3A Championship: West Rowan 28, Eastern Alamance 21
By Mike London
RALEIGH ó West Rowan’s massive lead melted away like a spent wax candle.
As a 20-0 stampede turned into a 21-20 deficit in a blink, West defensive end Emmanuel Gbunblee heard an audible gasp. It came from the sea of blue that had gathered at cold Carter-Finley Stadium to watch the University of Mount Ulla ó The U ó officially make it two 3A titles in a row.
At that point, it appeared Saturday’s game might be all about the U all right ó an Upset by Eastern Alamance’s Underdogs.
“I heard our crowd go ‘Ahhhh’ after they took the lead,” Gbunblee said. “It wasn’t going so well, but we just had to deal with it. We had to stop them right there.”
West stopped them. The Falcons won 28-21 because their defense stifled Eastern Alamance (14-2) on the Eagles’ last four possessions. The score sounds like a shootout, and Eastern did collect 18 first downs, but West’s defense created four turnovers and sacked mobile QB Lamar Ivey, who will be a Shrine Bowl DB, an astounding nine times.
West (16-0) won its 30th straight game, and a special senior class went out on top with not only a title, but with perfection. The Falcons are the first Rowan football squad to run the table since East went 13-0 in 1969.
“It feels lovely that we were able to help out and send the seniors out as champions,” said Gbunblee, a junior who recorded two sacks.
Tackle Mackel Gaither had three sacks, while Defensive MVP Chris Smith showed why he’s headed to Arkansas. The Shrine Bowl end with the non-stop motor came up big, accounting for two sacks and swatting away four passes as if they were bothersome gnats.
Maybe the least appreciated stat among West’s amazing numbers is that junior B.J. Sherrill has never lost as the starting QB.
“That’s 30-0, and that just shows how good this team is,” he said. “I try to manage the game and not make mistakes. That was tough today. Eastern Alamance was very strong, very fast and very good.”
West tailback K.P. Parks ran into brick walls to his left and stone walls to his right, but even when he’s slowed, he’s not stopped. The game MVP had 155 rushing yards and all four TDs. Parks scored West’s last 14 TDs during its run to the championship.
Parks was battered, bruised and bloodied by the Eagles (14-2), and their linebackers chased him down on plays that usually yield huge gains, but he kept coming, even when a gain of 2 deserved a plaque and a gain of 3 deserved a standing ovation.
“Nothing came easy,” Parks said. “But what a great way to end it.”
He ended it with a few more records. It was the 55th 100-yard game of his career, easily a national record, and he’s now carried the ball more times than anyone in the history of prep football. His final career numbers ó 1,370 carries, 10,895 yards, 158 TDs ó say it all.
“West is not fancy ó Parks right and Parks left ó but they get after you and that offensive line is great,” Eastern coach John Kirby said. “Parks is an outstanding back, but I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you how good his line is.”
West’s domination was total early. Eastern seemed overwhelmed by the magnitude of the venue just as West Craven had been in 2008.
Eric Cowan returned the opening kickoff to the Eastern 40, and a 28-yard run by Sherrill set up a 3-yard TD by Parks for a quick 6-0 lead.
When Ivey was sacked by Gaither on Eastern’s first possession, Josh Poe recovered at the EA 19. The Falcons needed just three plays to punch in their second TD, and it was 13-0 less after less than five minutes.
West failed to cash in on a 46-yard punt return by Offensive MVP Jon Crucitti, but the score swelled to 20-0 after Parks made his only electric run ó a 53-yard dash down the West sideline to open the second quarter.
“Early on, we did everything we wanted,” West coach Scott Young said. “Everything according to the plan.”
When Eastern’s offense was stopped for the fifth straight time, and West took over with good field position, the game seemed nearly over.
“We went for a knockout, and I threw an interception” Sherrill said. “That turned the momentum.”
Donald Mattocks, awesome on both sides of the ball, picked the pass off and triggered a great comeback.
With 5:41 remaining in the first half, Eastern experienced its first offensive positive when Ivey hit Mattocks on a third-and-8 crossing route for a 54-yard TD.
After West was forced to punt, Ivey broke a 32-yard run and hit Mattocks for 25 yards to set up another TD. It was 20-14 at halftime, and Eastern had serious momentum.
Eastern got the ball first in the second half and promptly scored again for a 21-20 lead. The key play was a 25-yard dash by Ivey into West territory on a third-and-5 situation.
When Parks was limited to 4 yards on two carries and West went three-and-out on its next possession, things looked bleak. Eastern had scored 21 unanswered, and a shocked crowd sensed the quest for a repeat was slipping away.
Eastern felt it too, and tried to go deep, throwing its own knockout punch. But West corner Domonique Noble picked off his second pass of the day and returned it to the Eastern 29. That led to a 7-yard TD run by Parks, and West had the lead back. It was 28-21 after Sherrill flipped to Crucitti for a 2-point conversion with 11:36 remaining.
Eastern’s next drive reached the West 40, but Ivey was intercepted on fourth-and-14. Quan Cowan tipped a pass, and Trey Mashore picked it off.
“We knew they had to pass and I got a hand on it, and Trey did what we’re taught to do,” Cowan said. “He ran to the football.”
Mashore intercepted at the 2, but West banged its way relentlessly out of that hole, working on the clock. Crucitti got off a fine punt to the EA 12. With 2:48 remaining, West needed one more stop.
It got it. Gaither and Smith produced key sacks.
“They pinned their ears back there at the end, and they were coming at us with men,” Kirby said. “We fought as hard as we could. We just didn’t have quite enough.”
Parks got one final carry before the clock died, and then it was time to exhale ó and celebrate a little.
“I think we got too content and relaxed too quickly,” Mashore said. “They made us earn it today, but that’s what we did.”
It was a roller-coaster ride for Young, who is now 119-37 in 12 years as West’s head coach.
A fantastic start was followed by a near collapse. But his team delivered through all the blood, sweat and tears.
“Not many teams would show the resiliency and character to come back from 20-0, so give Eastern Alamance a lot of credit,” he said. “But not many teams would show the character and resilience to come back after squandering a 20-0 lead. Our guys did.”