Prep Football Playoffs: West Rowan 32, Statesville 27
By Marny Hendrick
MOUNT ULLA — One character trait you gain from three straight state titles and some long winning streaks is confidence.
So trailing by one point and the clock ticking down inside a minute, there was no panic for the West Rowan Falcons…at least not on the field.
Quarterback Zay Laster scooted up the middle from the two with 25.8 seconds left to give West a dramatic 32-27 win over Statesville in the second round of the State 3A playoffs Friday night. The winning score capped a clutch 12 play, 57 yard drive that used up almost four and a half minutes.
The drive played out exactly the way Coach Scott Young and his offense planned with one hitch. “I was afraid we left too much time on the clock.”
In a game marked by wild swings in momentum and clutch plays by both offenses, it was literally one of those games where the last team to possess the ball wins. The West faithful were able to relax and celebrate only after Statesville bobbled the ensuing kick-off and the Falcon’s Terrence Pope pounced on it to seal the win.
I am extremely proud of the character and resiliency we showed tonight”, Young stated. “What a great high school ball game by two great teams.”
Laster earned the glory with four TD runs including the game winner but he had plenty of help from tailback Dinkin Miller’s bruising 185 yard rushing night and another dominating job by his offensive line.
The winning TD run was possible thanks to a huge hole right up the middle by center Hunter Mashburn allowing Laster to dive in untouched.
“Their defensive line is huge,” Laster said, “but I was going to keep my feet moving and I was going to stay hungry.”
Earlier in the evening, the Falcons probably had more heartburn than hunger as they fell into a quick 14-0 hole. The Greyhounds rode their multi-talented quarterback Tristan Mumford to the early lead as he scored on a 11 yard run and passed 11 yards to La’bryant Nichols for another TD.
West got untracked on the next possession thanks to Miller who only needed three runs to complete a 48 yard drive. The final sprint around right end made it 14-6 as the extra point was wide.
The Falcons then seemed to grab all the momentum as they tied the scored late in the second quarter on Laster’s one yard run and two point pass to Miller. On the next series, Statesville botched a punt snap and West blocked the kick to set up shop at the two. Laster scored on the next play and even though the PAT was wide again, the Falcons led 20-14.
Instead of folding, the Greyhounds responded with an impressive 15 play, 65 yard drive to reclaim the lead at 21-20 just before half. The drive keyed by the versatile skills of Mumford included two 4th down conversions, the last a clutch 26 yard pass to Josh Gaither in the end zone.
West made their own statement to open the second half as Tre Cuthbertson took the kick-off 60 yards on a cross field jaunt to the Statesville 15. Four plays later Laster ran in from the six to reclaim the lead at 26-21.
After an exchange of punts, the Hounds bounced back again as they went to a jumbo backfield featuring 305 pound Derrick Herring and 270 pound Torrie Sharp. Mumford was able to run and pass his team 63 yards capped by his one yard keeper for the TD just two playes into the 4th quarter. The two point conversion pass failed leaving the margin at 27-26 Statesville.
“We showed them some things they had not seen before” Mumford said. “It seemed to work for a while but I just wish we had been able to get the ball back at the end.”
West still trailed by one when they drove inside the Statesville 20 with just under 7 minutes left. But Laster’s stretching dive was just inches short on 4th down at the 15 to turn the ball over. The West defense set the stage for the final winning drive, however, by forcing a punt on the next possession.
“We had two great teams playing down to the final 30 seconds,” said Statesville coach Randall Gusler. “What more could you ask for. It just didn’t go our way.”
The loss was their second close one to West this season, closing them out at 7-5-1. The Falcons (11-2) now get another home play-off game against Concord Spiders next Friday.