Prep Football Playoffs: Pisgah 17, Salisbury 14
By Bret Strelow
CANTON ó Salisbury officially finished the season with five losses, but it felt the true agony of defeat for the first time Friday night.
Pisgah’s Joe Pinkston kicked a 32-yard field goal with 1:56 remaining to lift the sixth-seeded Black Bears to a 17-14 victory against 11th-seeded Salisbury in the first round of the 2AA playoffs.
The Hornets (7-5) exited the field in triumphant fashion after each of their 11 regular-season contests yet forfeited four conference games for using an ineligible player. The record adjustment forced them to face a traditional power on the road in a hostile stadium, and Salisbury fell in the opening round for the second time in the last four years.
“I thought it was time for us to win versus an established program, and that’s what Pisgah is,” Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan said. “We tried our best to win against a team that’s very, very good and didn’t quite get it done. We’re getting closer and closer, and we think we’ll eventually get to the point where we can win one of those big games that will help our program a whole bunch.”
The Hornets, who forced two first-half turnovers with Pisgah (9-3) driving inside Salisbury’s 15-yard line, posted touchdowns less than a minute after each of the Black Bears’ first two scores.
Salisbury trailed 14-6 before A.J. Ford reached the end zone on a 1-yard run with 2:21 left in the third quarter, and John Knox’s conversion pass to Dario Hamilton tied the game.
Pisgah’s game-winning series started at the Black Bears’ 19 with 9:19 remaining. Sophomore tailback Travis Smalling (42 carries for 189 yards) ran 10 times on a 16-play drive that lasted more than seven minutes.
“When you have people like they do, you can score from anywhere at any time,” Pisgah coach David Pressley said. “We can’t do that. We don’t have that luxury.”
The Hornets, who weren’t able to capitalize on a perceived edge with their kickoff return unit, took over at their 39 when O’Bryan Graham fell on a squib kick with 1:52 left.
Romar Morris gained 8 yards on a reverse, and Knox picked up a first down as he moved past midfield.
A deep throw down the left sideline fell incomplete, and the Black Bears stopped Hamilton for a 5-yard loss on a screen pass near the right sideline. Salisbury used its first timeout with 49.4 seconds left, and Hunter Webb sacked Knox on third down.
Facing a fourth-and-23, Knox fired short to fullback Isaiah Whitaker in the middle of the field. Pisgah broke it up, and Salisbury’s coaches pleaded for pass interference. Four officials met for a discussion, then awarded the ball to the Black Bears.
“It’s sad, and everybody’s real mad,” senior linebacker Pierre Jimenez said. “We didn’t show a lot of class at the end of the game, and we could have done better with that. Emotions, I tried to stay classy and not show out, but it’s hurting me.”
Salisbury’s offense possessed the ball for only about 17 of the game’s 48 minutes.
The 5-foot-7, 175-pound Smalling had eight rushes for 61 yards on the opening drive, a 12-play march deep into Salisbury territory. Blake Pressley fumbled on an inside draw, and Jimenez recovered the ball at the Hornets’ 8.
The Black Bears broke through on their third possession, scoring when quarterback Tyler Jaynes hit Josh Clark in stride for a 28-yard touchdown with 8:01 left in the second quarter.
Salisbury answered 20 seconds later. Ford gained 35 yards on a first-down option play, and Whitaker scored on a 32-yard rush. Knox dropped the PAT snap and tossed an incomplete pass.
Smalling rushed seven times on the 12-play drive that followed Whitaker’s score, but Martin Hosch-Cathcart picked off a pass at Salisbury’s 7 with 2:05 left in the half.
Pisgah’s first possession of the third quarter lasted 13 plays and ate up more than seven minutes. Smalling had 11 runs during the series, including a 2-yard touchdown with 3:20 remaining in the period.
“I’m not sure we’ll play many teams better than that, and our kids played the way we needed them to,” David Pressley said.
“Our kids believed this: There’s something pretty special about this place. People don’t like to come here, and when we’re here we feel like we have a chance. People that have never been here, I don’t think they really realize it or understand it. We said we’d have to be as physical as we’ve ever been.”
Salisbury’s series after Smalling’s touchdown began at the 39, and Knox raced 58 yards to Pisgah’s 3 on an option keeper. Ford scored on second-and-goal.
The Hornets offered quick responses to both of the Black Bears’ touchdowns, but the efficient drives didn’t give Salisbury’s defense much time to rest.
“I think physically they just wore on us,” Pinyan said. “They might have been a little stronger than us, and their offensive line wore on our kids on the outside. They’re strong kids, and they just kept pounding at us. Our kids stayed in there and fought hard, but we just didn’t have enough to pull it off.”
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