Prep Football Playoffs: Thomasville 27, Salisbury 16
By Marny Hendrick
THOMASVILLE — Just when everything seemed so right for the Salisbury Hornets, it suddenly all went so wrong.
Thomasville’s Bulldogs scrambled back from a halftime deficit to stuff the Hornets 27-16 in a third round 2A play-off battle Friday night at Cushwa Stadium. In a rematch of their key CCC battle back in October, Thomas ville prevailed once again, thanks to a stout second half defense and a clutch punt return for touchdown.
As a result, the defending State 2AA champion Hornets ended their season at 11-3 while the Bulldogs (10-4) advance to play the Western 2A final at Lincolnton next Friday.
“We really had a great season,” an emotional head coach Joe Pinyan said afterward. “The only bad part is not winning that last game. This group of young men are true winners.”
The game looked much brighter for the Hornets in the first half as they roared back from an early 7-0 deficit to build a 16-7 margin by intermission. Max Allen’s 23 yard burst up the middle tied the score late in the 1st period and also put him over 1000 rushing yards for the season.
Senior halfback Dominique Dismuke then gave Salisbury the lead in the second period with an 18-yard sweep, 13-7.
Kicker Michael Mazur added a 27-yard field goal a half minute before intermission to make the score 16-7 with Salisbury seemingly humming on all cylinders.
Meanwhile Thomasville appeared staggered when they lost their remarkable workhorse tailback Quan Johnson to an ankle injury just six plays into their opening touchdown drive. An elusive 3,000-yard rusher this season for the Bulldogs, Johnson literally provides about 85 percent of his team’s offense so when he limped to the sideline early, the home team seemed to be in distress.
Yet like all good teams, others stepped up to fill the void for the Bulldogs. Sophomore quarterback Shakeem Peterson hit some clutch passes in the second half while senior Quindale Williams turned into a triple threat as a tailback, defensive back and a return man.
“I have never had a game that good before,” Williams said afterward. “But I had to step up and help my team on both offense and defense.”
Williams led a dominating second half for the Bulldogs with a pair of interceptions plus an electric 75-yard punt return late in the third period that gave his team the lead for good.
The punt return was just one of a number of critical plays in the final five minutes of the third quarter that turned the tide in Thomasville’s favor. They cut the gap to 16-14 at 5:44 of the third on a clutch 4th down pass from Peterson to his big tight end Jaleel Rogers covering 40 yards.
Dismuke then fumbled a pitch on the next series and Thomasville was back in business at the Hornet 32. On 4th and inches from the 22, however, Peterson was stuffed for a loss by senior linebacker Kavari Hillie on a remarkable diving blitz over top of the center, preserving the lead.
Yet Salisbury’s fortunes took a disastrous turn when they went three and out and punted the ball to Williams at the 25. A few jukes later and on Williams was on his way to the 75 yard score that gave the Bulldogs the 20-16 lead with 37 seconds left in the third.
The sequence turned even worse for the Hornets on the next series as QB Brian Bauk was picked off by Williams on the last play of the quarter then dislocated his left shoulder making the tackle, sending him to the hospital.
After that, the final period was mostly academic for the winners as they got a got a clinching 11-yard TD run by Johnson with nine minutes left, making it 27-16. Despite his painful ankle, he still managed 91 yards while scoring his 37th TD of the season.
Meanwhile the Bulldog defense refused to allow a comeback as Williams picked off reserve QB Jon Hall with just over two minutes left. For the second half, Thomasville claimed three Hornet turnovers, two sacks, and a shutout.
“Our kids just played better in the second half,” said Bulldog assistant Coach Steve Bare. “We knew we had no chance if we did not keep them off the field and that is what we were able to do. But Salisbury is really a great team.”
On this night, however, they were just not great enough. In this long and intense rivalry, Salisbury has still not won a game at Cushwa Stadium since 1981 and have lost 11 of the last 12.
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