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Gallagher column: Roaming to Burns

Roaming the county getting ready for tonight …
LAWNDALE — Make the drive to Burns High School today and you’ll think you’re driving to West Rowan.
No four-lane highways on this trip.
You’ll go down Highway 150, make a slight right onto Highway 27 and then hit Highway 182. You’ll wonder to yourself, “There’s a high school out here in the woods?”
That’s what Burns people were probably saying when they drove to West Rowan for a playoff matchup a few years ago. West is out in the woods, too.
But that’s what makes high school football special. No boosters doling out big bucks. No shiny, million-dollar facilities. No turf. Just a bunch of good kids and hard-nosed coaches who love the game playing on a worn-out field of grass and dirt.
When you put these two schools together tonight in the Western North Carolina 3A final, it’s like looking in the mirror.
In our preseason football edition, here were our directions to West Rowan:
“Drive 11 miles into the country from Salisbury. Pass the cows, go right at the church, make a left at the second cornfield …”
It’s pretty much the same thing on an excursion to Burns.
Burns is about the same distance from Shelby as West is from Salisbury. About a mile from the school, in the small town of Fallston, there’s Beam Drive.
It’s not named for Burns coach Matt Beam, but they might name one after him if he beats West Rowan. That would put this team — the third Cleveland County school still in the playoffs, by the way — into the state title game in Chapel Hill next week.
That would be the Bulldogs’ first appearance in the Big Dance since 1994 when Ron Greene led the Bulldogs all the way. The stadium is named for the legend.
West has been dancing for three straight years, the first 3A team in N.C. history to win back-to-back-to-back state championships. Falcon Stadium hasn’t been named for Young yet, but it probably will be.

While Shelby and (Don’t call us Shelby) Crest get most of the attention in these parts, it’s hard to forget the school out in the country. A beautiful stadium sits down in a hole with hills on each side of the bleachers for the fan spillover. A big crowd is expected tonight because Shelby and Crest are on the road.

Burns’ stadium is still intact, despite heavy winds over the past two weeks. A tornado touched down recently nearby and on Tuesday night more heavy winds and rain scared the daylights out of the locals. It will be dry tonight, however.

Quick, raise your hand if you thought West Rowan would be in the West final?
Even last year, no one thought B.J. Sherrill’s group could repeat and go undefeated. The Falcons did so in resounding fashion.
This season, everyone said there was no way West could repeat without Sherrill. But there the Falcons were, practicing on Thanksgiving Day.
It’s amazing what the name on the front of that shirt does to foes and to the players who wear it.

After the first playoff game of the postseason, defending state champion Salisbury had rushed for 999 yards in its previous two games. With a 16-7 halftime lead last week at Thomasville, it appeared the battle for county supremacy would continue.
Then Salisbury was outscored 20-0 in the second half and bid farewell to a great senior class.
Head coach Joe Pinyan said he couldn’t believe the Hornets didn’t make it back to the Big Dance.
But the Hornets have established themselves as an annual contender in 2AA.

And finally …
They say football is a game of inches. It is, especially in the newspaper.
A couple of weeks ago, I walked into the Salisbury coaches office and saw Pinyan reading the Friday Post.
“That’s what I like to see,” I crowed. “A man reading the Post.”
“Yeah,” Pinyan cracked, “I’m reading about West Rowan. West picture. West picture. West picture.”
After the games that night that saw Salisbury beat Starmount and West take care of Statesville, the West coaches playfully complained about having to read Friday’s paper with two Salisbury stories.
I liked that. Both teams thought the other was getting too much space.
But those days are over. West is the last team standing.

On the air tonight …
• Hall of Famer Howard Platt and Wilson Cherry will call the West Rowan game on WSTP 1490 AM.
Go to the game tonight, folks. And be nice.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or rgallagher@salisburypost.com.

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