London column: Appreciate what West Rowan has accomplished
CHAPEL HILL — Fifty years ago when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were slugging baseballs out of ballparks at a dizzying pace, a sportswriter asked New York Yankees manager Ralph Houk why it had gotten so easy to hit home runs.
Houk, who had belted a grand total of zero homers in his eight big league seasons as a backup catcher had the right answer.
“All I know is it was never too damn easy for me,” he said.
That story applies to today’s West Rowan football team. West rolled so gracefully for so long and made winning look so routine that everyone took it for granted. But it was never anywhere near as easy as the Falcons were making it look.
That it was special coaches and special players working extraordinarily hard to make all that winning happen week after week was never more evident than on a chilly Saturday in Chapel Hill when everything fell apart at the worst possible time.
“No one wins them all,” West coach Scott Young reminded the world. “Even though, at times, we almost do.”
The 2011 Falcons were rarely flawless — the regional final against Burns being the notable exception — and they looked awfully human in taking a 38-6 beating from a faster Havelock team in the 3A state championship game. It was the most lopsided loss for West football since it accepted a 35-0 licking from Mooresville late in the 2002 regular season
“Havelock came at us and they deserved to win,” said West quarterback Zay Laster, whose quiet day included 73 passing yards. “They had our number, and they simply outplayed us. We had opportunities to make some big plays, but we never capitalized.”
West fumbled and stumbled, but rather than making people disgusted or disappointed, it should make everyone appreciate the odds this year’s staff and team beat to get themselves back to a state championship game. These are good high school players, but it’s not like Young had a locker room full of future Division I stalwarts waiting to sign with LSU or Alabama.
Pregame analysts pointed out Havelock’s blinding speed at the skill positions, but those of us who have gotten used to watching West physically dominate in the trenches figured the Falcons’ linemen, who had a substantial size advantage, would be the equalizer.
But size didn’t matter. West was whipped upfront on both sides of the ball.
Havelock turned West’s own offensive linemen into land mines for Laster and tailback Dinkin Miller by chopping and cutting them.
“They kept creating huge piles of bodies,” Young said. “Nothing illegal about it, just smart football.”
At times, there were so many bodies, Miller appeared to be trying to pick his way through a forest of fallen trees. He did his best, but his 132-yard day was deceiving. In the first half, when it still mattered, he was held to 39 on 13 carries.
“It was like there were always three guys to block on my side,” said West offensive tackle Rashad Sherrill. “They’d make a pile and then their safeties would come flying up to make a hit.”
As far as West’s defensive line, Havelock was smart enough not to ask its blockers to attack beasts such as Trey Shepherd and Greg Dixon head on. Instead, their mobile linemen shielded West defenders just long enough for swift receivers and running back Derrell Scott to get to the perimeter. Once they were on the edge, the Rams out-sprinted the Falcons, and West’s linebackers missed tackles in space on key third downs.
The Rams (16-0) amassed 213 rushing yards, becoming only the third team during West’s great four-year run to top 200, and the first to do it in a playoff game.
“We can almost always make a team one-dimensional by taking away the run,” Young said.
But not this time — and Havelock’s nimble-footed, quick-releasing QB Garrett Crowe added 151 pinpoint passing yards.
It started badly from West’s opening kickoff that handed the Rams field position at their 48. It was 14-0 midway through the first quarter, and a lot of West’s ball-control gameplan was out the window. When Havelock got 10 points in the last 42 seconds of the half to lead 24-0, it was all but over.
“They were good, but we know we didn’t play like we could have,” West guard Brandon Hansen said quietly. “It’s not like they’re 32 points better than we are.”
On Saturday they were, but the Falcons can feel good about a staggering 60-4 run over the past four seasons, the greatest stretch by any program in county history.
The Falcons handled their painful demise with cheers, tears and class.
“Sometimes you just get beat by the better man,” Young said, as Falcons huddled for the final time in 2011. “The competitor in me wants to play Havelock again tomorrow, but you only get one shot. But hold your chins up. Look people in the eye. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished.”
Young promised the faithful West would continue to be an annual contender.
With his track record, no one should doubt him.