Friday Football Fever: Legend Mark Lowery

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 24, 2012

EAST SPENCER — As an East Carolina Pirate, Mark Lowery charged onto the field at Carter-Finley Stadium with 55,000 N.C. State fans cheering against him, so he knows what an adrenaline rush feels like.
“You see all that red and then you see a little bit of purple here and there, and it’s exciting,” Lowery said. “I’d felt that same excitement and adrenaline when I was in high school — whenever North Rowan played Salisbury.”
Salisbury-North is still big. It’ll be big again tonight when the Cavaliers arrive at Ludwig Stadium looking to make a statement, but it was bigger back in the day. Maybe it wasn’t life-and-death when Lowery was North’s all-county center in the 1970s, but it was close enough.
Salisbury then, is what West Rowan is now.
Boyden High lost badly to South Rowan in 1964, but in 1965 it began a long run against county opponents.
Pete Stout arrived as the head coach in 1966, and the school, which would become known as Salisbury in 1971, didn’t lose to a county foe during his 10-season stay.
Ray Wilson replaced Stout in 1976, and Salisbury beat North and East to extend the no-losses-in-the-county streak to an amazing 12 seasons.
“Salisbury was a hump no one could get over,” Lowery said. “I was around North football a long time with my uncle (Charles Love) and my brother (Buddy) before me, and we just couldn’t beat them. Even when North had Jimmy Heggins — and he was as good as there’s ever been here — we still couldn’t beat Salisbury.”
Lowery personally shouldered the blame for North’s 2-0 setback against the Hornets in 1976.
It was his snap over the head of QB/punter Gil Hobson that handed Salisbury the only two points. That disaster made North’s lifetime record against Salisbury 0-12-2.
“I never saw it,” Lowery said. “I snapped that ball and was running down the field when I heard the crowd yelling. I had to ask (tackle) Marty Thompson what had happened.”
It didn’t take Lowery long to figure it out. Salisbury got that safety early, but North never overcame it.
“That night was so tough,” Lowery said. “But I remember going to the Catawba game the next day and my uncle Charles told me, “Hey, the sun still came up this morning, didn’t it?”
Still, Lowery lugged a burden of guilt for a year.
But the calendar turned to 1977, and his senior year, North hosted the Hornets.
Coached by Larry Thomason, North was 1-2. Salisbury was 3-0, including a win over East that lifted the school’s unbeaten string in county games to 33 in a row.
The Hornets were ranked No. 1 in the state and were expected to continue their dominance of the county.
“We had a sophomore quarterback — Bobby Myers,” Lowery said. “He was pretty special because I don’t remember any sophomore ever starting on the varsity at North before him. But before that game, he was a little nervous.”
Lowery helped settle the kid down, and the offensive line and running backs Kenny Brown and Darrell Foxx took control. Between them, Brown and Foxx pounded for 180 rushing yards.
Lowery was drilled on several snaps on punts. He remembers two 15-yard personal fouls that turned North punting situations into first downs.
Salisbury turned it over six times, Myers threw a TD pass to Kendall Alley, and North prevailed 26-13 in an outcome that stunned the county — and the state.
“There were a lot of turnovers and a lot of big plays,” Lowery said. “It was payback and a great night for our group of seniors. When we were freshmen, I was the quarterback, and we didn’t beat anybody.”
The fallout from North’s epic upset of Salisbury 35 years ago shook both programs. Myers and North would beat the Hornets in 1978 and again in 1979.
Lowery’s big brother, Buddy, now a Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Famer, had been a fine player at East Carolina, and Mark followed him to Greenville.
By 1979, Lowery had built himself up to 250 pounds and was the second-team center as a redshirt freshman. He was elated. That meant he would play for coach Pat Dye in the first road game at N.C. State.
“The second team played the third series of each half to get experience and to build depth,” Lowery said.
But a freak injury during a walk-through to go over blocking assignments set him back. He dislocated three fingers.
“I went from second-team center, sure to play, to scout-team guard and tackle, with no chance to ever play, in just one day,” Lowery said. “But that’s big-time football. You only get one shot.”
So he stood on the sideline at Carter-Finley, heard the roar and felt the adrenaline rush, but he didn’t play.
The 1979 season would be his last fling with football. Three-a-day practices — early morning, late morning, late afternoon — took a toll on his devotion to the sport.
But he earned his degree from ECU and has made a living as a sales rep for 30 years. He still lives in East Spencer in the house where he grew up, and a frequent visitor is notable coach Carl Torbush, who was raised nearby.
And now Lowery’s love affair with football has been fully restored. You may see him at Ludwig tonight — following his Cavaliers.