Prep Football: West, North face big road games
By Mike London
West Rowan and North Rowan enter the 10th week of the prep football season with strong conference-championship aspirations.
Both are top-10 caliber teams in their respective classifications, although neither has been ranked in the state media poll. Both got votes this week.
West Rowan lost to Davie County, 41-0, in Week 2, prompting widespread panic, but coach Joe Nixon remained calm and reminded everyone the Falcons were at exactly the same place — 1-1 — that they were in 2015 after two games. They just needed to get better.
In Week 3, Nixon moved Kortez Weeks from quarterback to receiver and elevated Payne Stolsworth from sophomore sub to starting quarterback.
It’s been the best personnel move of the season. Weeks returned to his role of being the county’s finest receiver and one of the best in county history, while Stolsworth has been more efficient throwing the football than anyone could’ve dreamed. He’s not mobile, but West’s offensive line protects him, and Stolsworth throws accurately. He’s completed 60 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and is averaging 188 passing yards per game since he became the starter.
Weeks (10 TD catches in six games as a receiver) and Jovon Quarles (six straight games with more than 100 rushing yards) give West a dynamic 1-2 offensive punch. If you commit two defenders to containing Weeks, the Falcons will be happy to run the ball. Load up the box to slow down Quarles and Martavio Rankin, and Weeks is going to get open and Stolsworth is going to find him.
It’s offensive balance at its best.
West’s defense also is much tougher than the stats reveal at first glance.
Sixteen TDs have been scored against West in eight games, but only 12 came when West’s defense was on the field. Two were on punt blocks. Two were on fumble returns.
Of the 12 TDs scored against West’s defense, four came so late in ballgames that the Falcons presumably had at least some of their backups on the field.
That basically leaves eight TDs allowed by the first-team defense in eight games, which is very good. Half of those eight were scored by Davie County, and the War Eagles are not a normal offensive team.
West is 7-1 and 6-0 in the league and also entered this point of the season last year with a 7-1 overall record and a 6-0 SPC record. That’s when the Falcons lost an epic game with Concord in Mount Ulla. This time the Falcons go to Concord’s Bailey Stadium looking for a win that could lead to a conference title.
North Rowan, coached by Nixon’s brother-in-law Ben Hampton, is a team with lots of similarities to West. For one thing, both teams have overcome an unusual amount of injuries.
North (6-2) isn’t quite as good as West, but playing in 2A — and they’ll be in the small half of 2A in the playoffs — the Cavaliers have a fine chance to make some playoff noise.
Like West, North had one awful night — a 49-13 mauling by 3A South Iredell. The Cavaliers didn’t show up for that one. Hampton still isn’t sure why, but the important thing is that the Cavaliers moved on from that blowout with no lasting damage.
North QB Corbin Smith has been one of the county’s most improved players as a senior, and if teams force the Cavaliers to throw it, he’s shown he can put it in the air with a reasonable expectation of success. Smith has 941 passing yards and 13 TD passes.
Like West, North prefers to roll on the ground. Jaleel Webster is a smallish but fierce back with breakaway wheels — a lot like Quarles — and Jaden Perry is emerging as another strong option.
As is the case with West, North’s defense is the anchor for everything. Throw out that South Iredell disaster and the Cavaliers allow fewer than 10 points a game. Talented defensive end Zion DeBose (11 sacks) is the county’s only certain Division I signee, while nose guard Steven Thurston’s non-stop motor makes him a very special high school player.
North goes to East Davidson tonight to take on a Cinderella team that is off to its first 7-1 start since 1973. It won’t be easy, but a win would put the Cavaliers in the CCC driver’s seat.
The picks were 6-1 last week, with the miss on Salisbury-Lexington. Unlike North and West, the picks are having a down year. They are 36-12.
Davie is off this week and will gear up for its final two CPC outings.
WEST ROWAN (7-1, 6-0) at CONCORD (6-2, 5-1 SPC)
RECORDS: Concord (6-2, 5-1 SPC). West Rowan (7-1, 6-0 SPC).
LAST WEEK: Concord trailed early but whipped Carson 35-8. West Rowan took care of East Rowan 49-20.
LAST MEETING: Concord scored with 17 seconds left and beat the Falcons, 17-10.
THE SERIES: Concord leads, 15-4. The Spiders have won the last four, including a second-round 3A playoff game in 2012. West Rowan’s last victory in the series came in the third round of the 2011 state playoffs.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Concord is a pass-first team, and QB Jacob Irby has been excellent — 1,327 passing yards, 16 TDs, four interceptions. P.J. Hall has rushed for 583 yards. Two-way terror Hamsah Nasirildeen nearly tore the rims off the basketball goals in the West gym the last time he visited Mount Ulla. He’s a stud, a South Carolina commit and a Shrine Bowler.
West corner Deyquan Byrd has five picks. West linebacker L.J. Robinson has been outstanding, and he’s usually biggest in big games like this.
OUTLOOK: Concord suffered a surprising league loss to Central Cabarrus. The Spiders’ other setback came against A.l. Brown in the opener.
PICK: West Rowan 21, Concord 14 (OT).
NORTH ROWAN (6-2, 2-0 CCC) at EAST DAVIDSON (7-1, 2-0 CCC)
LAST WEEK: East Davidson beat Thomasville, 21-14. North Rowan romped 42-0 against West Davidson.
LAST MEETING: In 2015, the Cavaliers led 41-0 at the half and demolished East Davidson, 58-0.
