Prep Football Playoffs: West Rowan 21, Northeast Guilford 17
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA - West Rowan won by a hair, so maybe it was appropriate that the biggest moment on Friday was a clip.
Fourth-seeded West survived zero passing yards and zero first downs at halftime and edged No. 5 seed Northeast Guilford 21-17 in a first-round 3A playoff game that will be long remembered.
"Northeast Guilford was fast and they were good," West defensive lineman Kiero Cuthbertson said. "We kind of underestimated them at the start, but at the end we dug deep."
West quarterback Tyler Stamp's game-deciding 42-yard dash will take its place alongside Austin Greenwood's 2008 sprint with a faked punt against Winston-Salem Carver the next time the great plays in West's playoff history are discussed.
As far as that clip, for just an instant, it appeared Northeast Guilford QB Tyronne Hamer had threaded a touchdown pass that would have given the visiting Rams a 10-point lead against the Falcons with just eight minutes left, but cold West fans heaved serious sighs of relief as someone pointed to yellow laundry on the field.
The apparent TD was erased by a block in the back, and West coach Scott Young knew his team hadn't just dodged a bullet, it had evaded an oncoming train.
"If that play stands, that might be the ballgame," Young said.
Northeast Guilford coach Tommy Pursley was an eyewitness to the flag.
"It happened right in front of me," he said. "It wasn't a clip. Our kid blocked from the side, not the back."
As difficult as the loss was, Pursley took the high road and praised the Falcons.
"We took it to 'em for a long time," he said. "But they hung in there and won the game, and that's what the really good teams will do."
West (10-2) was fortunate just to survive the first half. Northeast Guilford (8-4) lost two red-zone fumbles, including one that linebacker Logan Stoodley pounced on at the West 16.
"I knew watching film on them, we'd have our hands full," Stoodley said. "They're a quality team and they played with heart. We had to match their heart. It was just a great ballgame between two great programs."
Evan Reaser kicked a first-half field goal for the Rams, but Tyler Kennedy's dynamic, 90-yard punt return gave West a 7-3 lead at halftime.
"I think everyone out there made a great block, and I let Broderick (Avery) get in front of me and followed him around the wall," said Kennedy, who has had numerous TDs called back this year. "It was a great feeling to look behind me and not see anything yellow."
West had no offense in the first half, going three-and-out four times.
NEG, an option team, stunned West with a 48-yard pass play that set up a 3-yard TD run by Dujaun Horne in the middle of the third quarter and gave the visitors a 10-7 lead.
"That put our backs to the wall," Young said. "But that's when we finally got the offense clicking a little bit."
West marched 80 yards, with Stamp converting a fourth-down keeper, and Daisean Reddick scoring a go-ahead touchdown from the 13 with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.
It took the Rams all of 23 seconds to answer. When Hamer, who was dazzling all night, hit Gary Woosley for a 75-yard score over the top of West's defense, NEG was back ahead 17-14.
"We figured coming in that if we stopped the run, we'd win the ballgame," Young said. "But they hurt us more with the pass than the run."
That huge penalty flag kept West alive in the fourth quarter, and a sack by Stoodley forced NEG to punt.
With five minutes left, West had the ball at its 8. With the clock ticking under three minutes and West staring at fourth-and-8 at its 23, Young and assistant Butch Browning decided to run the faked punt that has been so good to the Falcons. The snap went to up-man Reddick, and he churned for 14 yards.
That winning West drive inched forward against the clock - and a strong defense. With just 1:23 left and West facing third-and-3 at the NEG 42, Stamp followed blockers and bolted for the end zone for the decisive score, and Zack Russell added a huge PAT.
"They'd outplayed us in the first half, but we had the will to win," Stamp said. "That play was a designed keeper, and Brandon Hansen and Jonathan Ruiz pulled and made great blocks. Then I saw daylight. I just saw green."
After one more defensive stop, West had advanced to a second-round date at perennial opponent Concord.
"We needed a little magic,"Young said. "But when guys make plays like they did, it makes me smile."