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Prep Football: Everyone wants to be county champ

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY  —  County championships don’t mean everything — just almost everything. There are lot of bragging rights involved.

A major preseason goal for every Rowan football program, right there next to winning the conference championship, making a playoff run past Thanksgiving and, of course, winning the state championship, is winning the county championship.

There’s no official cup or trophy or banner to acknowledge winning the county championship, although if some business or corporation wants to sponsor one, that sounds like a great idea.

Rowan schools are in three different classifications and play in three different conferences, so there are no county standings. Most years, everyone can’t play everyone else in the county, even if they wanted to, which can make crowning a county champ somewhat subjective.

There are years such as 1997 — West beat North, North beat East, East beat West — that people still argue about who the county champ was, but give me East in that one. East beat 3A state champ A.L. Brown. Enough said.

And there are crazy years like 2001 — South beat North, North beat West, West beat South. Give me North in that one. South dropped an anvil on North opening night (47-19), but the Cavaliers had the strongest overall record and the longest playoff run.

Fortunately, most years there’s a clear-cut county champ.

West Rowan was only 6-6 overall but was the logical champion last season despite not having Salisbury on the schedule. South Rowan, East Rowan and Carson were all 3-8, so they weren’t it. That left West, North Rowan and Salisbury. North beat Salisbury by a lot. West beat North by a lot. So West was the county champ.

There was a long stretch in which the county champion wasn’t in dispute. West won every county game it played from 2002-2011 under Scott Young, so as good as some of the Joe Pinyan-coached Salisbury teams were in that era, there wasn’t much argument about who the county champion was. Salisbury came close a couple of times in the showdowns, but always came up short.

Since East accomplished the unthinkable and beat West in 2012, there’s been some room for debate about who’s the best in the county.

East (8-5) had the county’s fourth-best final record in 2012, but lost in overtime in the third round of the playoffs and probably was the best choice as county champ in a very strong season. East beat West (10-3) and Salisbury (11-3) that year. East did lose to North (8-4), but North, under new coach Joe Nixon, lost to West and Salisbury and was out in the first round of the playoffs.

While North didn’t play West in 2013 or 2014, North was the best choice as county champ both years. North didn’t lose a county game either year, while West was getting stunned by Carson in 2013 and getting mauled by East (59-14) in 2014.

Nixon became the head coach at West Rowan in 2015. Since then, West is 11-0 in county games and has been the logical county champ each year.

Nixon’s teams during his time at North went 3-0 in county games in 2013 and 3-0 again in 2014, so he now owns an impressive 17-game county streak.

Which brings us to tonight’s picks. It’s hard to pick against a Nixon-coached team in a county game — until proven otherwise. It’s quite possible North will do that proving tonight. North is at home, looked great in the Rowan Jamboree and looked tough (except for the penalties and turnovers) against Salisbury last week. Meanwhile, West is 0-1. From what I’ve seen, North is the county’s most athletic team, but whether that will translate into an earth-shaking victory tonight in Spencer, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Three county games will be played tonight, which is exciting for everyone. Kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m.

The WSAT game of the week is, needless to say, West Rowan at North Rowan.

The picks were not good last week — 4-2. East surprised me like it did everyone else by beating North Stanly. I picked West to upset Mooresville at home. That didn’t happen.

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West Rowan (0-1) at North Rowan (1-0)

North, coached by Ben Hampton, a former West star and Nixon’s brother-in-law, leads the all-time series, 28-23-2. North hasn’t beaten West since 2001, although there were quite a few seasons in that long stretch when they didn’t meet. West won 27-11 in 2017.

Hard to believe West star Jalen Houston didn’t have a single catch on opening night. If that happens again, West will be 0-2, but I don’t think it will happen again. West is determined to run the ball better this year, but couldn’t run it against Mooresville. Payne Stolsworth had to throw the ball 34 times, and that’s not West Rowan football. West has to get Jaden Perry, a former Cavalier, by the way, rolling on the ground tonight. North is already rolling on the ground. Malcolm Wilson was the county’s best back in Week 1, steaming around and through Salisbury Hornets. North QB Willis Mitchell didn’t have a very good game last week and will be looking to bounce back. North lost the turnover battle, 4-1, last week but still won the game with relative ease because of its defense. North can’t overcome four turnovers tonight. Pick: West 21, North 14

Salisbury (0-1) at Carson (1-0)

Salisbury leads the all-time series, 6-5.

To me, at least, this is an even tougher call than West-North. Carson is 1-0 and Salisbury is 0-1, but Salisbury annihilated Carson last season, 41-12.

Carson is vastly improved in a lot of ways from last year’s 3-8 squad, more experience, more depth, more backs, more speed, but Salisbury still has a team speed advantage, and if Salisbury QB Mike McLean or sprinter Tyrone Johnson get loose in space against the Cougars, it’s probably a long touchdown. The key for Carson is obvious. Pound the ball behind a veteran offensive line for five yards at a time, control the clock and keep McLean and Johnson off the field. That won’t be easy to do because Salisbury’s defense is young, but pretty solid. Pick: Carson 24, Salisbury 21

South Rowan (0-1) at East (1-0)

South leads the all-time series, 32-20, but the Mustangs have won the last three. South shocked East late in the 2014 season for the Raiders’ most recent win in the long-running series. East demolished the Raiders, 41-8, in 2017.

East hasn’t been 2-0 since the 2007 season, but the Mustangs are favorites to accomplish that modest feat tonight on their home field and carrying all kinds of momentum from last week’s surprising victory against North Stanly. Maybe a month from now that won’t look like a huge surprise, but right now it does. East’s 2014 team was exciting but needed a playoff run to get to 7-7, so East hasn’t  experienced a winning season since 2012.

East is short on depth and numbers but has some of the county’s best talent in two-way player Christian Bennett, back Sam Wall and defensive end Elton Hooper, and the offensive line, defense and QB Logan Forbis were all special last week. Can East build on that monumental victory against a South team that lost by three TDs to Carson on opening night and is still trying to earn some respect?  Probably.

South goes to Granite Quarry with the county’s leading passer in junior Drew Huffman, who had 222 aerial yards in his first varsity start. Receivers Cameron Hurd and Jarron Hines got off to great starts. Linebacker Jarrid Nelson was South’s top defender last week. Carson ran for 300-plus yards against the Raiders, and East will try to do the same thing. Pick: East 28, South 14

North Davidson (1-0) at Davie County (0-1)

North Davidson leads the series, 27-23, and won 28-7 last year. Davie outscored the Black Knights, 45-42, in 2016 for its most recent victory in the series.

North Davidson, coached by former Catawba College receiver Brian Flynn, couldn’t have been any more impressive in Week 1, shutting down Mount Tabor, 21-0. Meanwhile, Davie was losing its annual wild game with Page, 35-28.

Davie got two special-teams scores to stay in that game with Page, but didn’t do a lot offensively. That doesn’t bode well for tonight. Pick: North Davidson 21, Davie 7

A.L. Brown (1-0) at Marvin Ridge (1-0)

The Wonders lead the series, 3-1, but Marvin Ridge rolled 35-14 in 2017.

A.L. Brown opened with a walk in the park against Hopewell, so it was impossible to tell how good the Wonders really are, but things get serious tonight in Waxhaw. Marvin Ridge dismantled South Meck, 37-9, in Week 1, with an efficient passing game (23-for-31) that accounted for 231 yards and three TDs. The Mavericks used that sophisticated passing game to batter the Wonders last season. A big pass rush will be essential for the Wonders if they’re going to pull off a signature road win. The pick: Marvin Ridge 28, A.L. Brown 21

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