Prep Football Playoffs: West Rowan 37, Franklin 3
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA ó Franklin had first-and-goal at the West Rowan 1-yard line late in the first quarter, but suddenly 145-pound sophomore tailback Aaron Wallace’s helmet was flying in one directionó and Wallace was sailing in another.The courageous Wallace’s night was over, the loss was back to the 5-yard line, and 10 fired-up Falcons were pounding the shoulder pads of fireplug linebacker Nate Dulin.
“Nate made as good a hit on that play as we’ve had all year,” praised West coach Scott Young, who logged his 99th career victory.
B.J. Sherrill threw three touchdown passes, and K. P. Parks ran for two scores, but it was Dulin’s crunching tackle that keyed a goal-line stand and provided the only drama in top-seeded West’s 37-3 thumping of outmanned No. 16 seed Franklin in the first round of the 3A playoffs.
“I have to give credit to the defensive line for keeping the blockers off me,” Dulin said. “I saw the hole and ran downhill. It was a feel- good hit, and it motivated us. It woke us up.”
Nose guard Eli Goodson disrupted Franklin’s next play at the 4, and corner A.J. Little broke up a third-down pass. Even after an offsides penalty moved the ball half the distance down to the 2, Franklin had little interest in testing Dulin again. The Panthers (5-7) settled for Billy Olvera’s field goal and their only points of the night.
“We had kind of a rough start,” said West defensive end Chris Smith, who recorded his 21st sack of the season. “But you know you’re gonna have some bad plays and a couple of bad things happen. Nate’s hit got us going.”
West (11-1), which will play host to NPC rival Statesville in the second round, held Franklin to 29 yards on 28 rushing plays, but significant injuries are piling up on the Falcons’ offensive unit.
Sherrill threw for a modest 62 yards, but two of his 11 passes were touchdowns to Jonathan Hill, and he also found Jon Crucitti for a 15-yard score.
Sherrill threw all three of those TD passes in the first half, but he also aggravated a “turf toe” injury, while hauling several Panthers on a bruising, 17-yard run.
West had the game under control 27-3 at halftime, but when Sherrill came out for the second half he was limping badly, and he was watching on crutches a few minutes later.
West’s top receiver, Brantley Horton, who has a broken hand, saw limited action, mostly as a decoy, and had no receptions.
Crucitti, whose versatility provides most of the creative wrinkles in West’s offense, was limited to taking snaps at quarterback after Sherrill was hurt. That left it up to Parks, and he had to battle for most of his 165 yards. His only two breezy runs were dashes of 53 and 20 yards that went for unmolested touchdowns.
“I’m very concerned about our health,” Young said. “We’ve got a couple of O-linemen dealing with shoulder issues, and without B.J. and Brantley, and mostly without Jon, we didn’t have a whole lot of our weapons on the field. It was a good thing Hill stepped up with some big catches.”
Franklin was a 45-point underdog, but the guys from the mountains were physical.
“Usually, we get a pretty good grasp of what we can run successfully as a game goes along,” Young said. “But Franklin’s defense was unpredictable. We never could get a feel, never could figure out the rhyme or reason.”
Parks put the Falcons on the board on their second possession when he sprinted 53 yards untouched right up the middle.
The team was flat emotionally until Dulin’s key tackle, but West wasn’t in serious danger.
“We had a long trip, but that didn’t bother us at all,” Franklin coach Josh Brooks said. “We just lost to a better team that’s not 11-1 for no reason. We knew we’d have to play almost perfect, and that we’d have to get some help from them, but they played solid. They block great upfront, and Parks is the best back we’ve seen.”
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