Blocked field goal secures Salisbury win over Thomasville
By David Shaw
THOMASVILLE — For a team that will have to savor every victory, this was one to remember for Salisbury.
The Hornets used an inspired fourth quarter to win their CCC opener at Thomasville Friday night, but the 10-7 triumph wasn’t secured until three different defensive players claimed to reject a 41-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
“I know it hit my finger because I’m feeling it right now,” senior Jabreel Russell said, shaking his right hand at Cushwa Stadium.
“I know I blocked it because I got it right on my broken finger,” added linebacker Blaine Shellhorn.
“I came from the left and hit the high-five,” boasted teammate Jabril Norman. “I palmed the ball.”
What matters most is that left-footed kicker Fredi Hernandez’s game-ending try never cleared the line of scrimmage, lifting Salisbury (1-2 overall) to a therapeutic, come-from-behind win.
“They were coming down our end on that last drive,” said SHS coach Brian Hinson. “We gave up some underneath routes because there was still some time on the clock. The big thing is we were trying to keep them out of the end zone and our kids made a huge play at the right time.”
Whether it was one, two or three hands on the ball, the Hornets secured a most unlikely victory. Consider that their constipated offense compiled only 150 total yards and was held scoreless until the final period. And that a barrel full of penalties — Salisbury was flagged 16 times for 146 yards — stalled drives and nullified two touchdowns, one on a 92-yard Cameron Gill kick return in the first quarter and another when Raheim Walker’s long interception runback for a TD was called back in the third.
“This was a hard game, all around,” Norman said. “We still can’t get the offense flowing so the defense had to bear down.”
He’s right. On a night when Salisbury’s offense looked like a disorganized yard sale, its defense was steadfast, limiting Thomasville (2-1, 0-1) to a first-period touchdown. The Hornet defense must have had the take sign because it intercepted four Thomasville passes in the second half and recorded two sacks against sophomore quarterback Landon Johnson.
“We were so tired,” said Shellhorn. “You want to let up but you know you can’t. We had to dig out every bit of energy we had left.”
They found some in the final quarter, when quarterback Mike McLean steered the Hornets 31 uphill yards in seven plays for the game-tying TD. It seemed the drive had fizzled after an illegal motion penalty set up a fourth-and-9 from the Thomasville 17-yard line with 5:46 remaining.
“This is what happens every game,” said Russell. “We fall behind in the first half and have to fight our way back. We didn’t do that until tonight. We knew this time it had to be a different outcome.”
McLean, who is still looking to pitch his first complete game, rose to the occasion and threaded an over-the-middle slant pass to speedster Tyrone Johnson. It gained 14 yards and gave Salisbury a first-and-goal from the three.
“Sometimes we’ll do something really good, then do something to put us behind the chains,” Hinson said. “In that situation, we were going to give it to our running back, but with Mike’s running ability we wanted an extra blocker. We were on the 3-yard line and I told them we’re gonna run the same play three times in a row if we have to.”
They only needed two. On second-and-goal, McLean rolled out to his right and burrowed into the end zone. It was Salisbury’s third TD this season and just the third allowed by Thomasville’s taut defense.
Jack Fisher’s extra point tied the score with 5:06 to go and three snaps later Salisbury’s Johnson made the defensive play of the year when he picked off a pass at the Thomasville 38. McLean, working like a seasoned veteran, advanced the Hornets to the 18. On fourth-and-4 with less than a minute on the clock, Fisher was summoned to kick his first field goal of the season. And with Luke Holland holding out of a Chad Van der Poel snap, he converted a right-down-Broadway 34-yarder.
“I was trying to keep it as simple as I could,” Fisher explained. “I didn’t want to complicate anything. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was through.”
That set the stage for Thomasville’s final charge up the hill. The Bulldogs navigated from their own 20 to the Salisbury 24 and with all of its timeouts spent, used a Johnson spike to stop the clock with 6.6 seconds remaining. “It was a win or lose situation, right there, right then,” Russell said. “We just got caught up in the moment.”
And with it, they caught their first dose of good news this season. “There was a need for this one,” Fisher concluded.
NOTES: Walker, Norman and Luwon Blackwell also had interceptions for Salisbury. … Thomasville scored on its first possession and nearly took a 14-0 lead after up-man Timothy Brooks raced 39 yards to the SHS 16 in the second quarter. The drive died when Hernandez sent a 34-yard field goal attempt wide right. … Salisbury hosts West Davidson next Friday.