We continue our weekly preseason high school football series with a hop over to Hillsborough to check in on the Orange Panthers. The Panthers tore through the competition a year ago, just falling short of perfection at the final hurdle, but veteran head coach Pat Moser is back for another run in 2014.

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The Panthers were sitting at the doorstep of history in 2013, with only the Southern Durham Spartans standing in their way of an undefeated season.

Coach Moser says he wishes his squad could have cleared the final hurdle, but losing to the eventual state champions, featuring a quarterback who recently committed to play at Wake Forest, is nothing to be ashamed of.

“For us to be 10-1 at the end of the season, we felt pretty good. It was a very talented and good team in Southern Durham. They proved that by going on to win the whole thing. As far as we were concerned, we had a lot of fun. It was a great year for OrangeHigh School. We’re looking forward to this year,” Coach Moser says.

The Orange skipper identified a bevy of teams to watch out for in 2014, including Bill Hall’s Northwood team, defending champion Southern Durham, and an improving Chapel Hill squad.

Orange High field

Orange High field

Coach Moser says playing in the ultra-competitive 3A Big Eight conference is a double-edged sword.

“It’s tough to play that kind of competition week in and week out, mainly because if you’re not playing well for some reason one night, you can lose. But at the same time, playing that kind of competition prepares you for anybody you’re going to play in the states,” Coach Moser says.

The unquestioned leader of this Panther team is senior signal caller Garrett Cloer. Coach Moser says Cloer’s garnering plenty of national attention at the college level and has been taking his own game to the next level in his preparations this offseason.

“He’s [Cloer] being recruited by everybody in the country. He’s a great student and a great leader. I think he’s set the tone for our whole team in the offseason. He’s worked really hard. Our other kids have worked really hard. We’ll see. I think we’ll be okay,” Coach Moser says.

If the man behind center wasn’t enough to get Coach Moser excited for his offense, the guy in the backfield should put him over the top. Running back Tay Jones can flat out fly.

“We have a great running back in Tay Jones. He had 1,800 yard rushing last year. He’s working right now in summer school to get eligible. Hopefully, he will make the grade and be with us,” Coach Moser says.

Tay Jones (High School OT)

Tay Jones (High School OT)

Pending a successful completion of summer coursework, Jones should be a terror for opposing defenses. But the true backbone to this Orange squad rests on the other end of the ball.

The Panther defense is a sight to behold. In 2013, Orange pitched four shutouts and held opponents to single digits in an emphatic eight games.

To move the ball against Orange is to accomplish something special. Coach Moser says he always prioritizes the defense, putting the best athletes on that side of the ball.

“We always put the most emphasis that we can on the defense. We try to play the best defense that we can. We two-platoon. We take our kids that can run and will hit. That’s who our defense is,” Coach Moser says.

One of the great traditions at Orange is the awarding of ‘Zero’ candy bars to the team after a full-game shutout is achieved. And true to form, Coach Moser says his kids are hungry for more chocolate in 2014.

“That’s something that the kids like. […] They like getting the Zero bar if they can hold people to zero. We’ll do that as well as maybe add a couple more positions,” Coach Moser says.

The fearless Panthers, with their key offensive playmakers and always ruthless defense, should be in the hunt for another conference title this fall.