3A West Final: West Rowan 38, Tuscola 29
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA ó Emotional coach Scott Young declared it “the end of an era,” but it wasn’t the end of West Rowan’s season.
Tailback K.P. Parks’ final hours on the West field, where he has elevated the program from strong to stupendous, were among his best. He had 292 yards rushing and accounted for all five TDs as West outscored Tuscola 38-29 on Friday to return to the 3A state championship game.
Western champion for the second straight year, West (15-0) plays Eastern Alamance (14-1) at N.C. State next Saturday for the title.
Long after No. 2 seed West’s 29th straight victory was official and No. 4 seed Tuscola (12-2-1) headed for the buses, Parks perched quietly in the front row of the bleachers behind an end zone he’s visited often. His No. 2 jersey was off, his muscles bulged underneath a white T-shirt, and he savored the final seconds on a field on which they’ll retire his jersey someday.”It’s sad, but I’m so happy,” he said. “I just really don’t want to leave because it doesn’t get any better than this.”
Tuscola QB Tyler Brosius, who is headed to N.C. State, was as good as advertised ó 279 passing yards and three TDs. West overcame Brosius with its three-headed offensive monster.
While Parks broke the state single-season rushing record ó he has 3,640 yards as a senior ó to go along with his career mark, B.J. Sherrill threw for 190 yards and Jon Crucitti had seven catches for 134.
Crucitti has broken county records with 75 catches and 1,241 receiving yards. The latter mark was held by East’s Johnny Yarbrough for four decades.
“I take a psychology class over at East first period, so I see Yarbrough’s picture on the wall every day,” Crucitti said. “It’s a huge honor, but the one record that matters right now to all of us is 15-0.”
Rusty Crucitti was able to watch his son break records. He flew in from Omaha, Neb., where he’s been working in recent weeks.
It’s hard to put together the kind of championship season the Falcons had in 2008, even tougher to repeat it while wearing a bull’s eye. But West has answered each challenge. It got a big one from Tuscola.
“Winning this regional championship means a great deal,” Young said. “Last year we got up quick (on South Point) and were almost able to coast. This time we dished out very heavy blows, but Tuscola kept coming. They had plenty of opportunities to abandon ship, but they would not let this one be easy. People say the teams from the mountains aren’t that athletic, but they were so disciplined, so well-coached and played so hard. They were a worthy opponent.”While 67 points were put up (West had given up more than 15 only once this season), it was a defensive play early in the fourth quarter that finally gave the Falcons control.
West’s lead was only 23-15, and Tuscola ó which had gotten a TD, followed by a stop ó was driving with an opportunity to forge a tie with another score and a two-point conversion.
Tuscola had first-and-10 at the West 32 when Brosius couldn’t quite find the handle on a low shotgun snap.
He tried shoveling the ball to a back, but the ball hit the ground and West linebacker Josh Poe was first on the scene. He lay there on the ball forever as bodies slowly unpiled.
“I saw the quarterback had lost the ball and dove for it,” Poe said. “Then I just stayed on it. I had to make sure. It was exciting.”
With Tuscola still stunned, Parks cashed in. He dashed right, made one breathtaking cutback and was suddenly in open space. Blue jerseys, led by Crucitti, convoyed him to the end zone for a 67-yard TD. Crucitti added a two-point conversion run, and it was 31-15.
“We kept fighting all night,” Tuscola coach Donnie Kiefer said. “The biggest single thing was the fumble. We had a great chance to tie it. That was a backbreaker.”
Tuscola answered Parks’ long run, but Trey Mashore wrecked a pass play for a two-point conversion and the Falcons maintained a two-score advantage at 31-21.
West, which got sacks from Emmanuel Gbunblee and Maurice Warren and tackles for loss from Mackel Gaither and Eli Goodson, was stout defensively early but had its hands full in the second half.
West lost one first-half opportunity when Sherrill was intercepted on second-and-goal at the 6, but Mashore’s 42-yard punt return and Sherrill’s 42-yard connection to Crucitti set up TD runs by Parks for a 14-0 lead.
A 21-yard scamper by Parks in the final seconds of the half allowed Bertin Suarez to kick a 22-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead. Eric Cowan’s 32-yard run on a faked punt set up a TD by Parks in the third quarter.
With West leading 31-21 and facing fourth down at the Tuscola 35 with 3:59 left, Parks broke loose one more time. It was his 55th TD of the season and 154th of his career.
“Fourth-and-inches, a lot of bodies were down there, but then that No. 2 jersey just kept on going,” Crucitti said. “The back of K.P.’s jersey was a beautiful sight.”
It was Parks’ last TD on the West field, the end of an era in Mount Ulla.
But No. 2 still has one game left to play.