West pays tribute with emotional victory

JON C. LAKEY / SALISBURY POST West Rowan's Tyler Kennedy (22) points skyward after running back a  punt to score in the game with Davie County.
JON C. LAKEY / SALISBURY POST West Rowan's Tyler Kennedy (22) points skyward after running back a punt to score in the game with Davie County.

MT. ULLA — West Rowan kick returner Tyler Kennedy was the difference-maker in the Falcons’ 31-27 win against Davie County, and the difference-maker pointed at the small piece of tape stuck on the back of his helmet as the thing that made the difference for him.

“RONZ” was written on the tape, a reference to Post sports editor Ronnie Gallagher, who died suddenly Friday morning.

Each of the Falcons wore a homemade “RONZ” sticker, as he took the field, and Gallagher was lauded for his tireless devotion to prep sports in a pregame ceremony led by his longtime friend and West boys basketball coach Mike Gurley.

Moments of silence were observed at the school where Gallagher’s son Mackie is a junior, and West’s band played the hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.”

“I didn’t want to lose tonight, and I was going to fight as hard as I could for my team to get a win,” Kennedy said. “But mostly I did what I did for Jack Gallagher and his family. When I put that “RONZ” on my helmet it meant a lot to me, and I know it put some extra emotion in me.”

Kennedy was unbelievable, piling up more than 200 return yards, including a punt that he took 70 yards to open the scoring. He followed walls to repeated big returns, and when his walls broke down, he crashed through tacklers on his own.

West (1-1) pulled out the tug-of-war struggle on Keyows Week’s 30-yard scoring dash in the fourth quarter, and West coach Scott Young, choked with emotion, handed Jack Gallagher, Ronnie’s older son and West’s starting tight end in 2012, a gameball.

“It was a tough day — emotional,” Young said. “Without Ronnie Gallagher I know I’m not here coaching West Rowan tonight. I was a 24-year-old assistant coach at Davie when my position was in danger of being cut. That’s when Ronnie wrote a column in the Davie paper about how they needed to keep me because I’d energized the weight program. I kept my job and we had real good years at Davie. That led to me getting the head coaching job at West.”

Davie (0-2) dominated the first half with running back Cade Carney leading the way.

“He’s as good as they say,” said West safety Zeke Blackwood, who met Carney head-on several times. “But we were prepared tonight after a tough week of practice.”

Kennedy kept West in the game in the first half, and shortly after QB Harrison Baucom hit Shakir Simmons with a long pass to convert a desperate fourth-and-14, Weeks pounded into the end zone to give the Falcons a 17-13 halftime lead.

Davie appeared to be taking over the game in the third quarter. It scored on a 25-yard run by Cameron Coleman, and then scored again less than two minutes later when West lost a fumble, and Carney punched in his second TD for a 27-24 Davie lead.

The turning point came when Davie, facing fourth-and-2 from its 44 with 11:12 remaining, decided to try for the first down. West strung out Carney and held — barely.

“They had a great kid returning punts,” Davie coach Devore Holman said. “So we went for it there, but West did a good job. Game of inches.”

West used the field position created by that crucial stop to generate the decisive points. Weeks did the work behind a patchwork offensive line that played at a high level.

“We were missing four offensive starters,” Young said. “But we really fought hard.”

After Zack Russell’s PAT made it 31-27, there was no more scoring. A pick by Najee Tucker and tough runs by Baucom killed the clock.

It was a great game fought by the schools closest to Gallagher’s soul — the school that was home to his sons and the school he covered for a decade before he came to the Post.

“God must have needed a good reporter in Heaven,” Holman said. “Davie hearts go out to the Gallaghers.”

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