West Rowan scores with 8 seconds left, beats North Rowan

Published 1:01 am Saturday, August 25, 2018

By David Shaw


SPENCER — Seventeen years after posting its last victory against West Rowan, North Rowan is still searching for its next.

The visiting Falcons continued their dominance in the series Friday night when quarterback Payne Stolsworth scored on a quarterback sneak with 8.2 seconds to play in a 20-14 triumph.

“We found it in our hearts to get the job done,” Stolsworth said, after West beat North for the 10th straight time and squared its early-season record at 1-1. “It’s great to get that first win and exciting to get it this way.”

West scored the go-ahead touchdown despite being flagged three times for illegal procedure on its final drive. Stolsworth, who threw for 239 yards, completed four passes for 56 yards on the game-winning march.

“Nobody knows this, but last week (against Mooresville) Payne got hurt on the second play from scrimmage,” said West coach Joe Nixon. “He got hit on a screen and got a separated AC joint on his throwing shoulder. He played the rest of the game but didn’t practice much this week. Then tonight he comes back out, battles through some pain and made a big-time play for us.”

There were a handful of big plays — including Stolsworth’s 68-yard touchdown pass to junior Jalen Houston that tied the score, 14-14, late in the third quarter, just 26 seconds after North had gone ahead on a well-designed Willis Mitchell TD pass to Quintous Smith.

“Blown coverage,” said North coach Ben Hampton. “We’ve got a safety that’s supposed to be over the top and he wasn’t there. We’ve got to be the deepest man on the field and we weren’t. We let 10 run right by us.”

North linebacker Tyzai Lyles wasn’t surprised. “We’ve been there before. We’ve seen him and know what (Houston) can do,” he said. “Their quarterback just made some good reads and their receivers can all make plays, especially Jalen.”

Houston made another one with 7:07 remaining in the fourth quarter. This time he navigated into the North secondary, snagged an over-the-middle pass from Stolsworth and turned it into a 70-yard completion. Only a touchdown-saving tackle by defensive back Xavier Davis prevented Houston from another score.

“I read his steps,” Davis said. “He had two big catches and I stopped one of them. I wasn’t going to let him off that easy.”

Despite the huge pickup, West’s scoring chance fizzled when Davis and Lyles combined to block a 31-yard field goal attempt by Fredrico Cruz with 5:05 to play.

West regained possession on its own 42-yard line with 3:07 on the clock. Consecutive pass completions to running back Jaden Perry and wideout Quay Weeks netted 27 yards, but a couple of motion penalties left the Falcons facing a first-and-15 from the North 42.

“We knew we only had three minutes and were still trying to pound it,” said Stolsworth, who completed 12 of 19 passes. “But we also knew we’d have to put it in the air to get it down field.”

They got to the North 27-yard line when Stolsworth was flushed out of the pocket and still managed to fire a 13-yard strike to senior Davis Tadlock near the right sideline with 50 seconds to go.

“He never had more than five seconds to make something happen because we were right there on him,” said Davis. “I can’t lie. On a couple of plays, they just got lucky.”

Four snaps and a West penalty later, Stolsworth and Tadlock hooked up again — this time on a second-and-12 call from the North 17. Tadlock maneuvered his way inside the one, but was stopped short of the end zone.

“I got out on a roll and saw (Tadlock) across the middle,” Stolsworth said. “I thought we had the game-winning touchdown, but the ref marked it inches from the goal line.”

The clocked stopped momentarily with 13.6 seconds remaining to reset the chains. “I felt like I was in,” said Tadlock, who extended the ball toward the end zone. “They didn’t give it to us. The important thing was we had to have that next-play mentality and line up quickly.”

Instead, North called a timeout to stack its goal-line defense.

“I was hoping to go for overtime,” said Hampton. “We obviously would have liked to get a turnover there and give our offense the ball with 30 seconds to go. It didn’t happen — and as proud as I am of our guys tonight, we’ve still got to get better.”

What happened on first-and-goal was all Stolsworth and company. He powered behind center Levi Jenkins and reached the end zone surrounded by a scrum of players.

“We’ve been absolutely dying for a big play all year,” Nixon said. “With our weapons, we need to make things happen. Jalen finally got free and Payne made good decisions. Hats off to our staff for having our guys prepared for those situations and hats off to our players for executing them.”

NOTES: Houston, who failed to catch a pass in West’s season-opening loss, had five receptions for 151 yards. … North fell to 1-1, but running back Malcolm Wilson was a workhorse, rushing for 106 yards on 21 carries. He spun up the middle on a 25-yard TD run in the first quarter. … Lyles also blocked an extra-point attempt in the closing seconds. … Neither team turned the ball over. … North hosts Lexington next Friday while West enjoys an open week.