The Orange Panthers undefeated run through the Big 8 Conference has resulted in honors for its top defensive player and its outgoing head coach.
One day after receiving his 11th scholarship offer from Virginia Tech, Orange junior linebacker Payton Wilson has been named the Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year.
Additionally, Orange Coach Pat Moser earned Big 8 Coach of the Year honors in an email released by conference officials Wednesday morning.
Wilson, who has also received offers from UNC, N.C. State, Duke, Penn State, Appalachian State, East Carolina, Maryland, Wake Forest, Virginia, and Vanderbilt, led the Panthers defense with 127 tackles, 39 tackles for loss. He also registered 13 sacks, second only to Ryan Sellers’ total of 15.
Wilson also had five punt returns for touchdowns. He didn’t start returning punts until the 3rd week of the season, when he scored on the first punt return he ever had in a varsity game against Riverside. In Orange’s 49-7 win over Southern Durham, Wilson broke the game open with two punt return touchdowns.
While the Big 8 doesn’t name players for specific positions, Wilson could have just as likely earned an all-conference spot on offense, as well. Playing wingback and wide receiver, Wilson finished with 756 rushing yards, as well as 13 receptions for 305 yards. He had a total of 16 touchdowns (six rushing, four receiving, five punt returns and an interception return against Cedar Ridge).
This was Wilson’s first full season at the varsity level. He suffered a broken ankle on the first day of practice during his sophomore season, forcing him to sit out eight games.
Moser guided the Panthers to its 5th consecutive 10-win season, which ended Friday in the 2nd round of the 3-A state playoffs. Dating back to Orange’s opening in 1963, the school had only one 10-win season before Moser joined the Panthers in 2008.
The Panthers had its first undefeated regular season since 1978 behind a defense that yielded just five touchdowns in a 12-1 season. Going into its final game of the season against Havelock, Orange held 10 of its 12 opponents to under 100 yards total offense. Even in defeat against the Rams, Orange held Havelock to a season-low 14 points on 293 yards.
Moser, who announced plans to retire before the end of the season, ends his career at Orange with a record of 58-26. He guided Orange to two consecutive Big 8 Championships (in 2015, Orange was awarded the outright championship after Southern Durham forfeited its last game due to use of an ineligible player). In 2014, he guided Orange to a 13-2 season, the most wins in a season in school history.