Prep Football: West at Burns in Western 3A final
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA ó West Rowan football coach Scott Young spent some time Tuesday lining up a chaplain.
Not because West watched film of Burns (13-1) and felt the need for extra prayers, but because the Falcons are making a rare road trip tonight for the 3A West final, and making sure someone is on hand to lead pregame devotions in Cleveland County is just one more detail Young had to handle.
West has won three straight state championships playing away from the friendly confines of Mount Ulla, in neutral college stadiums, but tonight will be the Falconsí first honest-to-goodness playoff road trip into a hostile environment since Nov. 19, 2004.
West had a field goal blocked on the final play that night and lost 22-19 in a 3A second-rounder to Winston-Salem Parkland.
West dropped playoff home games in 2005 (A.L. Brown), 2006 (Anson) and 2007 (North Gaston) before it started its amazing current roll of 18 consecutive playoff wins ó all in Mount Ulla ó in 2008.
Could the 2008 Falcons have topped Carver in Winston-Salem? Could the 2010 Falcons have handled Hibriten in Lenoir?
Maybe. But those are questions West wasnít called on to answer. Itís different tonight. West (12-2) will play a team with a loftier seed and a better record and shinier stats, and theyíll have to do it on the road.
Asked if playing at Burnsí Ron Greene Stadium would be a fun adventure of sorts, Young groaned like a tranquilized elephant.
ěIíd much prefer playing at home, and not just because of the crowd,î he said. ěI think once the game starts, our kids will be fine anywhere, but thereís just so much extra logistical stuff to deal with whenever you go on the road.î
In other words, West will be out of its ultra-successful routine.
ěThereís just a lot of different things that come into play going on the road,î Young said. ěYouíve got a pregame meal to think about, and weíre leaving real early for the game because thereís no school. Then weíll stop at Newton-Conover for a walk-through.î
West is expected to be reasonably healthy for this time of year when it arrives in Cleveland County. Several linemen are nicked up, but theyíll play.
West will play a team similar to itself, in everything from light blue uniforms to stingy defense. The address for Burns is ěStagecoach Trail, Lawndale,î which sounds as country as ěFloydís Barber Shop, Mayberry,î but like the Falcons, Burns offers big-time athletes in a rural setting.
If you wanted to find a chink in the armor of the 2008-10 Falcons, you had to search for a while before you finally gave up.
This year, chinks arenít hard to spot, but West is still 12-2 and has won 10 straight. In some respects, the fact that this bunch has overcome its shortcomings with coaching and work ethic makes it even more admirable than those well-oiled machines that trampled foes and won state titles.
Westís defense isnít quite as awesome as itís been some years, but itís very good, especially against the run. Led by lineman Greg Dixon and linebacker Logan Stoodley, West allows just 76 rushing yards per game.
The other area where West is exceptional is running the ball. Only Mooresville on opening night has held the Falcons under 200 rushing yards. Senior tailback Dinkin Miller is a force ó tough, fast, shifty, smart and reliable. He has 2,172 rushing yards and 22 TDs. The guys who block for him are unselfish and hard-nosed.
Quarterback Zay Laster is a better leader and runner than passer, but heís capable of making big plays against a Burns defense that runs a stack defense similar to Salisburyís and will likely put eight men in the box.
Laster (10 rushing TDs, 15 passing TDs) is probably the key guy. He has to hit some throws to Jarvis Morgan (12 receiving TDs) to give Westís offense some element of unpredictability.
West is an ugly 7-for-25 passing in the playoffs. Still, Laster exudes confidence that he can do whatever is necessary to win.
Burns has a rugged defense and two special guys on offense.
Quarterback Brandon Littlejohn is a superb athlete who averages 20-plus points on the basketball court. Heís thrown for well over 7,000 yards in his career and has broken all the Cleveland County records.
ěHeís a great quarterback,î Young said. ěExceptional athlete. Very good runner, very good thrower. I donít think he runs it quite as well as (Statesvilleís) Tristan Mumford or throws with as much accuracy as (Concordís) B.J. Beecher, but heís a multiple threat. He does both things well.î
Burns, as a rule, employs a shotgun spread offense with four wideouts. Darius Ramsey is usually Littlejohnís only backfield partner and Young is equally concerned about him. Ramsey is a stocky guy cut from the same cloth as West legend K.P. Parks.
When Burns whipped previously unbeaten Franklin last week, Franklin won the coin toss and deferred its choice to the second half. Burns took the opening kickoff and scored easily in 90 seconds. Ramsey did the work.
ěHeís got speed and power,î Young said. ěHeíll be as good as anyone weíve seen.î
Both teams have played brutal schedules. Westís you know about. Burns has beaten Shelby (2AA), Crest (3AA) and Mooresville (4A), all of whom are in West finals tonight. Burns also handed Freedom, denied a playoff berth after a fight, its only loss.
Burnsí lone setback was to strong South Point in overtime.
ěBurns is really good, and we know weíve got to play well for 48 minutes,î Young said. ěBut it bothers me that some people arenít giving us a chance tonight. I donít think our kids get enough credit for the way they compete, and I like our gameplan.î
Sounds like West is going to be playing against Parks and B.J. Sherrill, but when youíve won 56 of 58, you deserve credit. The computer folks say Burns rolls 36-20. Weíll count on Westís defense ó and the chaplain. West 22, Burns 20, for a trip to Chapel Hill.