Shaw column: Salisbury defense couldn't finish
By David Shaw
SALISBURY - It's too bad Salisbury couldn't make a ninth-inning call to the bullpen Friday night.
The Hornets could have used Mariano Rivera or another proven closer to turn off the spigot of offense gushing from South Iredell's fourth-quarter offense.
But instead of hanging on for dear life - and a chance to go big-game hunting in next weekend's 2AA state championship game - Salisbury's still-under-construction defense was exposed in a season-ending loss.
"Our defense came along this season," coach Joe Pinyan said after Salisbury's magic carpet ride was grounded four weeks into the postseason. "We lost eight really good defensive players from last year and probably didn't have enough guys in the right places, not enough depth. (South Iredell) found some things tonight. They exposed us in the secondary and on the edges with some flat passes."
Knowing that offered little consolation to SHS seniors Scott Givens and Keion Adams - especially after the Hornets coughed up 21-7 third-quarter lead.
"It was a good effort, but not good enough," said Givens, the 255-pound wrecking ball on the defensive line. "Too many mishaps, that's what hurt us. It was like one mistake led to another."
Adams, a team captain, pointed a finger at himself despite playing well in his final high school game. "I wish I could have been a better leader," he said in the morgue-like Salisbury locker room. "When you're made captain, you have a responsibility. The coaches did what they had to do. It came down to us not playing as a team and not executing."
Salisbury was better without the ball than with it in the first half, forcing three punts and recovering a fumble. One of Pinyan's pregame concerns was SI's prolific, hurry-up offense that averaged 38 points a game and snapped the ball every 15 seconds.
"We took that away early in the game," he noted. "But they adjusted and changed the tempo of the game in the second half. We responded by trying to play fast and wound up running ourselves into some bad positions."
The game morphed into an epic prizefight midway through the third period, beginning when South scored on the first of four consecutive possessions. SI quarterback Davin King and bruising tailback LaChaston Smith made it look easy on an 80-yard TD drive capped when Smith walked in on a 2-yard run that trimmed Salisbury's lead to seven.
"We made mistakes. We beat ourselves," cornerback Quan Davis insisted. "We took plays off. You do everything as a team and tonight we lost as a team."
It was 21-21 with 9:33 to play when King spiraled a 50-yard completion to wideout Jaylon Stockton, who snagged it across the middle and raced past several would-be tacklers before grinding to a halt on the SHS 12.
"We knew they were weak against the pass and we exploited them," King said after passing for 302 yards and a couple of TDs. "They had a lot more intensity in the first half. They were very aggressive up front. We adjusted, stuck to our gameplan and it worked."
The 50-yard play to Stockton was called by South's coaching staff. "We knew he'd be open," King said. "I think that was the one that broke (Salisbury's) spirit."
Two snaps later, Smith made his second end zone appearance to give South its first lead of the game. Salisbury answered with its last touchdown - this one by the honorable Justin Ruffin (262 yards rushing) - and led 28-27 with 6:28 remaining.
"I was wishing the clock would run faster," Davis said. "After that, for some reason, we started taking plays off. We got too relaxed, too comfortable."
And King seized the moment. He steered SI on another 80-yard scoring drive - lobbing a 13-yard screen to Smith, then a 35-yard sideliner to Stockton. There was only 4:06 on the clock when Evan Dancey caught a short pass over the middle, pivoted away from SHS defender Jayquan Smith and pedaled 19 yards down the left side for the game-winning TD.
"That," Givens later explained, "was a whole lot of people not doing their jobs."
Throw it all in the blender and you pour out a disappointing season-ending cocktail. A team that had danced its way into our hearts - delivering a season-long lecture on Football Passion - was suddenly left on the outside looking in.
"We needed that one play, that one stop, but never got it," Pinyan concluded. "That's how close we came."