Prep Football: West Rowan 37, Salisbury 28
By David Shaw
SALISBURY — It’s starting to look like three-time defending state champion West Rowan isn’t going away anytime soon.
The neighborhood bully stole Salisbury’s lunch money Friday night at Ludwig Stadium, extending its winning streak against county opponents to 38 with a pulsating 37-28 victory.
“There were many doubters out there,” winning coach Scott Young said after West (2-1) scored four touchdowns in the fourth quarter and prevailed in the Clash of Champions. “We heard them. We’ve got ears. We knew we had to put our noses to the grindstone and play a great game against a great team.”
Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan was equally gracious after the defending 2AA state champs had their 12-game winning streak snapped.
“I think in the summer they scrimmaged the Green Bay Packers and beat them by two,” he joked after SHS fell to 2-1. “They’re just good. We’ve got a lot of respect for them.”
The game was well-hyped by local media and fans alike — and no one was immune to the stinging remarks that circulated around the county.
“We heard everything,” said West offensive lineman Mike Norman. “But we couldn’t let it get to us. We came here to win and we made a statement. We’re not going away. West Rowan is still here.”
Salisbury brought a 14-10 lead into the final period but fell behind when Dinkin Miller (22 carries, 132 yards) skittered through a hole on the left side and into the end zone with 11:51 to play. A minute-and-a-half later it was 23-14, courtesy of sophomore Zeke Blackwood’s 32-yard interception return for a TD down the right sideline. As the pocket collapsed around him, SHS quarterback Brian Bauk made a hasty decision.
“It was a screen pass on that side,” he said after passing for 97 yards and two touchdowns. “We were expecting (Blackwood) to rush the box like crazy, but he wasn’t blocked and made a nice play. I probably should have thrown the ball away.”
Bauk got some redemption midway through the fourth quarter when he lofted a 17-yard TD strike to running back Justin Ruffin, who wiggled into some open space in West’s secondary. Michael Mazur’s extra point drew the Hornets within 23-21.
“The pressure was getting to us,” Ruffin said after accounting for 147 of Salisbury’s 238 total yards. “We were trying to make big plays in a short amount of time.”
West responded with a game-clinching scoring drive that chewed 4:23 off the game clock. Quarterback Zay Laster steered the Falcons 80 yards in eight plays and gave West a 30-21 advantage when he scored on a 8-yard scramble up the middle with 1:19 remaining.
“I think (Laster) panicked early in the game,” Young said. “We had to tell him to slow down, take a deep breath and let the game come to him.”
Only 30 seconds remained when Bauk — who was sacked seven times — fired a quick-strike 25-yard TD pass to Ruffin, turning the Salisbury cheering section into a human trampoline. But West’s Jarvis Morgan silenced the crowd when he returned the ensuing kickoff 48 yards for the clinching touchdown.
“All week we heard they gonna bring the bang-bang and all that,” Morgan said afterward. “We tried not to say anything. What it all means is keep your eyes open. West Rowan is not off the map. We’re still here.”
NOTES: Salisbury had four turnovers, including three in the scoreless opening quarter. … Ruffin gained 105 yards on 11 carries — all before he snagged a pair of TD passes in the final six minutes. … Laster rushed for 71 yards and passed for another 53. … WR’s Tre Cuthbertson had an interception and teammates Terrence Polk and Kiero Cuthbertson recovered fumbles. For the Hornets, Travis Byrd pounced on a fumble and Tion McCain picked off a pass.