West Rowan’s defense awaits air raid
By Mike London
Brett Mooring was in fourth grade when West Craven coach Clay Jordan first saw him throw a football.
Jordan realized the future of West Craven football was bright, and he stuck around to watch the show.
Jordan, who has led the Eagles for 31 years, will coach his final game Saturday when the 3A state championship is decided at Wake Forest’s BB&T Field.
Mooring will be Jordan’s quarterback. They have a date with West Rowan (14-1) at high noon.
West Craven (15-0) is located in the one-stoplight town of Vanceboro, population 875, but New Bern is close enough that Mooring could probably throw the ball through a window of the mayor’s office.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Mooring is headed to the Shrine Bowl, and he has put up senior-year numbers that look like career numbers.
Mooring has rushed for a modest 300 yards, but he’s passed for ó you may want to sit down for this ó 3,891 yards and 35 touchdowns. He’s completed 252 of 424 passes, a 60-percent success rate.
Long-time NFL quarterback Anthony Wright, a West Craven graduate, works with Mooring. He threw 22 interceptions as a sophomore, but his numbers have gotten better each year.
“This kid can hit a fly at 50 yards, and he’s got a gifted set of receivers,” West defensive coordinator David Hunt said. “If you want the really bad news, he was sacked once in the three films we saw, and that was with Rocky Mount’s people going after him.”
It’s time to mention Rocky Mount.
Most experts had the Gryphons playing South Point tomorrow.
Roughly 75 percent of the world picked West Rowan to lose to South Point, but the Falcons stop the run better than they do anything else and South Point runs the ball.Roughly 99 percent of the world picked Rocky Mount to beat West Craven even though Jordan has often led his program on playoff runs.
“We were given not a prayer of beating Rocky Mount,” he said. “But we get the ball with 1:47 left and we went 80 yards on them.”
Mostly it was Mooring, his receivers and the line. Mooring threw 48 times against Rocky Mount, tossed for 345 yards and finished with three TDs.
Mooring’s top receiver is 6-foot-2 Erik Highsmith, a 4.45 sprinter headed to North Carolina.
Highsmith, who has six picks as a defensive back, has drawn double-coverage all year. He still has 77 catches for 1,486 yards and 13 TDs. Rocky Mount was the first team in weeks to try and handle him man-to-man. The result was 11 catches for 214 yards.The other three receivers in West Craven’s spread offense are very good. Ryan Murphy has more than 1,000 yards in receptions.
Hunt figures the closest thing West Rowan has seen to West Craven’s receiving crew was a 2007 matchup with West Iredell, which had Quan Rucker and P.J. Clyburn at wideout.
“And you may recall,” Hunt said with a rueful chuckle, “that we lost that one.”
West Craven’s running game hasn’t flourished. Rocky Mount outgained West Craven by a 359-56 margin in rushing yards.
Jordan said his team has posted solid rushing games when defenses completely emptied the box, but runs against West Rowan will mostly be token gestures to keep the pass rush honest.
“We know we’ve got to do a great job in all areas of our passing game Saturday,” Jordan said. “What we don’t know is whether they’ll drop eight or try to bring the heat. The film we saw, West Rowan was playing running teams. We never got to see how they defend a spread.”
Lots of tough decisions lie ahead for West head coach Scott Young and his defensive staff.
“We’re looking at the polar opposite of what we saw last week,” Young said. “We go from a team that ran 95 percent of the time to a team that throws 85 percent of the time.”
South Point ran into the teeth of the Falcons’ furious defense. West Craven will attack the defensive backs, West Rowan’s least experienced group.
“It’s been four new ones back there, really,” Hunt said.
Free safety Austin Greenwood was the backup tailback last year. Cornerback A.J. Little played some in 2007. Trey Mashore and Dominique Noble are sophomores.
Then there’s Marco Gupton. Gupton, a senior strong safety, has been playing with a torn ACL, so West Craven presents a tough matchup.
“Marco is the brains and the vinegar of that outfit,” Hunt said. “Mentally, it hurts us if he’s not out there.”
Matt Bishop is the other strong safety.
Hunt’s gotten lots of suggestions this week. He’s taken them all under advisement.
“We’ve got a nickel package that we have used,” Hunt said. “But you don’t get away from your basic scheme and change who you are in midstream.”
West Craven’s defense is overlooked, but it has seven seniors and three shutouts. It has allowed only four teams to top 20 points. West Craven beat perennial 4A powers New Bern and Greenville Rose, and it crushed rival Havelock 47-0.
Linebackers Justin Bryant and Jaquan Crouell, pass-rushing end Derrick Hill and strong safety Roderick Cox are the leaders. The tackles in West Craven’s 4-3 defense are big ó 285 and 265 pounds.
Still, Jordan acknowledges his team has its hands full with West Rowan’s record-setting tailback K.P. Parks, sophomore quarterback B.J. Sherrill and versatile Jon Crucitti.
“We’ve seen bigger backs than Parks but not better ones,” Jordan said. “West Rowan’s offensive line, while not overly big, looks very physical. Their balance impresses you. Most teams from the West are power teams, but West Rowan can throw it and catch it.”
Young and Jordan spoke often about this being their school’s “first rodeo” ó their debut in the state-championship spotlight.
Mount Ulla-based West Rowan and West Craven are rural schools with cows grazing a mile from their stadiums, but both have big-time athletes.
“Our kids have never stayed in a motel, never played on turf and some go 35 miles one-way to come to school,” Jordan said. “In a lot of ways, it looks like West Rowan mirrors us.”Young said his banged-up team’s health isn’t ideal, but it’s getting better. Parks (high ankle sprain) should be healthier than last week, and he was tough against South Point.
Young found time to joke with Jordan at Monday’s press conference that the NCHSAA had just passed a rule limiting teams to 25 passes per game.
“We’ll throw it 25 times on the bus,” Jordan joked back.
West Rowan’s offense is hard to handle. But can the Falcons stop a QB who has just eight picks in 400-plus passing attempts?
“They say you can’t win a state championship being one-dimensional,” Jordan said with a grin. “We’ll find out Saturday.”
Common Sense pick:West Rowan 28, West Craven 21