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Prep Football: First Rowan Jamboree is successful

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

MOUNT ULLA — Lightning wiped out the last seven minutes or so, but the first Rowan County Jamboree, hosted by West Rowan and presented by former Falcon Chris Smith, was an unqualified success.

It was a heck of a way to kick off the football season, with all six Rowan schools congregating in the same place on the same day for the first time ever.

“Football is back, baby,” roared West Rowan head coach Joe Nixon, the last to exit the field, alongside West Rowan principal Jamie Durant, who was pleased not only with a substantial turnout and a nice gate (admission was $6), but with the positive atmosphere.

The crowd probably recycled a few times during the course of the day. Carson battled West Iredell in fierce heat at 6 p.m. By the time, South Rowan collided with West Stanly at 7 p.m., temperatures were more pleasant. The first drops of rain fell as North Rowan and East Rowan scrapped at 8 p.m. Skies had blackened considerably, as a storm approached from the south, and rain was falling by the time the main event — Salisbury vs. West Rowan — transpired at 9 p.m. The biggest — and most vocal crowd — was there at the end to watch two teams that won most of their county games last season. West was 4-0, while Salisbury was 2-1.

North Rowan’s starters looked really good, while Carson proved that its much deeper and faster than in 2017. South Rowan and East Rowan, both 3-8 a year ago, looked like they could be better this time. All the schools will have their say before a county champion is unofficially crowned. Unofficial because matchups such as Salisbury/West and North/East won’t happen after the regular season begins.

Carson running back Hunter Courtney, coming back from a broken leg got banged up early, but everyone appeared to avoid catastrophic injuries. That’s always a concern because these were live, full-speed scrimmages, one half of very real football for each team, with the only exception being special-teams action. Teams lined up and punted and kicked off, but there were no returns. Those kicking plays, where 22 guys are flying around the field, provide a fertile ground for injuries.

Newly named Barton coach Chip Hester was on hand most of the day. For college coaches, this was a windfall, a chance to check out a sea of prospects.

It also was a chance for a lot of officials to get some work. It’s a new season for them too. They got rid of the jitters.

Woodmen Life presented an American flag to West Rowan between “games,” and the ever-present Hot Dog Shack was on hand, but most of the night was about football. Rowan teams also tried to scrimmage Wednesday, but those scrimmages were either erased or abbreviated by weather issues. So Friday’s scrimmages were mighty important to coaches.

“We really needed to get some film of our guys in game situations, and we were able to play long enough to do that,” Nixon said.

Carson vs. West Iredell

While the scrimmage ended with both teams picking up three touchdowns, two of the West Iredell scores came late in the action against Carson jayvees. Carson looked like the stronger team most of the scrimmage.

“You’d like to score every time you get it, but that’s not going to happen,” Carson head coach Joe Pinyan said. “But we moved the ball real well against some pretty good athletes. We’d like to get more pressure on the quarterback than we did, but our defensive starters got after it and played well. We really needed this work.”

Carson ran the ball with authority behind a sturdier and stouter offensive line that includes four seniors.

Some Carson returners started lifting immediately after last season ended, and it showed.

Sophomore backs Michael Gonsalves (6-1, 210) and C.P. Pyle looked like they were ready for prime time, while veteran Jerry Cipres had a solid night.

Pyle and Cipres had rushing scores. Cipres also caught a touchdown pass from jayvee QB Alex London.

Jacob Taylor, a returning spur/linebacker, picked off a pass, and cornerback Thairell Parks looks like a shutdown guy.

South Rowan vs. West Stanly

West Stanly scored three touchdowns, including one in the final minute, while South, which has the county’s smallest team, managed one TD.

South’s touchdown came on a 1-yard flip by new QB Drew Huffman to Jarron Hines.

Demarcus “Flip” Blackwell made some tough, aggressive runs for South, but a parade of penalties kept the Raiders from functioning smoothly on offense.

“Just too many mistakes and self-inflicted penalties,” South head coach Daniel Yow said. “There’s nothing in our playbook for first-and-15, and it seemed like it was first-and-15 a lot after a flag. There were positives, but we’ve got some work to do.”

North Rowan vs. East Rowan

North looked imposing physically for a 1A team. Lots of strong, fast guys. North scored four touchdowns, while the Mustangs had two.

North’s receiving corps, in particular, looked like it’s really grown up. Those guys are all back, and all looked taller, quicker and tougher.

“You saw a burst for a big play from Quintous Smith tonight, and that’s a play where he would’ve gotten tackled for a short gain last year,” North head coach Ben Hampton said.

North’s veteran QB Willis Mitchell had a strong night directing the Cavaliers. He ran for a touchdown and connected on a long pass to Stanton Bailey to set up a scoring run by Malcolm Wilson.

David Broaddus also produced a rushing touchdown for North on a well-blocked, straight shot up the gut.

Free safety Jaharion Graham made the key play of the game, scooping and scoring for a two-TD swing. It looked like East was going to score, but then Graham was suddenly going 83 yards in the other direction with a fumble.

“Really happy with our intensity and effort and the way Willis ran our offense, but depth is going to be our issue,” Hampton said. “We mixed and matched tonight, but we know we’re going to have to play some of our kids both ways. We’re starting the season with the (Salisbury) Hornets and the (West Rowan) Falcons, so it’s going to be tough on some of our guys until we can build some depth.”

The Mustang Monument, Elton Hooper, all 6 feet, 7 inches of him, batted down a pass and was a formidable obstacle for Mitchell to throw over and around.

East threw it around with some success, especially late in the action. Logan Forbis had a TD pass to Gabe Hinceman and fired another to Cooper Wright.

“This was a scrimmage, so everyone has work to do before opening night — some more than others,” Fitz said. “We started this scrimmage pretty weak, but I thought we finished it strong. That’s a lot better than starting strong and finishing weak.”

West Rowan vs. Salisbury

West scored two touchdowns, while shutting out the Hornets.

West seized momentum right away when Jaden Perry broke loose for a 50-yard run on the first snap to take the ball deep into Salisbury territory. Salisbury tried to make a defensive stand, after getting settled in, but Dylan Sigmon got the West TD on a short run.

“We gave up 50 yards on the first play, but then we made them work for that first touchdown,” SHS coach Brian Hinson said.

West’s second score occurred when the familiar duo of Payne Stolsworth and Jalen Houston connected on a 45-yard pass play. Stolsworth already has over 4,000 varsity passing yards to his credit. Houston is well on his way to being one of the county’s all-time best receiver.

“That TD came on a busted coverage,” Hinson said.

Salisbury had a determined drive that pushed all the way to the West 8-yard line, but that’s where the Falcons stiffened and turned them away.

“We gave up some plays, but our defense stood up and kept them out of the end zone,” Nixon said. “We played physical, and that’s what we really wanted to see from our kids. And the best thing of all — no one got hurt.”

The Hornets should be fine, despite Friday’s offensive struggles.

“Our quarterback (Mike McLean) was running for his life tonight, because right now, it’s a mismatch upfront with us and West,” Hinson said. “We know we’ve got to execute offensively better than we did. But no one’s been able to practice much and no one was able to get much done on Wednesday with the weather.”

The regular season starts next Friday with North at Salisbury, Carson at South Rowan, Mooresville at West Rowan, and North Stanly at East Rowan.

•••

Sportswriter Marny Hendrick contributed to this report.

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