Prep Football: East Rowan 29, Carson 26
By Mike London
CHINA GROVE ó Carson won the stat sheet, but East Rowan did what it had to do whenever it absolutely had to do it and beat the Cougars 29-26 on Friday.
East (6-1, 2-0 NPC) got 11 points and solid punting from kicker Andrew May and survived 273 rushing yards and three TDs by Carson tailback Shaun Warren.
“When Warren started running like that I got scared,” East defensive lineman Sam Sherman declared. “But the team pulled through. It’s been like that every game. The second half, we kick it into gear.”
The game, touted as the biggest in Carson history and one of the biggest for East in the last decade, lived up to the hype ó and then some. All seven touchdowns came in the second half and six were scored in a fourth-quarter flurry that saw momentum swing every other play.
East, 1-10 a season ago, won its fifth straight, but it wasn’t over until Sherman sacked Carson quarterback Zack Gragg on the final snap from the East 36.
“If I get that pass off, it’s going to the end zone to Cody Clanton, and then it’s 50-50,” Gragg said. “If I get it off, at least we have a chance.”
Gragg, who had 154 of his 168 passing yards in the second half, couldn’t get it off.
East coach Brian Hinson looked like he’d just spent three hours inside a spinning washing machine.
“My Lord, these last two weeks,” he said. “For our kids, the theme has been to earn some respect and to keep it. People can say what they want to about our schedule, but we’re 6-1 after being 1-10 and no one saw it coming. These last two weeks we beat two pretty good football teams. Carson’s even better than we thought they were.”
Carson (4-3, 1-1) looked great early, marching steadily from its 34 to first-and-goal at the East 5. But two likely TD passes were dropped, and the Cougars came up empty despite exhausting most of the first quarter.
No one scratched until May flipped field position with a bounding, 44-yard punt, then kicked a 26-yard field goal 32 seconds before halftime.
Both teams went to the locker room and figured out how to put points on the board.
May made it 9-0, kicking field goals after Carson fumbled a punt and after East’s Wesley LeRoy intercepted a hurried pass by Gragg.
With 1:45 left in the third quarter, the Cougars finally got some life when Warren bolted 62 yards for a TD.
“East is good, but we decided we weren’t gonna stand around and just watch them kick field goals all night,” Gragg said. “We had to start moving the ball, and we did that with a guard pulling and Warren following him.”
Warren’s strong run made a huge home crowd loud. East QB Jamey Blalock quieted it in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter with a dramatic fourth-and-10 strike to Riley Weber, who slipped behind Deonte Moses, for a 21-yard touchdown. It was 16-7.
But Warren was rolling now. He scored two TDs in three minutes to put Carson ahead 20-16. The stadium was rocking as East took over on its 31 with 7:17 left. Get stopped now, and Carson wins.
“Both teams wanted this real bad,” Blalock said. “I was seeing things pretty well on the option and our big guys upfront were winning the battle. We had to man up.”
East manned up. Blalock hit a fourth-and-6 pass to Preston Troutman for 32 yards, and Quentin Sifford pounded the ball in for six points that gave East the lead for good.
“Carson was coming hard, laid some big hits on me,” Sifford said. “Second half, we knew we had to bring it.”
Then Carson fumbled on its own 11, the ball got kicked around like soccer, and East linebacker Sam Edmonds came up with it. Sifford scored again for a 29-20 cushion with 3:05 remaining.
Still not over. Gragg led Carson down the field for a quick score. Then the Cougar defense got the ball back to Gragg with 26 seconds left, but East’s defense got that final stop it needed.
“Great game, a shame anyone had to lose it,” Carson coach Mark Woody said. “I’ve said all along East is good, and they showed it. They’re methodical, very patient. They just don’t make mistakes.”
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