David Shaw column: No fumbles mean breezy night
BOONVILLE — There was so much to savor Friday night up in Yadkin County, but nothing tasted sweeter than this: no lost fumbles.
For a Salisbury team stricken with fumble-itis the past month, hanging on to the football against previously unbeaten Starmount was a paramount concern — and its stinginess in a 35-6 second-round victory provided a necessary and welcomed remedy.
“With fumbles, you only beat yourselves,” running back Justin Ruffin said. “Especially with this being the second round and going against an undefeated team, we couldn’t afford to have any mistakes.”
Of course he’s right. The Hornets have been way too generous with the ball in recent weeks, coughing it up 16 times in their last four games and losing possession on half of them. Opponents have been gobbling up loose balls like they were late-night snacks. In one game alone — the CCC-deciding loss at Thomasville on Oct. 21 — SHS let seven balls slip from its hands and lost five. There were three more lost fumbles in last week’s playoff opener against Carver.
“Yeah, it’s been a big problem,” quarterback Brian Bauk acknowledged. “I don’t know why. You start fumbling and all it does is hold you back. The score tonight shows how well we can play.”
Salisbury played extremely well against Starmount in a game that had “Win One For Christian Hurt” written all over it. The Rams’ do-it-all QB suffered a broken vertebrae last Friday in Starmount’s first-round win against East Lincoln. Hurt was nonetheless presented and accounted, and watched the game from a wheelchair parked on the home team’s sideline.
“They had lots of emotional fuel,” Salisbury center Montana Harmon noted. “Lots of intensity. They were driven to make big plays and force turnovers.”
Only they didn’t. Salisbury played keep away like the neighborhood bully, refusing the give the ball up. Doing so allowed Bauk and the offense to rack up 311 total yards and score five touchdowns.
“We needed some breaks tonight but didn’t get them,” losing coach Scott Johnson said after Starmount took its final breath. “We got a few last week. But these guys, they didn’t give us a chance.”
In many ways this was a robotic performance by the Hornets. They played old-school football — running the ball with the fierceness of a John Bonham drum solo, playing shutdown defense and limiting their turnovers.
“The bottom line is we focused tonight,” said Joe Pinyan, the Wizard of Lincolnton Road. “We talked all week about playing with intensity and doing things right. That’s all this was — that and not fumbling.”
No one benefited more than speedster Dominique Dismuke. The senior running back rushed for 105 yards and scored his 21st and 22nd TDs.
“This was one of those nights when the weight room came into play,” he said. “”Starmount was gang-tackling to the ball. You really had to lock down with two hands. You had to be strong.”
Salisbury never came close to fumbling, though an opportunity presented itself in the fourth quarter. Bauk went to the line intending to give fullback Max Allen the ball on an inside burst.
“But when he got there, he saw eight or nine in the box and knew the play wouldn’t work,” said Pinyan.
Bauk reacted with the calmness of a movie usher, calling an audible isolation run for Dismuke that gained 10 yards and set up a late-game touchdown. “We changed it to a play that always works,” he smiled.
Never mind that the index card Bauk keeps tucked in a wrist-pack had fallen to the ground, causing a moment of panic and Salisbury’s only slip-up.
“We knew we were playing a No. 1 seed,” Bauk said. “We knew they were 11-0 and weren’t a joke. All we did was go out there and take care of business.”