Prep Football Playoffs: Salisbury 35, Pisgah 7
By Bret Strelow
CANTON ó Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan compares his team’s season to a steep climb.
The Hornets reached a peak Friday and rolled home from the mountains with redemption.
Eighth-seeded Salisbury moved into the 2AA semifinals with a 35-7 victory against fifth-seeded Pisgah, which had eliminated the Hornets in an emotional playoff game a year earlier.
“This year we came out and we all had it in our heart that we weren’t going home the same way we did last year,” said quarterback John Knox, who ran for one touchdown and threw for another in helping the Hornets build a 21-0 third-quarter lead.
Salisbury (10-4) has advanced to a Western final at seventh-seeded Newton-Conover (13-1), the 2A champion in 2008, one year after losing 17-14 at Pisgah in the first round of the playoffs.
Narrow defeats to Davie County (4A), West Rowan (3A) and CCC champion Thomasville prepared the Hornets for their return trip to Canton.
“We started slow and had a tough climb because we played tough people,” Pinyan said. “Now we’ve gotten up the hill; we just have to climb across the fence and get ready to go play.
“We talked about a second chance but never really said that much about revenge as a coaching staff. They talked about it as players.”
Pisgah freshman Josh Noland made his second consecutive start in place of injured junior Brian Curry (high ankle sprain), and the Hornets scored first on Knox’s dazzling 45-yard run early in the second quarter.
Darien Rankin’s 22-yard punt return gave Salisbury possession at the Pisgah 42 with 4:10 remaining in the half, and Ike Whitaker’s 12-yard reception set up a first-and-goal from the 6. Romar Morris ran around right end for a touchdown with 1:17 left before the break.
“You have to give them a lot of credit,” Pisgah coach David Pressley said. “Their kids played very hard, and they came in here very motivated from last year.”
The Hornets extended their lead following a pair of Pisgah miscues early in the third quarter.
Linares Pagan helped strip the ball loose from Noland on the second play of the half, and Joseph Jones made the recovery at the Black Bears’ 35. Salisbury lost yardage on its first two plays and ended up punting, but the kick was muffed.
Ronald Phillips fell on the ball at the 14, and Pisgah (9-5) nearly dodged another bullet. A holding penalty negated a touchdown, and the Hornets faced a fourth-and-11 from the 15.
Knox faked a handoff and fired to a wide-open Riley Gallagher, who hauled in his ninth touchdown catch of the season.
“Every time we call a passing play it’s a gutsy call,” Knox said with a laugh.
A fumble by Knox gave Pisgah a short field and led to the Black Bears’ only points ó fullback Kris Haney made an end-zone recovery of a fumble by Travis Smalling, who rushed for 189 yards against Salisbury last year and was held to 77 on 21 carries in the rematch.
The Hornets sealed the outcome when Noland, preparing to throw from his own 1 early in the fourth quarter, took a blindside hit from Rankin. The ball popped loose, and Chris Bruce fell on it in the end zone.
“I just wanted to interrupt his pass; I just wanted to hit him,” said Rankin, who was unaware he had caused a fumble. “I just looked back, and the crowd was yelling.”
Curry entered the lineup with his team trailing 28-7, and Whitaker capped the scoring with a 52-yard touchdown run.
Pinyan had lofty praise for the special teams and a defense coordinated by Ryan Crowder. Tre Jackson delivered several big hits.
Pisgah’s ball-control offense had limited Salisbury to 17 minutes of possession in the first meeting.
“Last year we came up here and played hard, but it all ended in the first round,” Bruce said. “We came up here with the intensity, the effort and the determination we had tonight, and we’re just ready to go play for a Western title.
“The difference is we were more physical this year and we were better coached this year. We knew for a fact this game was a revenge game. Not taking anything away from Pisgah, because they are a great football team, but we came out and wanted the victory.”
NOTES: Salisbury has won three games in one postseason for the first time in 25 years. … Newton-Conover advanced with a 35-14 win against third-seeded East Lincoln, the 2AA runner-up in 2008.