Prep Football Playoffs: 2AA West Final: South Iredell 35, Salisbury 28
By Mike London
SALISBURY - Even a career-high 262 rushing yards and three more touchdowns by Justin Ruffin weren't enough.
Salisbury finally ran out of gas - and magic and time- at Ludwig Stadium where South Iredell won 35-28 in Friday's Western Regional final.
The Hornets had won eight straight home playoff games, including four during their run to a 2010 state crown, but they couldn't hold leads of 14-0 and 21-7 against the up-tempo Vikings, who advanced to a 2AA state championship matchup with Carrboro.
"When we got that lead, everyone thought we were headed to the championship game," Ruffin said. "But we got ahead of ourselves a little bit. Then we let it slip away."
There was plenty of doubt about winners and losers until Salisbury (11-3) was stopped on its final drive.
With the Hornets down seven points, Ruffin powered for a first down at the 11, and Max Allen got close to the 7 on the next play. But South Iredell stuffed two running plays, and when the Hornets called timeout with 45 seconds left, they were facing fourth-and-5 from the 6.
"We needed to get more yards on third down, but we thought we had a good play called for fourth down," SHS coach Joe Pinyan explained.
QB Brian Bauk faked a toss sweep, and wheeled around with two passing options - Ruffin in the flat or Jon Mark Petty coming underneath. He fired toward Ruffin, his pass fell incomplete, and Vikings celebrated.
After that, all South Iredell (13-2) had to do was take a knee.
Salisbury avoided its standard slow start, and its defense was stout early. Jordan Oglesby recovered a fumble, Scott Givens and Clint Comadoll produced sacks, and the Hornets forced three first-half punts.
Salisbury's offense took over at midfield after one of those punts and pounded relentlessly on the ground for the game's first score with 8:21 left in the second quarter. Ruffin got the TD from the 1.
Salisbury's defense got another stop, and Ruffin broke a 61-yard TD. Salisbury had missed its first PAT, but Bauk ran for two to make it 14-0.
"Ruffin is the best back we've faced," South Iredell coach Scott Miller said. "And Salisbury's offense is so hard to stop. They're only the second option team we've seen this year, so I knew we'd have our hands full. There was nothing we could do but keep fighting."
Salisbury pinned South Iredell deep on the kickoff after Ruffin's second score and appeared on the verge of taking command of the game.
But that's when the defense wilted for the first time. SI QB Davin King hit Virginia commitment LaChaston Smith for a 54-yard gain, and then he found Scott Miller, the coach's son, for a 27-yard score.
"I was proud of Scott, and he played very well," Coach Miller said. "But the way I look at it, I've got 55 sons on this team."
Salisbury may have answered that SI TD, but a penalty wiped out a huge run by Max Allen (22 carries, 104 yards), and the Hornets settled for a 14-7 halftime lead.
Salisbury accepted the second-half kickoff, got a 42-yard burst from Ruffin and went ahead 21-7 when Allen scored from the 7, but that quick, easy score South Iredell had gotten through the air changed the Vikings' thinking at halftime.
King, who finished with 302 passing yards, was the key figure in the second half. He threw short, quickly and accurately, and his receivers got into space and created major yards after the catch.
"At halftime, we switched up the gameplan," King said. "They were handling the run, so we started throwing the ball a lot more. It worked."
Smith scored on the ground and Miller picked off a deep Bauk pass intended for Ruffin, as the Vikings rallied. When Eythan Framm scored on a 15-yard run on the first snap of the fourth quarter, it was 21-21.
The Vikings made it 20 unanswered points and grabbed a 27-21 lead with nine minutes left, but this time the Hornets responded.
Bauk connected on a big third-down pass to Derrick Blackwell, Ruffin broke another 42-yarder, and then Ruffin scored his third TD of the night and 33rd of the season.
"(Tackle) Jalen Warren was blocking great all night, and I can't thank him enough for how hard he played ," Ruffin said. "Every time I looked up, he was running right beside me."
After Ruffin's third score, Stephen Mazur's PAT with 6:28 remaining put SHS on top 28-27, but the Hornets couldn't get the stop they had to have.
King converted third-and-9 with a pass to Jaylon Stockton, and he found Evan Dancey for the decisive TD with 4:06 left. Dancey dodged and darted past potential tacklers, and then Smith punched in a two-point conversion for a 35-28 lead.
Salisbury drove against the clock on it final possession, but it couldn't finish the deal.
"We just couldn't answer often enough or stop them often enough, but South Iredell's got a really good football team," Pinyan. "They were ranked all year in the state, and we just kind of hung in there every week. Our kids did a great job to get to this point, and I'm extremely proud of all of them."