Shaw column: Havelock wasn't intimidated by West Rowan's mystique

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2011

CHAPEL HILL — Sooner or later, even the greatest stories lose their magic.
But while we all witnessed the end of West Rowan’s whirl as we know it, another chapter — one just as fascinating — was launched Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
Say hello to the unbeaten Havelock Rams, your 2011 state champions. This is a team that’s spent the season cruising like a sports car along the Monaco coastline, a team that needed a calculator to measure its offensive exploits, a team that never encountered a speedbump, much less the dreaded “Exit Here” sign.
A team that sent West Rowan tumbling from its customary perch.
“We were playing West Rowan, but also West Rowan’s mystique,” winning coach Jim Bob Bryant told reporters after his team dropped a 38-6 anvil on the Falcons. “They won the last three state championships, but a lot of those guys are gone. Whoever we play, they’re a faceless opponent.”

That’s certainly how they treated West. Havelock performed without fear of failing, cushioned by an offensive line that provided secret-service protection for record-setting quarterback Garrett Crowe, a defensive line that won more battles than it lost and the comfort of an early 14-0 lead. In many ways it wasn’t big hands or long arms or quick feet that dethroned West. It was Havelock’s enlarged heart.
“We knew all about West Rowan and their titles,” chirped left guard Derek Nelson — a 6-3, 285-pound specimen being recruited by, among others, Catawba and the Ivy League. “How could we not? They’re not Supermen because they won three state championships. And it’s still a football field, 100 yards long. Once the game starts we don’t think about what team we’re playing. We think about Havelock.”

Right from the start, it was obvious the Rams didn’t come here to kiss Scott Young’s rings. Never mind that West had accrued 19 consecutive postseason wins or averaged nearly 400 yards total offense per game during this, its remarkable-if-imperfect season. After enduring near-misses the past two years, Havelock arrived with a single ambition — to complete its evolution into a championship team.
“I’m just happy that the team finally got what it deserved,” Crowe said after tossing his 37th and 38th touchdown passes, then bootlegging for another. “This team worked harder than I’ve ever seen anybody work.”
The Rams, 16-0 in your Sunday morning newspaper, were more resourceful than scary. Their dominance was most evident in the first half, when West was limited to 89 yards, four first downs and only one snap in Havelock territory.
“The key?” said run-stuffer Malcolm Ashley, a 6-4, 260-pound junior. “We did our job. It was just hard-playing, doing what we do best, reading and getting to the quarterback.”
That would be West’s Zay Laster, a scrambler first and passer second who routinely found his path cluttered by any number of Havelock defenders.
“There were no holes,” noted WR scatback Dinkin Miller. “They were sticking us in the mouth. They’re whole defensive line was fast, real fast.”

Crowe, meanwhile, coupled a bazooka arm with a soft touch to dissect West’s defense with the precision of a surgeon. He lofted a 28-yard TD pass to wideout Pharoh Cooper — liberated by blown coverage down the left side — for a first-quarter score. Then with 42 seconds remaining in the first half he threaded a 36-yard touchdown pass to Cooper, who made a magnificent, over-the-shoulder grab in traffic. Before the marching bands swept onto the field, a West fumble paved the way for a last-second Zach Lahaie field goal that gave the Rams a 24-0 halftime lead.
“Even then,” Nelson said, “we never gave up. We kept pushing them. We came out in the second half like it was zero-zero and kept our foot on the gas pedal.”

They did it with Crowe, the championship-game MVP, at the wheel.
“He’s not the fastest quarterback we’ve ever had,” said his father, Havelock receivers coach Chris Crowe. “But he’s smart and he understands. He can read defensive schemes on the field and orchestrate an offense.”
It was music West simply did not want to hear. Watching the Falcons shuffle off the field was like watching Superman bleed. They didn’t come to Chapel Hill looking for trouble, but that’s exactly what they found in the Rams — the team that took aim and shot Liberty Valance.
“They controlled the game from the first snap to the last snap,” Young conceded. “They took it from us and ran with it.
“Havelock started it,” he added a moment later, “and we didn’t finish.”