2AA West Final: Newton-Conover 17, Salisbury 10 (OT)
By Bret Strelow
NEWTON ó Salisbury quarterback John Knox pushed forward on a fourth-down sneak, but Newton-Conover’s stout defense tackled him inches short of the end zone.
The stinging result sent several other Salisbury players crashing to the turf in disbelief.
The Hornets went into overtime with Newton-Conover in the 2AA Western final at Gurley Stadium on Friday night, and a game-ending stop gave the Red Devils a 17-10 victory.
“I’m at a loss for words because you get so, so close, and you don’t get these opportunities very often,” Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan said. “That’s why the kids hurt so bad. They played thereself into a chance to do something special, and they are something special. It’s a very special group of kids I’ll never forget as long as I live.”
Newton-Conover (14-1) advanced to face Reidsville (15-0) in next weekend’s state final at North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium by surviving a defensive struggle with Salisbury, which broke a 3-3 tie on Dominique Dismuke’s 3-yard touchdown run with 7:59 left in the fourth quarter.
Octavius Harden rushed for a 63-yard score on the first play of the next possession, and Ty Brown’s interception provided the Red Devils with a chance to prevail in regulation. They missed a 30-yard field-goal attempt with 19.8 seconds left.
“These guys, it tells you how bad they wanted it because they could have laid down and quit and gave up,” said Newton-Conover coach Nick Bazzle, whose team won the 2A state title last year. “They wanted to go to the next game so bad. It’s probably one of the greatest wins I’ve ever had.”
High school overtimes give each team a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line, and Salisbury (10-5) defended first.
Chris Bruce and Darien Rankin stopped Harden for no gain, and quarterback Sam Royall fumbled the second-down snap. He regained possession, reached the 2-yard line and scored on a third-down keeper. Spencer Linquist added the extra point.
Frederick Stockton tackled Knox for a 2-yard loss on Salisbury’s first OT snap, and Romar Morris rushed to the 3. Ike Whitaker’s short gain set up fourth down from the 2.
Newton-Conover’s linebackers barely prevented Knox from scoring on the sneak.
“They did a great job of everybody filling up the middle,” Knox said. “There was really nowhere to go, and I just tried my best, but they just got it.
“At first I thought I was in, but that was a great defense we went against.”
Both defenses shut down prolific option attacks.
The Hornets finally broke through with a seven-play, 62-yard touchdown drive early in the final period.
Dismuke, a sophomore who had a game-high 88 yards on 10 carries, converted a third-and-10 from the Newton-Conover 44 by spinning out of two tackles at the outset of a 20-yard gain. Whitaker ran for 21 yards on the next play, and Dismuke scored easily from the 3.
“I have to give it to the O-line,” Dismuke said. “They blocked hard for us. We told them if they block hard we’ll make them look good, that we’ll do some good things for them. We kept on doing good things on that drive. They got us into the end zone.
“It took the O-line all they had, and they gave all they had. Our whole team gave all they had.”
The Red Devils began the next series at their 37.
They had totaled four first downs to that point and Harden had been held to zero yards on eight carries, but a key block from Tevin James gave Harden an opening as he sprinted toward the right sideline.
“They gained momentum and took ours down,” said Rankin, who reached double figures in tackles.
The Hornets took over at their 15 and moved to their 42 before the 6-foot-6 Brown intercepted a third-down throw over the middle with four minutes left. He returned the ball to Salisbury’s 36, and the Red Devils had first down from the 5 in the final two minutes.
Royall bobbled the first-down snap, and a stop by Rankin and Bruce preceded a false start on third down from the 7. Bazzle elected to kick then, and overtime loomed once the attempt went wide right.
“Anybody who paid money tonight got their money’s worth,” Pinyan said.
Salisbury limited the Red Devils to six first downs, including two in the first half. Linquist kicked a 41-yard field goal shortly after he moved the chains with a pass on a fake punt midway through the first quarter.
David Simons opened the second quarter with a 32-yard field goal, but Salisbury took the points off the board when a penalty for roughing the snapper gave the Hornets a first-and-goal. Simons tied the game again, this time with a 30-yard kick.
Points were at a premium throughout the night, and one final defensive stand ended Salisbury’s improbable playoff run.
“It was very exciting,” Rankin said. “I liked the intensity each team gave, but they just came out on top.”
NOTE: Reidsville moved on with a 26-0 win over Kinston.
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