Prep Football: Carson wins two-day affair

CHINA GROVE — A midnight lightning delay Friday gave Carson all of Saturday morning to work on handling onside kicks, and it also gave Salisbury all of Saturday morning to work on recovering one.

Carson coach Joe Pinyan made overnight adjustments to his “hands team,” putting quarterback Andy Lear and punter Heath Mitchem on the front line.

“We came to the school at 11 [a.m.] Saturday and went through every possible kind of onside kick Salisbury might try,” Carson tight end Brandon Huneycutt said.

The moment of truth for Huneycutt and his teammates arrived Saturday afternoon with the sun beating down at Carson’s stadium and in front of about 100 head-shaking, umbrella-toting fans.

That moment of truth arrived shortly after Stephen Mazur kicked the extra point that reduced Carson’s lead over the Hornets to 42-35. The scoreboard clock wasn’t operating, but there were 62 seconds left.

As Mazur approached the ball to kick off, Carson’s good-hands team could hear assistant Bobby Morrison yelling, “This is where we earn our money!”

“My heart was going a mile-a-minute because there was a chance if we didn’t recover the onside kick that everything we did Friday night would be wasted,” Huneycutt said. “I was looking eye-to-eye with their kicker and was sure the ball was coming to me. It was a relief to see it sailing over my head.”

Salisbury coach Ryan Crowder had weighed the odds and had decided the Hornets’ best chance for a recovery was a pooch kick over the heads of Carson’s frontline that would land in front of the next group of receivers. One speedy Hornet was designated to streak on a straight line to the ball.

“There have been some changes to the onside kick rules,” Crowder explained. “You can’t load up one side of the ball with nine guys anymore — you have to have five on each side or six and four. You can’t have those headhunters on onside kicks now, so it’s tougher to recover one when everyone knows it’s coming. It’s a safety issue. We’ve had kids get concussions receiving onside kicks.”

In theory, Mazur’s popup kick was supposed to descend to vacant grass at the Carson 35, but it carried deeper than he wanted. Sophomore Andrew Jerman plays a spur on Carson defense, but he has good hands. He calmly took a few steps forward, plucked the ball cleanly from the air at the Carson 28 and took a knee.

“I saw it coming, and I knew I needed to catch it,” Jerman said. “We had prepared for it.”

Pinyan turned to his staff, grinned and barked, “We waited all night for this?”

Fans, no doubt, felt the same way.

Once Carson had possession, it was a matter of eating clock. Lear took a snap, danced around, chewed a more few seconds and went to the ground for a loss of 9. Salisbury burned its last timeout.

“Andy took a shot,” Pinyan said. “We told him he needed to get down a little quicker.”

Lear took another snap, boogied a bit, got down more quickly and lost 5 yards,

“The toughest part was not having a clock,” Pinyan said. “The last thing we wanted was to have to punt.”

Carson didn’t have to. Officials informed the Carson sideline there were 13 seconds left, and the Cougars started to celebrate. Lear took a knee. Then it was time for the handshake line.

Salisbury, trampled by Carson’s offensive line and Brandon Sloop’s 211 rushing yards, had trailed 28-0 at halftime and was still down 42-14 with 5:54 left to play when things went crazy.

“We knew if Salisbury ran 50 plays, we could stop 47, but they might big-play us on the other three,” Pinyan said. “They’ve got team speed. We don’t have a lot of it.”

Cameron Horne, Antwond Glenn and Ryan Jones scored rapid-fire TDs for the Hornets before lightning sent fans and players home to bed and sent coaches to sleepless nights. That decision was in the hands of officials, not the schools or coaches.

“We spent the whole first half getting all mad and upset with each other,” said Salisbury quarterback Riley Myers, who threw for 241 yards and three TDs, almost all of it after the break. “Then we started realizing that if we just played together we could win.”

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