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3A Final: West Rowan 35, West Craven 7

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
WINSTON-SALEM ó West Rowan’s Brantley Horton watched so-so Falcon football teams play when he was a youngster, but he grew up to be part of a machine that dismantled West Craven 35-7 for the 3A state championship.
Horton’s father, Jon, was an all-county defensive back at West in 1980, and Horton has been a Falcon for life.
“I sat in the stands as a kid, and West used to not be real good,” said Horton, a former QB who caught 11 touchdown passes as a senior. “I dreamed about this day, but I never thought it would happen.”
It happened. Head coach Scott Young, his staff and players got it done at chilly BB&T Field on Saturday afternoon. They handled the atmosphere, the pressure and West Craven’s passing attack.
“I don’t think anyone expected 35-7, don’t think some people expected us to win the last couple at all,” Young said. “But this shows what you can do when good human beings focus on one goal. I’ve had teams more talented, but this one did whatever it was necessary to do.”
West Rowan (15-1) dominated the Eagles (15-1) with a disruptive defense that created six turnovers and a big-play offense fueled by MVP K.P. Parks. The junior rushed for 219 yards and three TDs.
West Rowan quarterback B.J. Sherrill, named the Falcons’ most outstanding offensive player, had the longest TD run of his career. Jon Crucitti added a rushing TD.
Shrine Bowl QB Brett Mooring was 25-of-47 passing for 224 yards, but he was picked off five times. Senior cornerback A.J. Little intercepted Mooring twice and was named West Rowan’s defensive MVP. Austin Greenwood, Kam Finchum and Dominique Noble added a pick apiece.On the first play from scrimmage, Parks got a lead block from fullback Jeremy Melchor and broke to daylight off the left side. The 5-foot-8 bowling ball went the distance, churning 81 yards. He shrugged off the last defender at the West Craven 20.
“That first play put us in a good situation right away,” Young said. Parks’ sprained ankle has been the county’s most discussed body part in recent weeks, but he’s almost healthy.
“Sure, the ankle has been hurting,” Parks said. “But today I put it out of my mind and felt no pain. That first play was the turning point. The line blocked, Jeremy blocked and I saw green grass. I got out of breath at the end, but I wasn’t stopping.”
Greenwood, West’s free safety, intercepted Mooring’s first aerial ó another tone-setter.
Greenwood also stopped West Craven’s second possession after a long drive. On third-and-5 at the West Rowan 14, Mooring dumped a pass to back Bobby Cox, who headed for a tying touchdown. But Greenwood stripped Cox a half-step from the goal line, and Trey Mashore, a sophomore defensive back, scooped the fumble.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” West Craven coach Clay Jordan said. “Dropped passes, interceptions, fumbles, things that hadn’t happened all year happened today.”
The turnovers kept coming. Little had a pick before the first quarter ended. West Rowan’s defensive gameplan was working to perfection against a group that included North Carolina-bound receiver Erik Highsmith
“Watching tape, we knew we could not play their receivers man-to-man,” Young said. “So we cheated. We used six defenders to cover four. We played six-on-four all day long and got away with it.”
With six Falcons in pass coverage, that left it up to the front four and big linebacker Josh Poe to stop the run and pressure Mooring. They handled that assignment.
Chris Smith and Emmanuel Gbunblee recorded sacks. More importantly, the Falcons hurried Mooring and reduced his time to survey the field. He misread some coverages.
Linebacker Nate Dulin was huge in West Rowan’s scheme. He had four pass breakups, hammering receivers just as they got their hands on balls.
“West Rowan got more pressure on us than anyone has, and they broke on balls faster than we expected,” Jordan said. “Great ballclub.”
Jordan, retiring after 31 years as West Craven’s head coach, gave all the credit in the world to the Falcons, but he revealed his offense was operating with a handicap.
Senior right guard Justin Barrow, a three-year starter who makes the blocking adjustments for West Craven, was diagnosed with a brain tumor three days before the game. Without Barrow, the Eagles dealt with serious confusion.
Sherrill broke a 52-yard run on the first play of the second quarter to make it 14-0. He got great blocks, including a knockdown of the last defender by receiver Jonathan Hill.
Barely a minute later, Finchum, a linebacker dropping into pass coverage, intercepted Mooring at the West Craven 25. Parks muscled into the end zone behind tackle Timmy Pangburn’s block three plays later, and the Falcons led 21-0 after Matt Turchin’s PAT.
“What makes Parks so tough is his low center of gravity,” Jordan said. “You don’t think of 5-8 kids being power backs, but he’s a power back. Strong legs. Breaks tackles. The best we’ve seen ó by far.”
Little’s second pick ended West Craven’s critical first possession of the second half.
West Craven’s last gasp came late in the third quarter, when it pushed from its own 20 to the West Rowan 29. But Noble, a sophomore DB, intercepted a pass on fourth down.
His momentum on a leaping interception appeared to carry him into the end zone, but the ball was spotted on the 1.
No problem. West Rowan went 99 yards to make it 28-0. Sherrill scrambled for a first down on third-and-7 from the 4 to get it started, and Parks had a 56-yard burst to the West Craven 29. Crucitti made two good plays to take the ball to the 7. Parks scored his third TD from there, putting the clinching score on the board with 11:27 left to play.
“Shoulda been a touchback on Noble’s pick, but when they marked that ball at the 1, we had work to do,” Young said. “That was a championship kind of drive right there.”
Crucitti scored on a 10-yard run to cap a 62-yard drive with 3:46 remaining. West Craven got on the board with 18 seconds left, when Highsmith used his 6-2 frame to catch a pass in front of Little.
But it was a day when it all came together for the Falcons. Great offense, defense and special teams n and a place in the history books.
“We were a basketball school a long time, but now we’ve got our community excited about football too,” Young said. “The support was great. A lot of people came, they were here early and they were loud.”
 
 

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