3A Championship: West vs. Eastern Alamance
By Mike London
RALEIGH ó The K.P. Parks Era ends Saturday at Raleigh’s Carter-Finley Stadium.
It’s going to end in tears, either way.
Whether it’s tears of joy and relief or tears of disappointment and pain will be decided when West Rowan (15-0) takes on Eastern Alamance (14-1) at 11:30 a.m. for the 3A championship.
Parks, who led West to the 2008 title, is one of the greats in state history, a relentless bowling ball who has trucked for a state record 10,741 yards (third nationally) in four varsity seasons and scored 154 touchdowns despite sitting out several second halves and numerous fourth quarters in blowouts. As a senior, the Virginia commitment has carried 378 times for 3,640 yards and 55 TDs.
Critics argue Parks isn’t exceptionally large or exceptionally fast, but the stat sheet argues he is exceptionally good.
West has been challenged the past two weeks by outstanding teams. Parks had an opportunity to go the distance against Asheville and Tuscola and produced 488 rushing yards and all nine West TDs.
“It’s a tall order. How you slow Parks down, I really don’t know,” Eastern Alamance coach John Kirby said at Monday’s press conference.
Kirby will try, and Parks’ magnificent career will end exactly as it should ó facing his greatest challenge on the biggest stage. Eastern Alamance has an exciting, talented quarterback in Lamar Ivey, but the Eagles’ defensive front may be their greatest strength.
West’s powerful offensive line and Parks against an Eastern Alamance group led by defensive end Nick Miles (No. 90) will be one of those irresistible force vs. immovable object scenarios.
Like West, Eastern Alamance has posted four shutouts. In the playoffs, EA has given up 7,7, 0 and 6.
In last Friday’s regional championship against Havelock, Eastern allowed one short-field TD three minutes into the game and shut down the Rams the rest of the way. Havelock’s super QB Danny Webster Jr. ó N.C. high school football’s Tim Tebow ó was sacked seven times.
“Eastern Alamance’s defensive front seven has some real good players and will be the best we’ve seen ó in a game,” said West offensive coordinator Joe Nixon ó meaning this will be the first time West’s offense has confronted a group as good as the defense it sees daily in practice.
West coaches were reminded of former Falcon star Tristan Dorty (Wake Forest) when they saw Miles on film. That’s not great news.
Eastern made the third round of the playoffs in 2008 and returned nine starters. It’s an experienced unit. Another defensive player to watch is corner Donald Mattocks (No. 21). He made two interceptions last week.
West’s offense, obviously, is more than Parks. Junior quarterback B.J. Sherrill has thrown for 2,139 yards and 20 TDs and has been instrumental in West’s county-record, 29-game winning streak.
Receiver Jon Crucitti set school and county records this season with 75 catches and 1,241 receiving yards. Wideout KaJuan Phillips has six TD catches, while tight end Patrick Hampton has four.
West has the most prolific offense in modern county history, averaging 41 points and nearly 450 yards per game.
West has accumulated five times as many rushing yards as it’s allowed.
Like West, most of Eastern’s games have been over by halftime. The Eagles lost 24-23 to loaded Northern Guilford (12-2) on Oct. 2 in a game that decided the Mid-State Conference championship, but they’ve rolled since.
A couple of months ago, Crucitti was asked who was out there in 3A who could challenge West.
Crucitti’s answer was Eastern Alamance. The Falcons have seen this one coming for a while.
While West has two Shrine Bowl players (Parks and defensive end Chris Smith), Eastern has one. Ivey won’t play quarterback in the Shrine Bowl, but he’s such a fine athlete he’ll be used as a defensive back.
West faced a great passing quarterback in Tuscola’s Tyler Brosius last week, but Ivey is a different sort. He’s one of the new breed of QBs ó he’s fast ó and his legs put pressure on a defense.
Ivey has rushed for 1,194 yards, thrown for 1,838 and accounted for 39 TDs. The closest comparison to Ivey locally might be former A.L. Brown QB and current Appalachian State redshirt Jamill Lott, who took the Wonders to last season’s 3AA championship game.
“What Eastern has got is a high school version of Appalachian,” West defensive coordinator David Hunt said. “They’ve got a great athlete taking snaps out of the shotgun. He throws it well. He runs it better than a lot of running backs, and if he gets a crack a half-inch wide he can go 70 yards. They like to spread you out, and that makes it a challenge to defend that kind of speed.”
Ivey accounted for 214 yards in the second half last week and broke a 72-yard run to seal victory. In Eastern’s previous playoff game against Cardinal Gibbons, he produced a 77-yard scoring run.
“He makes things happen for us,” Kirby understated.
West head coach Scott Young is a Shrine Bowl assistant and is familiar with Ivey.
“Along with trying to block their defensive front, containing that quarterback will be the key, above all,” he said. “I don’t think you stop him, but we’ve got to try to eliminate the big play.”
Kirby has embraced the underdog role for his Kelly green and gold Eagles in this battle of small towns ó Mebane vs. Mt. Ulla.
He’s been coaching 25 years at Eastern and this is his first trip to a state-championship game. He’s compared his team’s odyssey to “Hoosiers.”
“We’ve never played in a venue anything like N.C. State,” he said.
Given West’s status as defending champ (35-7 vs. West Craven), its long winning streak, its No. 1 ranking in the 3A poll and the presence of Parks, who should make All-America teams, the Eagles probably are underdogs.
But Young has insisted all week this is “David vs. David, not David vs. Goliath.”
“Eastern is here for the first time, but last year was our first time and it didn’t hurt us too much,” he said.
West returned 11 starters from last year’s triumph, and Young will say goodbye to a special senior class Saturday.
Tears of joy or tears of disappointment?
“Last season was the first time I haven’t cried at the end of a season since my very first one,” Young said. “It’s gonna be tough when these seniors finish, but if we can win his thing, I’ll be able to live with it a little better.”