Shaw column: Hornets fell short of fairy-tale ending
NEWTON ó So this is where the journey ends for Salisbury’s 2009 overachiever ó with John Knox wrestled to the mud, a yard shy of the end zone at Gurley Stadium, a shot at the 2AA state championship game pinned below him.
“I was right there,” he said Friday night, moments after the Hornets met their football mortality four rounds deep into the playoffs. “I was pushing real hard but still looking for somewhere to go.”
There was no crease for the junior quarterback to slide through ó as he had done time and again this autumn ó on the season’s final snap. No fissure in the cement wall impersonating Newton-Conover’s massive defensive line. And truly, no where for Knox and the Hornet to go.
“I guess we lost a slipper somewhere,” dazed coach Joe Pinyan said. “I thought we had ’em. I just knew we were gonna catch a break tonight. We just didn’t when we needed one.”
That’s the thing about being a Cinderella team. Eventually midnight strikes and you turn back into a pumpkin, albeit one that poured a month’s worth of postseason magic into the hearts of many.
“A couple of weeks ago, nobody thought we’d be here,” defensive standout Darien Rankin offered outside the hushed Salisbury dressing room. “We made it here ourselves. And I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else. No one.”
Eighth-seeded Salisbury reached the state semifinals by downing three tough opponents ó leveling ninth-seeded East Burke, top-seeded Shelby and fifth-seeded Pisgah like they were bowling pins. Against the 13-1 Red Devils, its defense oozed confidence for three quarters and was primed to break another heart after tailback Dominique Dismuke sashayed around left end on a short touchdown run that put SHS up 10-3 with less than eight minutes to play.
“We came in with a great gameplan,” fullback Ike Whitaker said. “Pound the ball inside and play great defense. Everything was going our way, but somehow we came up a little short.”
Somehow, something catastrophic happened one play later. Facing the most important series of its season, Salisbury’s defense took a swing-and-a-miss and watched Octavius Harden swivel down the right sideline on a game-tying 63-yard TD run.
“They had a good play called,” defensive back Dominique Phillips. “And they got good blocking. That’s what happened.”
Salisbury dodged a bullet following an interception when kicker Spencer Linquist pushed a 30-yard field-goal attempt wide right with 19.8 seconds remaining. He had connected from 41 yards in the opening quarter.
“Any time you give up a turnover,” Knox said, “it hurts you.”
Perhaps, but after Salisbury won a coin toss prior to a roller-coaster overtime ride, it hardly mattered. The Hornets, led by a defense that wasn’t taking ‘No’ for an answer, seemed primed for another upset.
Then the hosts rushed for 8 yards on second down. And 2 more on third, taking a 17-10 lead when quarterback Sam Royall blasted off right tackle and into the end zone. Quite clearly, X-rays of Salisbury’s future appeared negative.
It was Salisbury junior Romar Morris, an F-14 in pads, who pumped new life into the Hornets. He took a second-down handoff from Knox and powered his way to the 3-yard line. A run by Whitaker moved the ball to the 2 before Knox was foiled on a fourth-down keeper.
“He was inches away,” Whitaker said, his eyes about to spill over. “Inches. Johnny Knox is one of the hardest runners I’ve ever seen. I thought he’d make it.”
It was Whitaker who accepted the runner-up plaque at midfield, hardware that will likely find a home in the school showcase.
“I know everybody works the same to get here,” Phillips reasoned. “It just feels like we deserved to win ó and we didn’t.”
Maybe it was Knox who said it best when he penned the final lyric:
“This isn’t how the fairy tale was supposed to end,” he said. “We were supposed to be on that other side, jumping around and celebrating. But hey, we got here. And that counts for something.”
It counts for everything.
By Toi Degree for the Salisbury Post Many consumers have not completed their holiday shopping list and will chose the... read more