THE SERIES: North leads, 15-4. North has won the last three. The schools didn’t meet from 2009-12 when the Cavaliers were 1A. East Davidson’s last win over North was 10-6 in 2008.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: East Davidson junior quarterback Nick Tobin scored all three TDs for the Golden Eagles in last week’s win against Thomasville. Running back Skyler Shewcow (919 rushing yards) missed the Thomasville game with illness but might return. Mason Burchette also is a strong back.
OUTLOOK: East Davidson is a running team, and the Golden Eagles will have to decide if they want to run away from DeBose or right at him. East Davidson shared league titles in 1968, 1969 and 2007 but has never won a football title outright. East Davidson has beaten Salisbury and Thomasville. If it can handle North’s size and speed, this might be the year.
East Davidson has been very good, although it should be noted that the schedule has been extra-friendly. East Davidson’s loss was to Ledford (7-2), and that’s the only team East Davidson has played so far that owns a winning record.
In the past four seasons in the CCC, North is 16-1 in conference games.
PICK: North 21, East Davidson 14
SALISBURY (2-6, 1-1 CCC) at Thomasville (3-5, 1-1 CCC)
LAST WEEK: Thomasville lost 21-14 to East Davidson. Salisbury beat Lexington, 20-10.
LAST MEETING: In 2015, Thomasville held off the Hornets, 14-6.
THE SERIES: Thomasville leads, 19-16-1. The series has included memorable postseason matchups in 1973, 1974, 1995 and 2011.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Two-way standout Ja’hare Taylor Thomas rushed for 173 yards in a win against West Davidson. Salisbury’s Cameron Horne had a career-best 128 rushing yards last week.
OUTLOOK: It should be low-scoring — and quick. Both teams are going to run it a lot.
PICK: Salisbury 14, Thomasville 7.
CARSON (3-5, 2-4 SPC) at NW Cabarrus (1-7, 1-5 SPC)
LAST WEEK: Northwest lost 28-7 to Hickory Ridge. Carson was beaten 35-8 by Concord.
LAST MEETING: Carson rushed for 299 yards and handled the Trojans, 43-13, in 2015.
THE SERIES: Northwest Cabarrus won the first four meetings and holds a 5-3 lead.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Northwest’s freshman running back George Miller-Duncan has rushed for 253 yards in the last two weeks. Carson’s linebackers, spurs and safeties are going to have a chance to make a lot of tackles.
OUTLOOK: Northwest is determined to keep it simple and will run it. Miller-Duncan has 54 carries the last two weeks. Carson also wants to run it 90 percent of the time. It’ll be another fast-moving game.
It’s a must-win for Carson as far as making the 3A playoffs.
Carson has dropped four in a row since beating East Rowan. Northwest has lost five in a row since a one-point win at home against South Rowan.
PICK: Carson 20, Northwest Cabarrus 14.
HICKORY RIDGE (6-2, 4-2 SPC) at SOUTH ROWAN (1-7, 1-5 SPC)
LAST WEEK: South was thumped, 53-15, by Central Cabarrus. Hickory Ridge won 28-7 against Northwest Cabarrus.
LAST MEETING: Hickory Ridge breezed to a 49-0 win against the Raiders in 2015.
THE SERIES: Hickory Ridge leads the series, 3-0.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Trevor Shue and DE Dan Louba usually lead the Bulls. QB Austin Chrismon threw two TD passes last week for South, and Sayquan Anthony has strong rushing numbers.
OUTLOOK: Hickory Ridge lost tough SPC games early to Robinson and Concord, but, as expected, the Bulls have been taking care of the league’s lesser teams and have climbed in the standings.
South coach Daniel Yow came to the Raiders after being an assistant at Hickory Ridge.
While they teams are still in the same 3A league, Hickory Ridge will be in 4A next fall, while South Rowan will be 2A. The difference in school size is about 600 students.
PICK: Hickory Ridge 35, South Rowan 14.
ROBINSON (6-2, 5-1 SPC) at EAST ROWAN (3-5, 2-4 SPC)
LAST WEEK: East lost to West Rowan, 49-20. Robinson pummeled Cox Mill, 45-7.
LAST MEETING: Robinson clobbered the Mustangs, 49-0, in 2015, after coming down from 4A to 3A.
THE SERIES: Even at 1-all. East won 29-21 when the teams played in 2001, the year Robinson opened. East’s Cal Hayes Jr. had a school-record 344 rushing yards in that one.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Robinson’s Josh Dale is one of the SPC’s top QBs. East QB Tate Houpe is coming off his best game outing of the season with 226 passing yards.
OUTLOOK: Robinson is really good. The Bulldogs have lost only to West Rowan (19-14) and A.l. Brown (17-14).
PICK: Robinson 35, East Rowan 14.
MALLARD CREEK (7-2, 3-1 MECKA) at A.L. BROWN (6-2, 2-1 MECKA)
LAST WEEK: A.L. Brown lost, 21-7, to Hough. Mallard Creek lost to Vance, 38-21.
LAST MEETING: Mallard Creek beat the Wonders, 37-27, in 2015.
THE SERIES: Mallard Creek leads, 3-0. Last season’s game was the closest.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Mallard Creek has two Shrine Bowl offensive linemen — Eric Douglas and T.J. Moore. Tackle Eligah Hall is a leader for the Wonders’ defense.
OUTLOOK: The MECKA is a four-way dogfight after last week’s results, with Hough, Vance, A.L. Brown and Mallard Creek all in the hunt with one loss apiece. Mallard Creek has proven to be human this season, but the Mavericks still are one of the state’s best.
PICK: Mallard Creek 21, A.L. Brown 17.