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Prep Football Playoff Preview: South Iredell at Salisbury in 2AA West Final

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY – Before Joe Pinyan was famous, his dog actually won one of the Post’s “Pick the Winners’ contests.
Seriously. That’s too wild to make up.
While that remarkable retriever was no doubt smarter than most members of the Animal Kingdom – not to mention most sportswriters – we’re thinking that the clever canine got at least some assistance from his master. In other words – Joe knows football.
Pinyan leads his Hornets into another Western final tonight at Ludwig Stadium at 7:30 p.m. South Iredell, an up-and-coming program under up-and-coming coach Scott Miller, furnishes quality opposition.
Salisbury (11-2) actually reaches this high-profile game after grinding away under the radar all season. It’s not incredibly easy to stay under the radar while winning 10 straight outings, but the Hornets pulled it off, mostly because everyone always assumes that Pinyan’s Hornets will win their share.
The Hornets fell opening night to East Rowan, and the resurgent Mustangs were a big story all fall.
After Salisbury lost to West Rowan in Week 3, the Hornets stood 1-2 and were either the third or fourth best team in Rowan County depending on which expert you talked to.
West also was a bigger story than Salisbury until the Falcons were eliminated from the playoffs. “Can the Falcons make it back to a fifth straight 3A state championship game?” was a question being asked all over the state, not just in Rowan County.
It was after that loss to West that he Hornets, who appeared to have just an OK offense and an average defense, could’ve disappeared quietly, but they didn’t. Instead, to use the current coachspeak, they kept “chopping wood” and quietly kept getting a little better every week as they trudged through CCC play.
People started noticing the Hornets for the first time when they won via a miracle play against Thomasville to take charge of the CCC race. A lot more people started noticing after they erased a three-TD deficit in the fourth quarter on the road to eliminate High Point Andrews last week.
Pinyan is a great coach, and while everyone has agreed for many years that he’s a good one, it’s time to acknowledge that he’s one of the best in county history.
Yes, Salisbury generally has exceptional athletes, but it should be remembered that in the 10 seasons before Pinyan took the head job, the Hornets were 33-77. We’re not making that up, either. Yes, 33-77.
In the 10 years since Pinyan has been at the helm, the Hornets have won an even 100 and lost 35, and that’s counting four games as losses that the Hornets won on the field in 2008 but later had to forfeit. That’s a Hall of Fame record.
“They surprised me with a nice ceremony at school on Tuesday to recognize the 100,” Pinyan said. “The funny thing if we hadn’t had those forfeits, that crazy Thomasville game would’ve been No. 100. Instead, No. 100 was the crazy High Point Andrews game.”
It should be noted that Salisbury has been a good road playoff team under Pinyan and an even better home team. Salisbury is 13-2 in the playoffs the last four seasons, with the losses coming in the Western Regional final at Newton-Conover in 2009 and in the third round at Thomasville in 2011. Salisbury, which won a state title in 2010, has not lost a home playoff game since 2007.
Before Pinyan came to Salisbury he was defensive coordinator for Mike Carter at Mooresville, and the football coaching fraternity is a small world.
“One of our volunteer coaches was Scott Miller,” Pinyan said. “He worked with us on defense and helped with our defensive backs. He was intense and he could inspire players. It wasn’t hard to see that he was going to be a very good coach.”
Carter’s Mooresville teams were 134-40 from 1989-2002, and two coaches who worked under him will square off tonight in Salisbury, with one moving on to the 2AA state championship at 7 p.m. at N.C. State on Dec. 1.
“South Iredell runs the same defense we do, and that’s where you’ll see similarities from being part of the same defensive staff,” Pinyan said. “They’ve got a lot of rough, tough kids on defense. Offensively, though, we’re quite a bit different.”
The Vikings average right at 38 points per game. They’ve posted three shutouts and allow only 11.5 points a game. Based on the numbers, the Vikings will have the edge defensively tonight.
South Iredell (12-2) was superb in all phases last week in throttling Bandys 45-14. South Iredell held Bandys to 2 yards per rushing attempt and 173 total yards. Offensively, the Vikings got 136 yards and three TDs from big back LaChaston Smith.
Rashad Degree has rushed for 912 yards this season. Davin King has thrown for 1,524 yards and 12 TDs.
“They’re more wide-open on offense than we are and throw it a lot more,” Pinyan said. “It’s a high-pressure offense, like Oregon’s. They like to run a play every 15 seconds.”
Salisbury’s offense attacks out of the wishbone formation and is spearheaded by three senior backs.
Quarterback Brian Bauk directs the option and has rushed for 1,239 yards (a county record for QBs), thrown for 910, and accounted for 26 TDs.
Halfback Justin Ruffin was quiet last week but has rushed for 1,462 yards and scored 30 TDs. The other halfback, Max Allen, has rushed for 886 yards and has scored 12 times. Ruffin and Allen do double duty as Bauk’s primary receivers.
Salisbury averages 39 points a game, while allowing 23. “Hornet” Keion Adams (six interceptions) leads Salisbury’s defense.
South Iredell lost early to Statesville, which is playing in the 3AA Western final tonight, and the Vikings lost late in the regular seeason to Newton-Conover. Both those losses were at home, so the Vikings are unbeaten on the road.
While Salisbury is a veteran of regional finals, South Iredell will be playing this deep in the postseason for the first time in school history.
Salisbury has started slowly in every playoff game, but it has been able to do special things in the second half three straight weeks. South Iredell, in contrast, has been a quick-starting team, seizing games by the throat early.
“It should be a great game,” Pinyan said. “I hope the whole county will come out and support us.”•NOTES: South Iredell High is in the Troutman-Barium Spring area. It opened in 1966. South Iredell swelled to 4A size at one point, but the opening of Lake Norman in 2002 knocked it back to the 2A ranks. The Vikings spent the 2003 and 2004 seasons in the CCC. Salisbury won 28-23 in 2003 (Pinyan’s first season) and won 32-6 in 2004. … When South Iredell won at Canton Pisgah in the second round, it was the program’s first road playoff win since 1991. … … Carrboro or Jacksonville Northside will represent the East in the 2AA title game. … South Iredell has been outstanding the past three seasons, and meetings with Salisbury have been expected. Finally, that matchup will occur. … The pick: Salisbury 24, South Iredell 21.

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