Friday Night Hero: South Rowan’s Michael Sloop
By Mike London
LANDIS — Michael Sloop’s quantifiable stats were modest on Friday — two carries for 8 yards and a touchdown, two receptions for 20 yards, plus six tackles on defense.
But the 5-foot-11, 175-pound sophomore had an awful lot to do with a 19-16 win over Carson that brought sheer joy to South Rowan fans.
“Almost every yard we got on offense was because of Sloop’s blocking,” South coach Daniel Yow said. “We talk about being unselfish. It’s not about stats. It’s about helping your team win the ballgame. And anyone who played in that game on Friday will tell you Sloop was big.”
Sloop’s role on offense is usually as the H-back. He’s a lead blocker on South’s running plays. Those plays are power-oriented. South wasn’t trying to trick the Cougars — it planned to run over them 4 yards at a time. That meant Sloop steaming through a gap and taking on a linebacker with either running back Sayquan Anthony or quarterback Austin Chrismon following him.
South would rush for 260 yards, the most for the Raiders since their final game in 2014 against East Rowan. That East game also was the last one they’d won on the field before Friday.
“I believe we ran 66 plays against Carson, and at least 50 were isos (isolation plays) behind Sloop,” Yow said. “We ran double isos, and we ran quarterback isos, but always some form of iso.”
Sloop is well-suited for the blocking role he’s accepted at South because he enjoys contact as much as average people enjoy hamburgers, Cokes and fries.
“I just like to hit people,” Sloop said. “When you’ve got people on your team that can run the ball better than you, then you should be happy to block for them. That role clicked for me.”
The Sloop name is a familiar one in southern Rowan. Sloop’s older brother Brandon, who now wrestles at UNC Pembroke, was one of the most productive backs in county history. He rushed for 4,824 yards for Carson to rank third in Rowan County history.
Brandon, a state wrestling champ, was Rowan County Athlete of the Year for the 2014-15 school year, but it’s Michael’s time now, and he looks tough enough to make a name for himself.
Michael played linebacker for Carson’s jayvees as a freshman before transferring to South later in the school year. He has family at South. His step-mother Aliyah Sloop is a Catawba graduate who teaches science at South.
Going into the Carson game, Sloop knew he’d be called on to play both ways because linebacker Tyler Belk had sustained a concussion in the Cox Mill game. That was fine with Sloop. It meant more chances to hit people.
South has been much better running the ball this season than it was in 2015. That steady improvement had gone almost unnoticed, but the week before the Carson game, the Raiders managed 167 rushing yards against Cox Mill.
South trailed Carson, 8-0, after a quarter, but Sloop barreled into the end zone from the 2-yard line to cut the deficit to 8-6 in the second quarter.
“My first high school touchdown was against Carson, and that was nice,” Sloop said. “Mark Austin made the block.”
South then took the lead with a time-consuming third-quarter march. There were lots of conventional isos with Sloop plowing a path for Anthony and lots of quarterback isos. Chrismon would fake a handoff to Sloop and then follow right behind him.
Chrismon would have a career rushing game — 164 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns.
“We found out a lot about ourselves against Carson and guys saw that we can win games by gaining 3 or 4 or 5 yards at a clip,” Yow said. “We never got in a hurry. We just kept executing, and there’s no reason we can’t keep doing it.”
Sloop also did his part on the defensive end. TV highlights shows on Friday showed Sloop flying up to bury Carson quarterback Cole Sifford on an option play.
Sifford was filling in for Owen White, who was involved in baseball activities in Florida, but Sifford, the No. 4 rusher in the county, presented a different sort of threat running the option.
“Owen is bigger, but Cole is a lot faster,” Sloop said. “He can go all the way any time. I had a good hit on him. I think he’d turned his head to look at the pitch man and didn’t see me coming.”
When Carson scored with 3:02 remaining to take a 16-13 lead, it appeared that South would have to settle for another discouraging near-miss, but this was the Raiders’ night.
They started their game-winning drive in Carson territory — and they finished it.
“Nobody panicked and time management was good,” Yow said. “We didn’t have to change any play calls. We took one shot at the end zone that didn’t work, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. If we’d scored quickly, we might have left Carson with enough time to come back.”
Instead, South scored the winning TD with 37 seconds left. A surprise bootleg pass from Chrismon to Sloop down the left sideline put the ball at the 5-yard line, and then Chrismon got the touchdown.
“I’d been asking to run that pass play all night,” Sloop said. “It was open.”
The win — his first on the field in two seasons as head coach — left Yow, a former Catawba offensive lineman, with a lot to process. His first victory had come against Joe Pinyan, who had given Yow his start in high school coaching at Salisbury.
“I’m very grateful he gave me my shot,” Yow said. “But on a Friday night, he’s just another coach I’m trying to beat.”
Sloop also had a lot to process. Still two months shy of getting his driver’s license, he’d spent years cheering for Carson, and then he’d attended Carson. Now he’d helped beat Carson.
It’s a night he’ll never forget, but now the Raiders must move on. South is at Central Cabarrus on Friday.
“The next game is always the most important,” Sloop said. “We’re going to be all right. The kids at South like to play football.”
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