Prep football: Run to remember for Salisbury
By Bret Strelow
NEWTON ó Senior captain Ike Whitaker joined Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan at midfield of Gurley Stadium for the overtime coin toss.
Whitaker returned to the same spot ó a painted area of worn turf covered by a red, interlocked “NC” ó to accept the 2AA West runner-up plaque following a 17-10 loss to Newton-Conover on Friday night. The Hornets (10-5) nearly earned the opportunity to play on a college field featuring a similar logo, albeit in Carolina blue.
Salisbury’s best playoff run since 1974 ended when the Red Devils, who had scored on their overtime possession, stopped a fourth-down sneak just shy of the goal line. The result pushed Newton-Conover (14-1) into Saturday’s state final against Reidsville (15-0) at North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.
“I’m going to remember the practices,” said Salisbury junior Darien Rankin, who was the team’s leading tackler. “I liked practicing with these guys; they always kept my head focused. I’m sorry it had to end this way.”
Three postseason victories gave Salisbury the Western North Carolina High School Activities Association title 35 years ago, and the Hornets reached the fourth round of the 2009 playoffs with wins against East Burke, Shelby and Pisgah.
They scored at least 34 points in each of those games, but Gurley Stadium was the site of a defensive slugfest. A 3-yard touchdown run by Salisbury sophomore Dominique Dismuke with 7:59 remaining in the fourth quarter broke a 3-3 tie.
“Our defense was super, and our offense came to play,” Pinyan said. “They did what they had to do against a great offensive and defensive line. Those guys have got a great football team.”
Octavius Harden’s 63-yard touchdown run enabled Newton-Conover to pull even 17 seconds after it had fallen behind. The Red Devils’ other 32 rushing attempts netted 87 yards.
Salisbury’s offense, which possessed the ball for approximately 27 of 48 regulation minutes, rushed for 230 yards against a defense that hadn’t given up more than 151 in a game all season.
Dismuke (game-high 88 yards on 10 carries) led the Hornets’ ground attack for the second time in three contests.
“Both defenses came out and did their thing,” Salisbury quarterback John Knox said. “It was just a heartbreaker for all of us. People didn’t think we could do it except for our teammates, but we believed in each other.”