Saunders had a hand in victory
GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan linebacker Shiheem Saunders donned a black Marines shirt Tuesday afternoon before practice and after a test.
Saunders was all he could be and more for the Mustangs Friday night in a 21-20 win at Cox Mill. In a game where the teams are as evenly matched as East and CM were, special teams can be the deciding factor. Saunders provided the difference with his left hand as he blocked an extra point try with 3:31 left to preserve East’s lead.
The stinging from the block lingered for a while. Saunders probably couldn’t high-five his teammates even though he made the play that decided the game. A couple days of ice later, the hand healed and East sits 2-1 with backyard rival Carson coming to town for the homecoming game.
“It was a designed play by coach Barnes,” Saunders said. “Before they even snapped the ball I told myself I was going to block this kick and I was determined to do it.”
Saunders, a devoted wrestler, fought through the line and capitalized on a missed blocking assignment.
“As soon as the ball budged, I busted through there and jumped as high as I could,” Saunders said.
East coach Danny Misenheimer said, “It’s one of the things we work on a couple times a week.”
East had the week off after a 32-0 victory against Salisbury. The Mustangs are going for their third-straight win after dropping their opener to North Rowan.
The Mustangs are the still sort of a question mark after playing a tough North team in Week 1 and following up with a youthful Salisbury team in Week 2.
East remains without senior running back Calvin Edwards, who has yet to play this season. Edwards probably would have helped in situations like against CM and certainly against the top-ranked Cavaliers.
Last Friday, the running game gained over 200 yards with Jake Boltz leading the way with 84 yards on 21 carries. Cox Mill was a heavy underdog entering the game but played tough and took a 14-7 lead in the third quarter. East quarterback Sam Wyrick scored on a 16-yard run to tie the game in the third quarter. Late in the fourth, Wyrick capped an 80-yard drive and punched it in from five yards out. East led 21-14 with 4:21 left.
Two plays later, the Chargers answered with a 74-yard touchdown pass that gave them a chance to tie before Saunders’ heroics.
“He came straight up the middle and things like that are what win state titles,” Misenheimer said.
East beat Carson twice last year, once in an NPC game and again in the first round of the playoffs. This year, East isn’t taking anyone by surprise and people know the Mustangs are quite capable.
“We’re not playing as good as we can,” Saunders said. “We’re of a higher caliber than that and we’re going to show it this week.”