SALISBURY — Salisbury had a point to make in Friday’s game with Thomasville.
Two more points and its season would look dramatically different.
The Hornets suffered their second one-point defeat in three games in the latest installment in a grueling Central Carolina Conference rivalry. The Bulldogs left Ludwig Stadium in a hurry, knowing they’d escaped after a 15-14 decision.
It was another eccentric chapter in the history between the history between both teams. Thomasville won committing five turnovers and Salisbury (1-8, 1-2) couldn’t finish after scoring touchdowns 14 seconds apart in the first half.
“I feel bad for our kids,” Salisbury coach Ryan Crowder said. “Our defense played the best game we played all year. We just made too many mistakes.”
Thomasville (4-5, 3-0) got Brett Hokenson to boot a 27-yard field goal to complete the scoring in the third quarter. The win set up a de facto CCC title game next week against top-ranked North Rowan.
Salisbury held a 14-0 lead at halftime before the Bulldogs answered with 15 straight in the third quarter.
“We challenged them at halftime to play harder and let’s see what happens,” Thomasville assistant Dickie Cline said.
Salisbury scored two touchdowns 14 seconds apart in the second quarter, landing a haymaker to Thomasville’s right eye.
“We came out flat and unmotivated and I don’t know why,” Cline said.
Salisbury forced and recovered four fumbles and got a interception from Darius Jackson.
Salisbury quarterback Riley Myers completed all five first-half passes but was tagged with three interceptions in the second half. Freshman Ja’hare Taylor Thomas grabbed two, the first of which ended in a 65-yard return for a touchdown to get the Bulldogs on the board.
After a 143-yard effort last week, Thomasville running back Demoris Payne got 120 yards out of a 24-carry night. His 58-yard run helped set up the go-ahead field goal.
“We only gave up nine points if you think about it,” Crowder said. “The defense just played their butts off.”
Thomas, a freshman, turned things around on the third play of the second half, picking off a deep pass from Myers and following a convoy into the end zone to give Thomasville the jolt it needed. Four plays after that, Myers couldn’t handle an awkward snap and the Bulldogs recovered.
“There were just some big turnovers that killed us,” Crowder said. “It’s something we haven’t been able to shake.”
Five plays later, DJ Spann scored from four yards out to pull Thomasville within 14-12.
After a scoreless first quarter, Myers hit Jon Mark Petty for a 31-yard touchdown pass to begin the scoring. After the kickoff, the Hornets recovered a fumble at the Thomasville 18. The Hornets cashed in one play later when Tim Rhodes carried it in. The Stephen Mazur extra point gave Salisbury a sudden 14-0 edge that looked to be getting bigger when Darius Jackson recovered a fumble.
Thomasville’s win broke the streak of the home team winning the last five meetings in the series. Salisbury fell to 0-5 at home two weeks after a 33-32 loss to East Davidson in the CCC opener.
Salisbury recovered a fumble with 3:44 left to set up a dramatic finish. The turnover gave the Hornets first-and-10 at the Thomasville 40. They faced fourth-and-5 and Myers’ rollout pass to Petty couldn’t connect.
“Coulda, woulda, shoulda,” Crowder concluded. “That just shows you we’re a good team. It’s just dang-on hard dealing with the disappointment that follows these close losses.”
Rhodes was Salisbury’s leading rusher with 75 yards on 14 carries. Myers completed eight passes for 94 yards. Salisbury faces West Davidson next week.
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