Gallagher column: A true Clash of Champions

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 1, 2011

West Rowan football coach Scott Young said it with a straight face when asked about his defending 3A state champion’s chances against the defending 2AA state champion Salisbury Hornets tonight in Ludwig Stadium.
“Any time you have eight starters back on defense off a state championship team, you know you’ve got your hands full,” Young said. “They have given up only six points in two games.
“They have to be established as the favorite.”
When told he had been dubbed the favorite, Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan did not wear a straight face. He wore an absolutely incredulous look when talking about West.
“You win 46 in a row, you win three straight championships, you win 800 in a row (actually 37) in the county …
“We’re the favorite?”
And so it goes with two of the most entertaining coaches around. Neither wants to be the favorite but both want to win the event known as the Clash of Champions.
And believe this. Tonight is more of an event than a game.

Pinyan obviously paid attention to what happened at Carson last year when unbeaten West visited the one-loss Cougars. An estimated crowd of over 5,000 showed, which is great until you realize Carson holds about 3,000. You could’ve written a story just on the parking. Cars were lined up from Carson on Highway 152 in both directions. Some fans walked a mile or more from the famous China Grove barbecue places named Gary’s and Porky’s.
So Pinyan decided to do something to make it easier for the fans. They can park at the Hurley YMCA or the High Rock Community Church and be shuttled to Ludwig Stadium. That’s a great idea. Every 15 minutes buses will make their rounds.
“I think we can hold the crowd,” Pinyan said. “I don’t think we can handle the parking. This will alleviate the traffic. The parking lots will be patrolled by policemen. It will be safe there — and easier to get out.”
For those who want to go to the school, reserved parking is available for $3 until the lots fill up.
Pinyan and his assistants were out on the field late Wednesday night lining it off. You know his head was spinning. He’s also the athletic director so he has to worry about a multitude of things, including making sure last year’s state title teams (football, girls basketball and tennis and boys golf) make it to the game to be honored.
“I hope it’s not a letdown,” Pinyan said. “I hope the kids play well. I hope a lot of people come.”

After he takes care of all the other stuff, there’s that little matter of the game.
“The outcome is somewhat irrelevant,” Pinyan said. “Win or lose, playing this game is going to make you better.”
North Rowan coach Tasker Fleming said recently that Salisbury reminded him of West after the Falcons won their first title in 2008. The Hornets are still riding high from last year’s title. Young doesn’t dispute that.
“It doesn’t look like they’ve missed a beat,” he said. “The kids they’ve got are very good.”
And Pinyan knows West is still West, despite a 1-1 record. As he said, 47-1 is still 47-1 anyway you slice it.
Meanwhile, Salisbury (2-0) has given up only five first downs. It has won 12 straight games.
“How often do you get this?” Pinyan mused. “How often do you get a matchup of two state champions this close together? How often do you get a bunch of great athletes playing another bunch of great athletes and a bunch of good assistants against other good assistants? Me and Scott are there for the ride.”
West receiver Jarvis Morgan knows some of the Hornets.
“They’re hyped, we’re hyped,” Morgan said. “It’s friends vs. friends. It’s the battle of the county. It’s going to be a big game.”
A big game that some say is a tossup.
“It’s been 10 years since we’ve lost a county game,” Young said. “This is one of the biggest challenges we’ll have.”

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or