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3A Football Playoffs: Carson 14, Ledford 13

By Steve Huffman
sports@salisburypost.com
WALLBURG ó Carson won its first-ever playoff football game Friday, stopping host Ledford 14-13 when the Panthers missed an extra point in the fourth quarter.
“Man, this is major,” said Carson fullback Clifford Long who finished with 68 yards on 12 carries on a field that, following a week of rain, was more suited for mud wrestling than football.
In the early going, Carson appeared ready to roll over the Panthers. The Cougars marched 95 yards on their opening drive, Shaun Warren getting things going with a 47-yard sprint on the first play from scrimmage.
The Cougars needed just eight plays to score, Long carrying 18 yards for a touchdown. The only drawback to the drive was that Warren twisted his ankle after just three carries and was done for the night.
In his place, former running back Jacorian Brown who had been moved to defensive end, returned to the backfield and played well. Brown finished with 71 yards on 22 carries.
“It was hard to adjust to holding the ball, especially on a night like this,” Brown said. “It was slippery.”
A large contingent of fans traveled from China Grove and at game’s end celebrated with the Cougars under the south goal post. Several people noted that Friday marked the first time a Rowan County school won its football playoff debut.
“It’s a really big deal,” Brown said. “Nobody expected us to get this far.”
The Cougars went on top 14-0 in the second period when Long carried for his second touchdown, this one from 9 yards out. But just when it appeared the Cougars were about to put the game on cruise control, the Panthers fought back.
Ledford partially blocked a Carson punt in the closing minute of the first half and took over at the Cougar 14. Ledford quarterback Steven Fuquay connected with Jonathan Shelton, and the halftime spread was sliced to 14-7.
Both teams had a hard time capitalizing on second-half scoring opportunities.
The Panthers faced a four-and-2 at their own 41 midway through the third quarter. They lined up in punt formation, then attempted to snap to an up-back. But the ball slid free and the Cougars recovered at the Panther 39.
One play later, Carson fumbled the ball back.
“We knew with the field conditions, we’d have our hands full,” said Ledford coach Chuck Henderson. “We prefer to throw and Carson is a ball-control team. We just ran out of bullets there at the end.”
Ledford cut the margin to 14-13 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, but the PAT try sailed wide right.
Carson came just shy of adding an insurance score. Facing fourth-and-4 at the Ledford 39, Cougar quarterback Zack Gragg hit Long with a 24-yard completion. The Cougars drove inside the 5 before coughing the ball up on a fumble.
Ledford got the ball back twice, but the Panthers never came close to midfield. Carson’s Garrett Smith, Zach White and Ryan Shoaf played stellar games on the defensive line. Chris Barnhardt had an interception.
Carson coach Mark Woody seemed almost giddy as he accepted congratulations at game’s end.
“These kids don’t even know where this is,” he said, speaking of both Ledford High and the playoffs. “But they believe and that’s all that matters.”

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