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Prep football: Salisbury piling up road wins

“We’re getting closer and closer, and we think we’ll eventually get to the point where we can win one of those big games that will help our program a whole bunch.”
ó Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan in 2008By Bret Strelow
bstrelow@salisburypost.com
Darien Rankin posed alongside several teammates for a postgame picture. A camcorder focused on Chris Bruce as he conducted an on-field interview.
Disappointed players and coaches from Salisbury had been part of an emotionally charged scene at the same site a year earlier, but the Hornets were all smiles following a 35-7 win at Pisgah on Friday night.
Road victories in consecutive weeks against Shelby and Pisgah ó both tradition-rich programs ó have sent Salisbury (10-4) into a 2AA state semifinal matchup with Newton-Conover (13-1). Last year, a 17-14 first-round loss at Pisgah left coach Joe Pinyan wondering when his team would earn a breakthrough win against an established power.
“Now people are starting to see us in the same sentence with the Shelbys, the Pisgahs, the Newton-Conovers,” Pinyan said. “It makes us feel good to have our name in there, but we really don’t have enough time to sit back and enjoy it because you have to go play the next one.
“Our kids, I think, can smell it. They know it’s an opportunity of a lifetime. If you’re going to win something, you want to beat good people, and that’s what we’ve done. I think our program has taken a big step in the right direction.”
The 2000 season ó Raymond Daugherty was in charge of the Hornets then ó yielded favorable results against foes with name recognition. Salisbury collected out-of-conference wins against Albemarle and Concord that year.
Salisbury hired Pinyan in 2003, and he took over a program that hadn’t enjoyed a winning season since 1995.
Pinyan’s first team went 7-5, claimed a share of the CCC championship and lost 23-0 against West Henderson in a postseason opener.
“When we went 7-5 and lost in the first round of the playoffs, I thought we made major steps,” Pinyan said. “Now, to be able to play the big games and win some of those big games, we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”
Victories against rival North Rowan are always important to Salisbury, and a 26-19 win at South Rowan early in the 2004 season remains special to Pinyan. A South graduate, he helped Salisbury beat the Raiders for the first time in 33 years.
The Hornets are currently enjoying their best playoff run since 1974, when three victories gave them a Western North Carolina High School Activities Association title. They entered this postseason with two first-round losses in their last four appearances.
“We were a great team last year, but I think this is our year because we’ve really communicated,” Rankin said.
Salisbury lost 38-20 in its opener with South Rowan, and confidence increased even in narrow defeats against West Rowan, Davie County and Thomasville.
Given a No. 8 seed for the playoffs, Salisbury drilled East Burke 35-6 in the first round. Shelby was the top seed in the Western half of the bracket, and it fell 34-26 on its home field.
Salisbury rushed for 393 yards in that game, and its defense shut down Pisgah in the third round.
“When you’re talking about high school football, you’d love to go play at Shelby or love to go play at Pisgah,” Pinyan said. “They’ve got huge followings.
“To be able to play at those venues and be successful, I don’t know if you can measure some of these other ones, but I guess they’re just as big as beating a South Rowan (in 2004) after they’ve beaten you for years.”

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