Big second half propels Carson to victory over SHS

Published 2:08 am Saturday, August 25, 2018

By Marny Hendrick

CHINA GROVE — Maybe it was an inspiring halftime speech or more likely an explosive return of the second half kick-off. Whatever the reason, the Carson Cougars shook off the effects of a miserable first half Friday night in their home opener to overpower cross county rival Salisbury, 28-7.

After being held to just 12 net yards of offense and no points in the first half by an inspired Hornets’ defense, the Cougars flipped the switch after intermission to completely turn the game around. Trailing 7-0, Carson went to its between-the-tackles power game, featuring six different running backs to take command in the third quarter.

Without question, however, the inspiration came from speedy sophomore C.P. Pyle, who took the second half kick-off and broke through the Salisbury pursuit for a 65-yard sprint to the Hornets’ 25. Two plays later, running back Michael Gonsalves darted up the middle for 11 yards and the tying score, just a minute and 15 seconds into the third period.

“I think that return sparked something as far as out whole offense goes,” Pyle said. “In the second half, we were just more focused. We lined up right and we didn’t make any mistakes.”

After the tying touchdown, Carson went ahead for good when Pyle broke free up the gut on the Cougars’ familiar trap-isolation play, racing 44 yards for a 14-7 lead.

A big fumble recovery by defensive tackle Teolyn Woodruff put Carson quickly back in business at the Salisbury 21. Two plays later, Gonsalves powered in his second TD from the 1-yard line to cap a 21-point third quarter.

“There was a big hole on both my scores,” Gonsalves stated. “It was just good blocking by our offensive line. I can’t do anything without them blocking like they do.”

The win improved the Cougars to 2-0, both due to their power running game. Salisbury falls to 0-2 and will have a bye week coming up before heading into Central Carolina Conference play on Sept. 7 against Thomasville.

The icing on the cake for Carson came midway in the final quarter as the Cougars converted a fourth-down play on their only pass completion of the night. Junior back Hunter Courtney had a pair of 6-yard runs then capped the drive with a 16-yard sprint up the middle to make it 28-7 with just over 8 minutes left.

Salisbury responded with a drive into the Cougars’ red zone and actually posted a touchdown pass by quarterback Mike McLean. But the play was nullified by a penalty and Carson took over on downs two plays later, slamming the door.

After dominating the first half with some clock-eating drives and a smothering defense, the Hornets just could not maintain control in the second half. For Salisbury head coach Bryan Hinson, the reason for the turn of events was obvious.

“What happened in the second half is called physicality,” Hinson said. “They had it and we didn’t. Basically, they ran ‘iso’ football on us and were just more physical. We are a young team and didn’t respond well. What Carson does is what we have the most problems with. They just line up and play physical, smash-mouth football.”

At the beginning of the game, however, it was the Hornets who controlled the tempo and the clock. They took the opening kickoff and ran over six minutes off the clock behind the passing of McLean and the running of senior Raheim Walker. In an 11-play drive, Walker swept right end from the 3-yard line to give Salisbury a 7-0 lead.

On the first play of Carson’s opening drive, quarterback Josh Lee was picked off by Jabril Norman at the Cougars’ 41. The drive reached the Carson 13 but a fourth down run by McLean came up short by a yard.

Carson made a couple of solid efforts to get back in the game in the second quarter but were stopped on fourth down at the Hornets’ 18. Late in the half, another Carson drive was stuffed by Hornets’ linebacker Blaine Shellhorn, who sacked quarterback Justin Smith twice to force a punt.

“No, I was not real happy with our effort in the first half,” said Carson coach Joe Pinyan. “We made a couple of bad mistakes and we should have scored early. We also had a couple of passes where we were wide open but threw to the wrong guy.”

Pinyan noted that Salisbury defenders Shellhorn and Walker were taking away the pitch game on the edges, “so I said ‘OK,’ we will just run it between the tackles. That is two weeks in a row now that ran it up in there pretty good. Our offensive line just did a great job for us.”

The Cougars defense did its part as well by shutting down the Hornets running game and harassing quarterback McLean in the backfield on almost every play.

“We just adjusted our speed to theirs and got to where we needed to be,” said Woodruff, a 230-pound defensive tackle. He had a couple of sacks to go with his key fumble recovery in the decisive third quarter. “We just made plays and ran the quarterback crazy.”

After posting just 12 net yards on 16 plays in the first half, Carson rebounded with 132 yards and 31 carries in the second half. Gonsalves and Courtney led the balanced running attack with 47 yards each.

The Cougars will have a tough test next Friday with a trip to Kannapolis to face the A.L. Brown Wonders. The game will create an unusual dilemma for Pinyan as his daughter is getting married next Saturday, with the rehearsal on Friday night. So what does the coach plan to do? … “We’ll just have to see,” he said, with a big laugh.