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Prep Football: Wilson shines as North beats rival on road

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Things went very badly for Salisbury’s football team on the opening kickoff in Friday’s season opener against North Rowan, but things actually went wrong even before that.

The official North Rowan roster still lists running back Malcolm Wilson at least year’s modest sophomore dimensions — 5-foot-10, 165 pounds — so that’s how he was announced over the P.A. in pregame introductions.

But Wilson is a much bigger and more physical now. He’s playing at 185 this season, a rock-like 185 with Schwarzenegger arms. He’s going to give tacklers at least as much he receives.

“Yeah, Wilson got a little upset when he was introduced at 5-10, 165,” North coach Ban Hampton said with a laugh. “He’s really beefed up a lot. Even when there was nothing there tonight, he put his shoulder down, and he kept us out of a negative play. He got downhill, and that’s important for us. He had some very nice 4-yard runs.”

Wilson was, by far, the game’s standout offensive performer with a career-best 173 rushing yards, and North Rowan beat the Hornets at Ludwig Stadium, 20-7. The convincing victory extended a couple of impressive streaks for the Cavaliers. They won for the seventh straight time on opening night and beat Salisbury for the sixth consecutive time.

“I just tried to keep my feet moving all night,” Wilson said. “I surprised myself a few times. Guys were bouncing off me a little bit.”

And then there was that opening kickoff.

“North can put three guys back there who can take a kickoff all the way,” Salisbury head coach Brian Hinson explained. “They almost broke one on us last year and (kicker) Jack Fisher had to make the tackle, so we came in thinking we were going to use a sky-kick if we kicked off. But then we get our first penalty of the year before a second runs off the clock, so we decide not to sky-kick it. Then we kick it to (Xzavier) Davis, he hits a crease, and it’s Katy, bar the door.”

“Katy, bar the door” is a rather ancient expression that means trouble is on the way, and Davis, a very fast defensive back, is trouble with a football in his hands. He gathered in the kickoff on the move at the North 19, and never hesitated.

“My teammates had the wedge all set up for me,” Davis said. “I saw a chance to set the tone for the game right away and I hit that hole and hit it hard.”

So just 15 seconds into the game, North led 6-0, and it was 7-0 after JD Weaver, the new kicker, tacked on the PAT.

That quick score would stand up the entire first half. Penalties plagued North, while Salisbury narrowly missed big-play chances in the passing game. There was one drop, and there were under-throws and over-throws as sophomore QB Mike McLean scurried around with brawny Cavaliers in hot pursuit.

“Mike was never able to get comfortable in the pocket,” Hinson said. “We had some matchups we liked, got some guys open. But there were times when Mike was scrambling around and couldn’t make the throw, and there were times when he made the throw and we didn’t make the catch.”

North appeared ready to take a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter, but Luwon Blackwell, a rangy DB picked off North quarterback Willis Mitchell when the Cavaliers had second-and-6 at the Salisbury 16.

Later in the first quarter, the teams traded picks. Blackwell intercepted Mitchell again, but Jaharion Graham answered with a North interception.

“We had way too many mistakes on offense, we were riddled with penalties and mental mistakes,” Hampton said. “But our defense played really well. Our defense bailed us out a lot.”

While North got a heavy rush on McLean, Salisbury’s defense also was putting heat on Mitchell. Freshman Jalon Walker and Josh Miller had resounding sacks.

The teams continued to trade missed opportunities in the third quarter. North muffed a punt early in the second half (the ball bounced up and caromed off Davis’ face mask) to give Salisbury the ball at the North 41, but the Cavaliers’ defense, led by linebacker Tyzai Lyles, got another stop.

“McLean is a really good runner who can make plays with his feet, so we had to try to take that away,” Lyles said. “I just tried to play the way I can, tried to be a leader for our younger guys.”

Salisbury tried to get the ball into the hands of sprinter Tyrone Johnson several times, but the Cavaliers always were there to swallow him up. Lyles smashed Johnson for a 12-yard loss on an end around in the third quarter.

“He’s dangerous if he gets going,” Lyles said. “I had to fight through some blocks, but I was able to get to him quickly.”

Salisbury’s best chance to get even on the scoreboard came later in the third quarter after a stunning scramble by McLean, plus a 15-yard face mask penalty, gave the Hornets a third-and-1 at the North 39.

On third down, Hinson tried to surprise North with a pass play — and it was there — but the Hornets couldn’t make the connection. Then on fourth down, a mental mistake wrecked the opportunity to pick up the first down.

A few seconds after that key North stop, Wilson disappeared momentarily into a sea of potential tacklers near the North sideline, but then he suddenly burst out of heavy traffic and sprinted for 58 yards to the Salisbury 2. He got the touchdown from there on an option play, and the Cavaliers were in control, 13-0. The way North’s defense was playing, that lead seemed very secure.

A solid, open-field tackle by linebacker Jordan Goodine led to another North stop, and midway through the fourth quarter, North made it 20-0. Mitchell hit his biggest pass play of the night, finding Koby DeBose down the middle for 32 yards to the Salisbury 6. David Broaddus got the TD from the 1, and Beaver’s PAT made it 20-0.

The Hornets got on the board with 4:42 left in the game. McLean made an accurate throw and Patrick Taylor made a fine catch for a 35-yard touchdown strike that prevented a shutout.

“I believe they ran a wheel route on that side that drew our defense, and then hit a vertical route down the sideline,” Hampton said. “Their kids made a really good play.  I know our guys would like to have gotten a shutout, but that’s just football. I have no complaints about our effort or our intensity.”

North was able to take away Salisbury’s running game. McLean got loose for one 35-yard scamper early, but he was limited to 66 net rushing yards. Still, he never lost his poise and did a good job of limiting turnovers.

“It was his first game as a varsity quarterback, and he’ll get better every time,” Hinson said.

Hampton is glad this rivalry win is in the books. He expects Salisbury to do very well in the Central Carolina Conference again. Both teams placed third in their respective conferences a year ago.

“Salisbury has really nice athletes, and they looked bigger than we were upfront,” Wilson said. “But our linemen stood up and held their ground. I was proud of how they played.”

Salisbury plays at Carson next week, while the Cavaliers host West Rowan.

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