Prep Football: Thomasville 14, Salisbury 7
By Mike London
email@example.comTHOMASVILLE ó Desperately pursuing an onside kick, Salisbury’s 5-foot-5 Joseph Figueroa disappeared from sight, burrowing into a heap of Thomasville Bulldogs near the sideline.
“Figgy” was denied the prize he sought. When bodies unpiled, it was Thomasville’s ball with just over a minute left. It was also Thomasville’s ballgame and Thomasville’s CCC championship.
The Bulldogs beat Salisbury 14-7 on Friday at Cushwa Stadium in a defensive duel that matched the hype.
“Thomasville didn’t really surprise us with anything and our staff really had a great plan,” Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan said. “But we just didn’t handle the execution part on offense. Credit a great Thomasville team for that.”
Three turnovers wrecked the Hornets.
Two of the game’s three TDs came in the final two minutes. Sam Nelson’s second TD pass of the night to Brandon Lucas gave Thomasville a 14-0 lead with 1:43 left. The Hornets answered 16 seconds later when John Knox hit tight end Riley Gallagher for a 54-yard strike over the top of the Bulldogs’ aggressive defense.
The ensuing onside kick wasn’t secured, even with opportunity knocking loudly, and it was all over.
“It was a crazy out there,” SHS linebacker Linares Pagan said. “We fought very hard in a physical game, but things kept happening. Maybe if we get that onside kick we can still pull it out.”
That’s a big maybe, but it’s a fact that Salisbury’s defense was stout throughout. Nose guard Kiontae Rankin and linebackers Pagan and Kavari Hillie and Linares Pagan were dominant. Nelson threw for 190 yards, but Thomasville’s running game netted a meager 78 yards on 37 attempts.
“Salisbury is very good on defense, just too big and strong to block,” Thomasville coach Allen Brown said. “It was a struggle all night for us and our top two running backs (Kysean Green and Quin Riley) got hurt. We do not want to play them again.”
Salisbury (6-4, 3-1) stayed in trouble the entire first half, backed up and on the defensive, warding off body blows, as soon as it lost a fumble on the second snap of the game.
But the Hornets kept holding. And holding. And holding.
Soon after that early fumble, Green hammered into the line on fourth-and-1 from the Salisbury 10. Rankin and Chris Bruce crushed him.
Thomasville beat on the door again as the second quarter began, but Green lost the ball near the goal and Figueroa scooped it up.
After the Hornets punted, Thomasville made another push, but strong plays by Justin Adkins and Hillie forced a field-goal try. Rankin, 6-4, 390, swatted the attempt down like a troublesome gnat.
Salisbury ran three more plays, had to punt again, and finally its defense broke. Nine seconds before halftime, on second-and-9, Nelson fired a pass to Lucas for a 20-yard TD, and it was 7-0.
“That hurt us, but it didn’t hurt us that bad,” Pinyan said. “You still figure you’re gonna have to score to win.”
Thomasville (6-4, 4-0) was more conservative on offense in the second half, and the Hornets’ defense stayed stingy. But Salisbury’s wishbone couldn’t get much done.
“I was so proud of the way our defense played because they stayed disciplined ó took the quarterback, took the fullback, took the pitchman,” Brown said. “It’s tough for kids to keep discipline, play assignments, but we did it.”
SHS speedster Romar Morris took a “Wildcat” direct snap with 10:31 left on first-and-10 from the Thomasville 43 but ran into heavy traffic and fumbled to stop a drive.
With 2:10 remaining, and with the Hornets still down 7-0 and facing fourth-and-13 near midfield, Knox tried to get the ball to Morris on a screen. James Boyd picked it off. His return set up Thomasville’s second TD.
“Their whole defense was flying off the ball and sticking their heads in there,” Morris said. “On that screen, the linebacker saw it all the way.”
It was another frustrating loss for Pinyan, who has watched his team drop tough matchups with West Rowan, South Rowan and Davie.
“We can’t win that big one, and I know we can’t keep losing trying to do things we can’t do,” he said. “There were a couple of times tonight we were maybe a shoestring away from breaking one, but we can’t seen to buy a break.”
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