News Enterprise’s readers — as The O-N-E’s Team of the Decade presented by Steve White Motors. Other teams nominated include Newton-Conover’s state championship teams in men’s tennis and soccer, and the 2010 Bunker Hill Bears baseball team.
The 2008 Red Devils football team had one goal in mind — winning a state championship. And it didn’t think twice about making it known that was the goal that season.
“The team of 2008 made me realize and believe you never set your goals too high,” Newton-Conover coach Nick Bazzle said. “Don’t be nervous or afraid to set them up there to where they might not be reached. They just proved to me any time you put your mind to something, you can do it.”
Winning the 2A state championship was a goal the team — led on offense by quarterback A.J. Bazzle and running backs Dorian Jones and Josh Thompson — had since the end of the 2007-08 school year. The Red Devils ended the 2007 season Nov. 23, 2007, with a six-point overtime loss to East Lincoln in the third round of the state playoffs. That loss jelled the team before the start of the 2008 season.
“We were more of a team than we were any other year I was here,” James said.
Senior linebacker Jake Cansler played on junior varsity in 2008, and he said the Red Devils’ varsity players only talked about winning a state title. He called that team the best he has ever seen play.
“I really believed that ‘08 team could have competed with a lot of schools bigger than us simply because of the determination we had,” Nick Bazzle said. “There have been teams with better individual players, but this was the best team because of the chemistry.”
That determination led Newton-Conover to seven straight wins to start the 2008 season. It turned into confidence and eventually into what Bazzle said was “borderline cockiness.” The only hiccup that season was a 26-21 conference loss at Hibriten.
Newton-Conover rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs with wins over Graham and Bessemer City, struggled in the first half of a 21-point win over Mountain Heritage, and it blew out Starmount in the Western regional championship game. The Red Devils eventually rolled to a 51-28 win over Tarboro.
“We started strong and that was our goal,” James said. “We weren’t even thinking about the conference, we were going straight to state.”
That’s exactly where the season ended.