Published 12:00 am Friday, September 20, 2013
MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan ballboy B.J. Sherrill was a seventh-grader, and his eyes were growing wider with each collision.
He’d never seen a crowd so big in Mount Ulla and had never seen players hit each other so hard.
It was October 21, 2005, and even at that late date in the prep football season, two undefeated teams shared the field. North Piedmont Conference rivals Northwest Cabarrus and West were both 8-0, making it arguably the biggest game either school had ever played.
West safety Zeb Link recalls that his weightlifting class transported bleachers from the baseball, softball and tennis venues to surround the football field with more seating for the expected SRO crowd, and it’s a good thing they did.
“The Post had done a good job of building the game up as the NPC Super Bowl,” chuckled Wade Moore, who broke records as West’s senior tailback. “Both teams undefeated. The NPC championship on the line. We had great crowds that year, but on that night there was extra excitement. However many thousands of people were in the stadium, it was a big advantage for us. We needed everything that crowd could give us.”
When Moore was a sophomore, West coach Scott Young had tailback Joe Jackson rushing for 1,360 yards, so Moore lined up at different positions and learned the ropes.
“Joe was very good, and I picked up a lot from him,” Moore said. “He was as responsible for my success as anyone.”
Moore’s junior and senior seasons (2004-05) as the spearhead of West’s potent offense were outstanding. He had 1,491 rushing yards and 18 TDs for the NPC co-champs in 2004 and 2,225 rushing yards and 32 TDs for a powerhouse in 2005. No one in county history had ever run for as many yards (4,256) or scored as many TDs (53), although K.P. Parks would come along a few years later to raise the county rushing bar to a whole different level.
Moore had a 284-yard rushing game against Salisbury in West’s fifth game in 2005 and came into the epic Northwest clash with a streak of 11 straight 100-yard games.
Always in the shadow of A.L. Brown and Concord, Northwest was not a football power often, but it had a strong group of multi-sport athletes at that time. Kyle Seager, now the Seattle Mariners third baseman, is remembered, but the Faggart twins, Jake and Jerod, were special too. The Faggarts were good friends of Moore, their travel-ball baseball teammate.
“We had a rivalry with Northwest because they were one of the few schools that could challenge us then in the big three sports,” Moore said. “In baseball, they were going to win the league or we were, and I can remember Seager beating West in basketball on our court with a last-second shot. We usually had the slight edge on Northwest, but they always pushed us.”
Northwest, coached by Mike Helms, got off to a strong start in the 2005 football season. Jerod ran over people, Jake threw, and the Trojans rolled.
It was the first year of a NCHSAA realignment, and with South Rowan and East Rowan in 4A, and with A.L. Brown in the SPC, the NPC consisted of West, Northwest and five Iredell schools.
The bad news for Northwest prior to its showdown with West was that Jake, the quarterbacking Faggart twin, tore an ACL. Even as a convoy of Northwest fans streamed through the countryside to Mount Ulla, they knew it would be an uphill fight without Jake. Still, they had faith in a defense anchored by Anthony “Whopper” Williams, a burly, yet agile lineman, who would go on to star at Appalachian State.
West’s answer to “Whopper” was Tristan Dorty, a defensive beast who would play in the Shrine Bowl and at Wake Forest.
“Tristan was so strong, so explosive, so tenacious,” Moore said. “You just don’t see players like him in high school. There were elite players on both sides that night. And on that stage, there was so much adrenaline. Guys stepped up to a high level. And even without Jake, Northwest was capable of beating us.”
Jerod Faggart sprinted onto the field, wearing his brother’s jersey, and Northwest fans got a little crazier. And then they played the game.
Moore had run wild all season and Lamont Savage had been a dazzling receiver, but on this night there were no holes, and “Whopper” was smashing into Moore every snap.
Safety Brandon Lockard had to quarterback the Trojans, and they weren’t gaining an inch against West’s fierce defense led by Dorty, linebacker Julian Samolu and Link, who still holds the school record with 21 career interceptions.
When Link tackled Jerod on the sideline, they tumbled into the overflow crowd. A strong guy helped Link to his feet, and Link recognized him immediately — it was Carolina Panthers safety Mike Minter. Everyone was in Mount Ulla that night.
Northwest had field position throughout the first half because of Mario Lynch’s pick, a muffed punt and a punt return by Connor Bean and took a 3-0 lead to halftime on Andrew Crutchfield’s field goal. Moore’s 11 carries had netted just 30 yards, and the battered Falcons owned one first down at the break.
“Never,” said Coach Young, “had I been in a ballgame where field position was so critical and first downs were at such a premium.”
A blocked punt by Corey Robinson finally flipped field position, and the Falcons drove 40 yards early in the fourth quarter for a 6-3 lead. Moore got the TD from the 4.
“I just kept running hard,” Moore said. “I had to hope they would miss an assignment or maybe I could run through an arm tackle. I have to say our defense finally won it for us. Northwest kept going three-and-out, their defense stayed on the field, and we finally wore them down.”
A clutch punt return by Savage and a 20-yard run by Moore set up Moore’s second TD with two minutes left, and QB Shane Weimer’s 2-point conversion pass to basketball hero Jamel Carpenter made it 14-3.
That was the final.
Moore finished with 112 of West’s 136 rushing yards. The Falcons had negative passing yards and six first downs.
Northwest moved the chains five times and managed a total of 80 yards.
“A great defensive struggle,” Moore said. “One of the toughest games I ever played in — but one of the most fun.”
After surviving the Trojans, West won the NPC and went 11-0 in the regular season. They became only the second team in county history to reach 13-0 and the first since East in 1969. The Falcons finished 13-1, losing to A.L. Brown in the third round of the playoffs.
Northwest finished 10-2, but Trojan fans still insist it would’ve been different if they hadn’t lost their QB. Maybe it would’ve been.
It’s worth recalling that awesome game now because an undefeated Northwest team (3-0, 1-0) visits Mount Ulla tonight for West’s SPC opener. It’s the game of the week for TV stations and radio stations, including WSTP-1490.
Sherrill, the wide-eyed West ballboy, would go on to break the county record for TD passes and would quarterback the Falcons to three state titles. He’s now at Catawba.
Moore is finished with pro baseball, but his athletic career continues. He’s helping coach Jim Gantt with Catawba’s team this fall.
Moore, Link and Ryan Query, all of whom were standouts for Catawba baseball, have excelled in the early phases of a NASCAR pit-crew training program and start their next stage on Oct. 28. Link, a lifelong friend of Moore’s, has been working in marketing for Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs is funding their training.
Link and Query are potential tire-changers. Moore, 25, still strong and fast, could have a future as a jack man.
“We’re practicing, doing the reps and getting in the best shape we can be in,” Moore said. “The goal is to be part of a big-time team.”
In 2005, he was part of a big-time game.