Prep Football: Falcons dominate Crest in 3A playoffs

Published 1:35 am Saturday, November 26, 2016

By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — Crest punched in a meaningless touchdown with 1:14 left, but that didn’t diminish the magnitude of West Rowan’s 35-7 victory in the second round of the 3A playoffs.
“We played the way I knew we were capable of playing,” winning coach Joe Nixon said. “We were focused. We were ready to go. The staff had a great gameplan and the kids went out and executed it. We dominated a very good football team.”
It was a stunningly lopsided result in a game expected be a tossup. But the Falcons (10-3) put a lot of things together, created six turnovers and buried the talented but mistake-prone and penalty-plagued Chargers (9-4).
“I don’t think anyone had any idea it was going to be that kind of game,” said West Rowan receiver Kortez Weeks, who put the ball in the end zone three times. “They were big and they were physical, but when you play with heart, when you play as team, that’s the kind of game that can happen for you.”
West’s defense turned in a game that people will talk about for many years. With the help of two huge losses on shotgun-snap fiascos, West held Crest under 100 net yards of offense.
Miles Poteat, Deyquan Byrd, Paris Hillie and Weeks, who helped out on defense in passing situations, intercepted aerials. Hillie and Kameron Caldwell pounced on loose footballs.
“We expected a very tough game,” Hillie said. “But what happened was that (linebacker) L.J. Robinson just played completely out of this world and Devin Turner and Brandon Wallace had great games. Those guys contained the run and made them put the ball in the air. And when they started putting the ball in the air, we started picking them off.”
Crest won the 3A state title in 2014 and took the 3AA championship last year. This is a younger Crest team (15 starters will be back in 2017), but it’s still a squad with three seniors headed to Division I, including two Shrine Bowlers.
“We didn’t worry much about where their guys had committed and what colleges were recruiting them,” Hillie said with a smile. “We just came out here to win a football game.”
The Falcons started winning it early. On the second play from scrimmage, Poteat, a linebacker who was questionable due to a shoulder injury, intercepted a pass and put West on the Crest 19.
A pass interference call created by Weeks moved the ball to the 10. Crest almost got a stop, but on fourth down from the 8-yard line, Payne Stolsworth, who tossed four TD passes, hit a diving Weeks on a slant for the go-ahead score.
“We tried the slant on third down, but they read it,” Weeks said. On the fourth-down play, I lined up on the other side, ran it again, and got open.”
Crest would miss two field goals. The first miss came late in the first quarter, and the Falcons struck immediately after it when Weeks turned a short flip from Stolsworth into an 80-yard dash for six points.
Crest got a stop late in the first half, bringing Weeks down near the goal-line, but the Falcons took a 14-0 lead to the break.
“We’d done a good job against their run and had made them one-dimensional,” Nixon said. “But we were determined not to let the same thing happen to us. It was hard to run the ball tonight, but we stayed patient and we stuck with it, and that was important.”
Momentum threatened to switch sides early in the second half when Crest stopped the Falcons coming out of the break and then halted West again with an interception. That pick was made by Shrine Bowler Dequondre Wilson and he shimmied his way to the West 21 on a dazzling return.
That’s where it could’ve turned around for the visitors, but on first down, Turner surged through and smashed a run by QB Cameron Peeler for a loss. After two pass breakups, Crest narrowly missed on a 40-yard field goal, and the Falcons were still in command.
“We prepared all week to stop their running game,” Turner said. “We fought as brothers to do that, and we also got three sacks. That’s a good night for the defensive line.”
The backbreaker came with 5:16 left in the third quarter. This time Stolsworth found Armoni Hogue, and Hogue shook loose from a tackler and scooted for the 61-yard scoring play that made it 21-0.
“When teams double-team Korty (Weeks), other guys have to step up and make big plays for us,” Nixon said. “Armoni did.”
Stolsworth threw for 231 yards. He dropped back to throw 22 times. He was sacked once, and there also was an intentional grounding penalty. Crest’s All-America linebacker Justin Foster is a fearsome player, but the Falcons didn’t let him control the game.
“He’s a really good player, but we knew from film study that he was going to rush off the edge 80 percent of the time, and we were prepared for that,” West tackle Avery Allen said. “We were still able to execute our offensive gameplan.”
Jovon Quarles made a swerving, spinning, 6-yard run to the end zone for a 28-0 lead late in the third quarter.
Then Weeks, bracketed by two defenders, made a soaring catch in the right corner of the end zone to make it 35-0 with 9:47 remaining.
“Give our offensive line credit for the pass protection and give Payne credit for throwing a really good ball,” Weeks said. “It’s my job to go up and get it. I was able to make a play.”
The onslaught continued after tempers flared, flags flew and Chargers were banished from the proceedings.
West’s defense nearly got the shutout it craved, but a long punt return by O.C. Ross to the West Rowan 6 allowed the Chargers to score late. Peyton Kemmerlin, the backup QB, got the touchdown on the ground.
“Offensively, I thought we held our own tonight and Weeks was unbelievable,” Robinson said. “Defensively, we had them beaten down pretty good by halftime. A lot of guys played their parts very well.”
It will go down as one of the most impressive games West has played since the glory days of 2008-11 when the Falcons won three state titles and then tacked on a state runner-up finish. This game reminded many of West’s overwhelming triumph as an underdog at Burns in 2011. West won that one 33-7.
Crest receiver Tyshun Odom, who had a school-record 272 receiving yards last week, was limited to two catches for 18 yards.
“Crest brought us a lot of challenges,” said Byrd, the shutdown corner who logged his eighth interception. “But we just played how we play. We stopped the run. Then we stopped the pass.”
Next for West is another challenge — a trip to unbeaten and top-seeded Lenoir Hibriten, a team ranked No. 1 in 3A.