Prep Football Playoffs: Salisbury 34, Shelby 26
By Mike Powell
SHELBY ó If Joe Pinyan is drinking a quart of chocolate milk while he’s driving the bus home, you know the Salisbury Hornets must have had a good night.
Make that a great night.
Salisbury (9-4) beat No. 1 seed Shelby 34-26 on Friday night, sending the Hornets into the third round next week at Pisgah.
For two teams that mirrored one another on offense, Shelby and Salisbury could not have been more evenly matched through three quarters of their 2AA second round playoff matchup.
The Golden Lions and Hornets entered the fourth quarter tied at 20, and a down-to-the-wire finish appeared likely.
However, Salisbury made all the big plays with its option attack in the fourth quarter, and the Hornets’ defense repelled a Shelby threat late in the game to seal the verdict.
Quarterback John Knox, a slippery, 5-foot-11, 175-pound junior, led a Salisbury offense that had three 100-yard plus rushers and outscored Shelby 22-6 in the second half.
Knox scored on a 51-yard option keeper in the third quarter to tie the score, and tossed a 6-yard pass to Riley Gallagher to give No. 8 seed Salisbury the go-ahead touchdown with 7:38 left in the game.
“You know Gallagher was going to find the end zone,” Pinyan said of his tight end, who hauled in his eighth touchdown catch of the season.
“I thought Salisbury played great in the second half,” Shelby coach Chris Norman said. “They came out and executed and you have to give them credit. I thought our kids played hard, but it’s win and move on, and Salisbury made the plays when they had to.”
One of those plays was the 51-yard run by Knox that changed the game’s momentum. He eluded several Shelby defenders on his way to the end zone with a display of power and elusiveness.
“We knew he was a strong runner. We had seen him do that on film,” Norman said of Knox.
In another key series, Salisbury’s defense stopped Shelby on downs when the Golden Lions were trying to rally from a 27-20 deficit. Facing fourth-and-eight from the Salisbury 28, Shelby quarterback Daylan Fuller had to rush a screen pass with blitzing linebacker Ike Whitaker bearing down on him.
Salisbury took over with 2:30 left in the game, and Whitaker, now playing offense, broke a 65-run to the Shelby 4-yard line. Three plays later, Romar Morris scored on an 8-yard reverse to give the Hornets a two-touchdown lead.
Shelby (12-2) had a last gasp left, however, as Fuller connected with R.J. Ussery on a 59-yard touchdown pass to make it 34-26 with 50 seconds to go.
On the obvious on-side kick attempt, Salisbury recovered the ball before it went 10 yards, and the Hornets ran out the clock.
Even though we gave up 26 points, I thought our defense played well,” Pinyan said.
The Golden Lions built a 20-12 halftime lead.
The kicking game came into play on Salisbury’s first series as the Golden Lions blocked a Salisbury punt and Raheim Huskey picked up the ball in a scramble and ran 10 yards to the end zone.
Later in the second quarter, Shelby came through again on special teams with a block of a 30-yard field attempt.
“I thought we did everything possible to give it away in our kicking game,” Pinyan said.
Finally, Salisbury put together a 90-yard drive to get on the scoreboard. Whitaker capped the march with a 1-yard run, but the two-point conversion run failed and Shelby held a 7-6 lead.
After Manning Burton’s 29-yard field goal put Shelby up 10-6, the Hornets drove 56 yards to go ahead 12-10 midway through the second quarter on a 3-yard run by Dominique Dismuke.
Knox, Dismuke and Whitaker all went over 100 yards as Salisbury ran for 328 yards. In the last two games, the Hornets have almost 700 yards on the ground.
“It was a heckuva game,” Pinyan said. “Shelby is a good team. We looked at them like a Thomasville or a West Rowan. And that’s why we played those teams early in the year.
“I hope people realize our program took a step in the right direction. And we’re not done.”
Pinyan did after the game. And that only meant another good night for Salisbury.
Make that a great night.
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