Prep Football: Common Sense picks
West Rowan is at home against Concord tonight and any West-Concord meeting has to take you back to West vs. Concord in 2000.
Sure, that was a mid-October regular season game at Concord’s Bailey Stadium, but there are West coaches — coaches who are still on that stable staff — who will tell you it was the most important game ever played by the Falcons. There’s no question it was the biggest regular-season game the Falcons ever have been involved in.
“That’s the game,” West head coach Scott Young said quietly, “that put us on the map.”
Traveling in the time machine, we have to set the scene. Just four years removed from a stint in 2A, the Falcons were in their 42nd season of football competition in 2000 and had never won a conference championship. They hadn’t even shared one.
The school had won two playoff games in its history and had never ventured past the second round.
When new coach Scott Young, still in his 20s, took the helm in 1998, he went 3-8. He reversed that to 8-3 in 1999, but in the SPC, where Concord and A.L. Brown ruled and Northwest Cabarrus, under a young coach named Glen Padgett was playing good ball, 8-3 wasn’t even good enough to make the 3A playoffs.
The 2000 Falcons started slow — an ugly 7-6 win against Salisbury and a double-overtime loss to South Rowan, but then they started to roll.
They had Jared Barnette throwing, Horatio Everhart catching, and Ben Hampton and Joe Jackson running. Defensively, they had a dominating pair of linebackers in James Francis and Sylvester Culbertson.
West breezed through SPC games with Harding and East Rowan to stand 2-0 in the league, but no one was all that excited. The schedule-makers hadn’t been friendly to the Falcons — and Northwest, Brown and Concord were coming up — on back-to-back-to-back Fridays.
West, surprisingly, won at Northwest, crunching the Trojans’ running game and setting the tone for all the run-stuffing West defenses that have followed.
The following week, West won 25-22 against the Wonders at home, the school’s first win ever against Brown. There was controversy on the onsides kick between two late West TDs, but the bottom line was a miraculous 25-22 win by the Falcons, who had trailed 22-10 with just over two minutes to play. Barnette’s pass to Hampton with 1:18 left, and Hampton’s rumble to the end zone remains fresh in the mind of many West fans.
Now West was 4-0 in the league. So was Concord.
Their matchup was billed as the biggest game in West history and it became infinitely larger when it was learned early on the morning of the game that Francis’ sister, 19-year-old Lakeina, was one of the sailors on the USS Cole who was missing after the ship was attacked by suicide bombers while in port in Yemen.
Francis was the key to West’s defense, and he spent Friday at school in Young’s office watching CNN, waiting for updates on his sister.
When Francis made the decision that he would play against Concord, word spread quickly. Suddenly, West-Concord became statewide, and then national news.
“By the time we head to the game, it’s a media frenzy,” Young said. “TV vans are following us. CBS is following us. Everybody is following us.”
There was a game to play — a game that would decide the SPC championship.
At Bailey Stadium, Francis performed incredibly well, and he and nose J.D. Watkins, who was working against Concord’s Penn State-bound, Shrine Bowl center E.Z. Smith IV, shut down the Spiders’ offense.
But West couldn’t do anything offensively, either, and trailed 3-0 at halftime.
It was a pick-6 by West’s Eric Weimer early in the second half that turned the game. Everhart caught a 76-yard pass from Barnette with 1:58 left to play to finally put it away.
Falcons carried Francis off the field on their shoulders, and Young said he’d given the most courageous performance he’d ever witnessed by an athlete.
West beat Piedmont, Sun Valley and Central Cabarrus the next three weeks for its first conference championship, and it really hasn’t looked back. Every season since 2000 has been a winning season.
The years fly by. In October, 2010, there were national memorial services marking 10 years since Lakeina Francis and 16 other sailors died aboard the USS Cole.
Concord came to West Rowan last November and visits Mount Ulla again tonight. When the Spiders get off the bus, it will be hard not to think about 2000 and the game that put the Falcons on the football map.
The picks were 7-2 last week, with misses on South Stanly-Lakewood (South Stanly lost in 0T) and Ragsdale-Mount Tabor.
West 26, Concord 21
B.J. Beecher is a great, pro-style QB and Concord runs the ball much better than last year. It’ll be a tough one.
Salisbury 27, Thomasville 24
Still think the Hornets are the better team. They’ll hang onto the ball and prove it.
Catholic 35, A.L. Brown 21
It probably will be the same old song, but the Wonders are talented enough to knock off anybody.
In other games involving area leagues: Albemarle 28, Lakewood 7; Monroe 42, West Montgomery 36; Porter Ridge 35, Mount Tabor 24.