Prep Football: The West Rowan notebook
By Mike London
The West football notebook …
West Rowanís offense is more heavily reliant on a smashmouth ground game than itís been at any time since 2006 when QB Jamel Carpenter seldom threw. Carpenter either handed off to a young K.P. Parks or Mike McGorda or ran the ball himself.
Still, West is 13-2 and will be in Saturdayís 3A state championship game against Havelock because itís figured out its strengths and does what it does extremely well.
Tailback Dinkin Miller now owns a K.P.-ish 2,438 rushing yards, while Zay Laster has established himself as a punishing running back disguised as a QB. At times, it almost looks like West is running a 1950s-style single wing.
ěYeah, balance is great and weíd love to be a balanced offense, but you figure out your personnel and try to give yourself the best chance possible,î offensive coordinator Joe Nixon explained. ěWe know weíve got a special running back. We know weíve got very good kids upfront. So we run the ball and we try to mix in a pass when people donít expect it. Our guys have bought into that. Theyíve grown up during this season, and for 16 straight weeks now, theyíve gone to work.î
Nixon, who was a standout lineman at Catawba, gets some credit for Westís success, but probably not enough.
ěJoe is the best offensive line coach in the state,î running backs coach Jeff Chapman said. ěHis guys do an unbelievable job.î
TURNING POINT: One of the TV highlight shows on Friday proclaimed after Westís surprisingly routine 33-7 win at Burns that itís been an ěup-and-downî year for the Falcons, although by most measurements 11 straight wins is mostly up.
The turning point obviously came when West was 2-2 and Laster was hobbled by a high ankle sprain.
ěBut we figured out there were two things we could do to win some football games,î Laster said. ěPlay harder than our opponents and be more physical than our opponents. Thatís what weíve done.î
Laster, who has 11 rushing TDs, has been at the heart of Westís resurgence.
Early in the season, West fans wanted him to be another B.J. Sherrill, who broke all sorts of school passing records. But somewhere along the way, fans and media stopped expecting Laster to complete 15 passes a game and started appreciating the things heís really good at.
West has relied more and more on Lasterís legs with each passing week, and he now has more rushing attempts (144) than passing attempts (142).
Laster has averaged 14 rushing attempts per game in Westís last five outings and has accounted for 337 rushing yards in that span.
Laster is a load as a runner, heís a strong leader and heís capable of making a great throw in a big situation. He has tossed 16 touchdown passes and has had at least one TD pass in 10 different games.
PASSING THE TORCH: West senior tight end Louis Kraft backed up all-county Patrick Hampton last season and played whenever West used a two tight end set.
Kraft moved into the starting lineup this season, with Jack Gallagher taking on the backup role that Kraft manned last year.
ěNext year itíll be Jackís turn and weíll need to find us a second tight to take his place,î West head coach Scott Young said. ěThe two tight end set is real important for us.î
TRADITION: Kraft is the son of former West head baseball coach Skip Kraft, who is now the principal at Southeast Middle School.
The younger Kraft says his career goal is to be a history teacher and coach.
3-for-3: West went for two points ń unsuccessfully ó after its first two TDs on Friday, but Young turned to Hobie Proctor to kick three PATS after that.
It was a nice move. Proctor snapped out of a slump by converting all three chances.
It was a confidence boost not only for Proctor, but also for the team as it heads a into a state championship game that may come down to a field goal or PAT.
Also in the kicking game, West has gotten really proficient lately as far as executing on surprise onside kicks, and punter Arturo Vergara continues to do a solid job.
MILLER UPDATE: Millerís extraordinary season now stands at 342 carries for 2,438 yards and 25 TDs.
ěDinkin has grown this year into a great running back,î Kraft said. ěItís been really fun to watch him and itís been great for all the blockers just to have a part in the season heís had.î
MORGAN UPDATE: Jarvis Morgan caught two passes for 46 yards and one TD on Friday and now has 942 receiving yards this year.
Thirteen of Lasterís 16 TD passes have gone to Morgan.
Only two Falcon receivers ó Jon Crucitti (2009) and Chavis Cowan (1994) ó have enjoyed 1,000-yard seasons.
DEFENSE: Westís defense had one breakdown on the last play of the first half that allowed Burns to score.
ěWe had linebackers walking up 4 yards from the line of scrimmage when we needed to be defending the 1-yard line,î Young said. ěAnd they threw the ball to the 1-yard line.î
Westís defense made up for it with a huge three-and-out to open the second half and the unit forced five turnovers in what may have been its best overall effort all season.
Facing a quarterback and running back who have put up magnificent numbers, West permitted 119 rushing yards and 100 passing yards.
Both Treys ó lineman Shepherd and DB Cuthbertson ó had huge games.
West now has forced 31 turnovers this season, including 19 interceptions. West is plus-5 on turnovers for the year.
Turnovers are still the most critical stat of all. Westís offense and special teams coughed up seven turnovers in the two early games the Falcons lost.
THE NUMBERS: Looking at Westís championship seasons:
The 2008 team (15-1) scored 612 points while allowing 147.
The 2009 team (16-0) scored 648 points and allowed 176.
The 2010 team (16-0) scored 649 points and allowed just 113, setting school records for most points scored per game (40.6) and fewest allowed (7.1).
By the raw numbers, West hasnít been quite as overwhelming in 2011 ó 491 points scored, 222 allowed ó but you have to factor in that the schedule (which added South Pointe, S.C., and Reidsville) had to be the most challenging the Falcons have ever undertaken.
South Pointe is as special as looked that Saturday in Mount Ulla. It plays Bluffton in a South Carolina state title game on Saturday at Clemson.
TICKETS: West Rowan is selling tickets for the 3A championship game at the school through Friday at 1 p.m.
Pre-sale cost is $9.
Tickets are $10 at the gate. Parking will be $10.
Kickoff at UNCís Kenan Stadium is at 11 a.m. on Saturday.