Prep Football: Thomasville 34, Salisbury 27
By Ryan Bisesi
THOMASVILLE — The most noticeable guy at Cushwa Stadium somehow disappeared with 22 seconds left.
When Salisbury found him, it was too late.
After carrying the ball a gargantuan 44 times for 178 yards, Thomasville’s Shaquan Johnson broke into the passing game by getting past the secondary and reeling in an 80-yard touchdown pass in the waning moments for Thomasville to secure a 34-27 win against Salisbury.
A week after six fumbles at Lexington, the Davidson County turf was unkind to the Hornets again as they suffered seven fumbles to snap a six-game win streak. The biggest turnover came when Justin Ruffin lost it with 57 seconds to with Salisbury at the Thomasville 21-yard line.
Thomasville scored 17 points off Salisbury turnovers in a game that carried CCC championship implications with the regular season drawing to a close.
“Out of the gate, we were just making too many mistakes fumbling the ball,” Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan said. “When you play a good football team, you can’t make a ton of mistakes.”
After the Hornets took a 13-6 lead in the second quarter, Thomasville answered with 21 straight points. Of course, they all came on touchdowns by Johnson to get a 27-13 lead.
“It was a great game, what else can you say?,” Thomasville assistant Dickie Cline said. “We told our kids we’ve got to protect the ball and win the turnover battle.”
Salisbury (8-2, 3-1) would get a touchdown from Dominique Dismuke to pull within 27-20 late in the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Dismuke punched it in on 4th-and-goal to tie it up.
Salisbury caused a turnover on downs with 5:12 left and was marching downfield methodically, earning a first down at the Thomasville 23 with under two minutes to play. After Thomasville regained possession, Johnson was stopped for no gain with 36 seconds left 80 yards from the end zone and the game seemingly destined for overtime.
Somehow, this was where he make his biggest strike on a reception from Shakeem Peterson.
“We got him out on a little slant-and-go,” Cline said. “I think Shakeem overthrew him a little bit, but Shaquan’s the fastest guy out there. All it took was one move and he got away from the DBs”
Of the Bulldogs’ 33 first-half plays, 27 were handoffs to Johnson, whose four touchdowns put him at 23 for the season.
A sideline infraction pushed the ensuing kickoff back and Salisbury got the ball in Thomasville territory with 20 seconds left.
Brian Bauk hit Ruffin over the middle, but he could only muster his way to the 21 before getting tackled as time expired.
It was almost two years to the date since Salisbury had last lost a CCC game — against Thomasville on Oct. 30, 2009.
Salisbury, Thomasville (5-5) and Central Davidson are all 3-1 in the league heading into the final week.
“I think we came in a little too big-headed and thought we were the best team in the state,” Bauk said. “This proves we’ve got a ton of work to do.”
Ruffin led the Hornets on the ground with 14 carries for 78 yards.
Thomasville led 20-13 at halftime and held the Hornets to a three-and-out to start the second half. The snap to punter Michael Mazur was well over his head, resulting in the Bulldogs taking over at the Salisbury 1. Johnson scored on the next play for a 27-13 advantage.
“We’ve got to correct those things if we’re going to be playing deep into the playoffs,” Pinyan said.
Ruffin gave Salisbury its first lead on a 1-yard touchdown run to start the second quarter.
Dismuke, who had a three-touchdown night, had a 30-yard score to put the Hornets in front 13-6 in the second quarter. Johnson scored again to make it 13-12 and Thomasville recovered a muffed kickoff by the Hornets moments later. Johnson struck again on fourth down with a 3-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left in the half.
“On a night where we had a bunch of negatives, we didn’t have quite enough positives,” Pinyan said.