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London column: Morgan gets last laugh

MOUNT ULLA — He who laughs last, laughs best. West Rowan receiver Jarvis Morgan performed a goat-to-gloat transformation for the ages in Friday’s frostbitten 22-14 victory against Concord in the third round of the 3A playoffs.
But the first half wasn’t fun. In the second quarter, if Morgan could’ve found a hole 6 feet, 3 inches deep at Falcons Stadium, he would have crawled in there and hibernated all winter.
“I was just not into it in the first half,” Morgan said apologetically. “I psyched myself out. Then I tried to do too much instead of just letting things come to me.”
West came into the game, a rematch of a 2010 third-rounder in which Morgan had snared a 26-yard TD pass, armed with the knowledge that the long, lean Morgan had a physical mismatch with Concord’s 5-7 cornerback Desmond Shamsid-Dean.
West also knew the Spiders had to commit numerous bodies to the box to contain tailback Dinkin Miller, so Shamsid-Dean was going to be on a lonely island defending Morgan all night.
“We knew there were places on the field where our talent matched up very well with their talent,” West QB Zay Laster said. “One of those was with Jarvis. We knew that was something we could go to.”
Laster went to Morgan on a third-and-9 play from the Concord 36 and fired a spiral that hit him in stride as he sprinted to the end zone. But it sailed through his arms.
“Best pass I’ve thrown in a long time,” said Laster, managing a chuckle. “I had to get on Jarvis a little, but I also let him know I was still with him. I told him we’d be coming back to him.”
Laster was as good as his word. In the second quarter, a big-play opportunity knocked for Morgan on another perfect strike thrown by Laster, but Morgan again declined to answer the door.
“That was the second very disappointing drop of the night,” Morgan said. “I looked up, and the ball’s going through my hands. That wasn’t like me, and I wanted to find some way to make it up to my teammates.”
Drop No. 2 also meant it was time for Morgan to catch an earful of trash talk from Shamsid-Dean.
“Well, basically, he told me I couldn’t catch the ball,” Morgan explained.
Morgan felt better by halftime, as West made a huge defensive stop, denying the Spiders three times inside the 2-yard line.
It was 6-6 at the break, and Morgan realized that not only had he not lost the contest, there was still plenty of time to help win it.
“I knew once our defense made that great stand at the end of the half that we’d win this game,” Morgan said.
West receivers coach Ken Browning tried simultaneously to console and motivate Morgan at halftime.
“Well, he was pretty depressed,” Browning said. “All I told him was to keep working.”
Three plays into the second half, Morgan was sprinting down the sideline, and Laster found him. Morgan used his strength to get separation from Shamsid-Dean, made a contested grab. Then he sprinted cheerfully to the end zone for a 56-yard touchdown that had redemption written all over it.
“Those balls he missed in the first half could’ve haunted him,” Laster said. “But on that play he made a very tough, physical catch.”
The reception was Morgan’s 40th of the season and his 14th TD. Those six points put West ahead to stay.
“It felt good, sure, to make the catch that got us rolling toward a win,” Morgan said. “Did I say anything to the corner? Yeah, I did, but it’s not really anything I can tell you.”
Other than a two-point conversion pass to Miller that didn’t count statistically, Laster completed just two passes — after zero last week — but that huge one to Morgan was critical.
“We’ve been struggling in the passing game and we were up against a very sound defensive team tonight,” West coach Scott Young said. ‘But we did just enough passing to win.”
Along with its colossal streaks of 41 straight county wins and 32 straight NPC wins, the Falcons now own 18 straight playoff wins.
Other than their awesome defensive line, they don’t look overpowering this year, and yet they still win.
“No style points tonight, but we won another ballgame,” Young said. “We had a kid drop a sure six and then he dropped another big play inside the 20, but he came back from it. Our kids will find a way to win.”

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