Prep Football: Gill provides big-play thrills as Hornets win

Published 12:08 am Thursday, September 13, 2018

By Mike London

SALISBURY  — Salisbury’s 48-18  Central Carolina Conference  win against West Davidson was a weird one, and not just because it was played on a Wednesday night.

Football games generally are decided in the trenches, by those big, anonymous guys wearing 50s, 60s and 70s on their jerseys, but this one definitely wasn’t.

West Davidson  won in the trenches at Ludwig Stadium, won a lot of rough skirmishes at the line of scrimmage that meant gaining 3 yards or stopping the Hornets for a loss of 2.

The Green Dragons won time of possession by a lot and moved the chains a lot more often, but the speedier Hornets (2-2, 2-0) were able to big-play the Green Dragons (1-3, 0-2)  into submission. Specifically, Salisbury senior DB/receiver/returner Cameron Gill wore out the visitors with a series of huge plays. Gill destroyed West Davidson’s upset hopes with one of the greatest nights anyone’s ever had at a historic stadium that first turned on the lights in 1949.

“He had one of those nights that an athlete like Cam Gill can have,” Salisbury coach Brian Hinson said. “He’s a slippery guy with a ball in his hands. He made people miss.”

Gill was everywhere. He made three interceptions. He scored on a punt return, a fumble return on a kickoff and an interception return. He would have had another TD on a long pass reception, but a flag brought that one back.

“Guys were giving me good blocks and it seemed like every time I touched the ball it was a touchdown,” Gill said with a grin. “I guess they did tackle me maybe two times, but that was the best night I’ve ever had,”

Basically, West Davidson had to work like crazy for every inch, and then Gill or Raheim Walker would answer by flying to the house in a hurry for the Hornets.

QB Mike McLean’s 22-yard scamper for Salisbury’s first TD was the Hornets’ shortest scoring play of the night.

West Davidson, which ran the ball 50 times, got a lot of hard-nosed carries from its monster backs — 215-pound Terrell Hardin and 230-pound Harrison Gobble. They dished out punishment — and received some.

“We expected them to run up the middle more than they did,” said 149-pound Salisbury linebacker Jadarius Wood. “But they were coming more off tackle. I’m not big, but I had to stand my ground if they were coming at me, and I had to try to run the play down if they were going to the other side.”

Wood has no shortage of courage. At one point, he made three straight stops near the line of scrimmage.

After that early McLean TD,  Gill tracked down a booming punt at his 31, then darted around and through air-grabbing defenders for the 69-yard return that made it 14-0.

West Davidson got on the board with a second-quarter safety on which  the Hornets fumbled and were fortunate to recover in their own end zone. Then Salisbury’s lead dwindled to 14-9 when West Davidson QB Drew Tedder hit Drew Lingerfelt with a touchdown pass.

Gill returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards into West Davidson territory, and Jack Fisher kicked a 24-yard field goal with 5 seconds left in the half for a 17-9 Salisbury lead. That return by Gill restored momentum to the Salisbury sideline.

“West Davidson’s kicker (Andrew Brown) usually puts it in the end zone,” Hinson said. “I told our guys to put their heels on the goal line and they might get lucky and get a chance for a return. Fortunately, Gill got his hands on one.”

When Salisbury’s sputtering offense coughed up a fumble  at the Salisbury 32 early in the second half,  Michael Starbuck made the recovery for the Green Dragons. West Davidson had a realistic chance to tie the game with a TD and a 2-point conversion. But  SHS linebacker Blaine Shellhorn led a spirited defensive stand by the Hornets. Shellhorn, who is 190 and hits like he’s 240, personally wrecked two plays. West Davidson had to settle for Brown’s soaring 36-yard field goal, and the Hornets still led, 17-12.

“West Davidson is big and they’re physical,” Shellhorn said. “The guy blocking me was like 260. I had to just punch and try to work my way around him.”

Salisbury’s defense and special teams carried a heavy load a long time, but then the offense got untracked. Walker got loose to the outside for a 27-yard jaunt to the end zone, and it was 24-12.

“We’d been a little stubborn trying to throw it and we weren’t pass-blocking very well,” Hinson said. “West Davidson has three kids on their defensive line who can really play and they were giving us trouble. But then Walker did a good job of getting on the edge.”

Then Lingerfelt made a reception, but as he turned to run, Salisbury safety Luke Holland wrestled the ball away from him. That led to Fisher’s second field goal and a 27-12 lead.

Two minutes later, Walker broke another one, same play, a pitch to the outside. His second TD came on the final play of the third quarter  and made it 34-12. The Hornets were finally out of danger.

“I just needed to be  patient on those runs to the outside,” Walker said. “I gave our receivers time to make their blocks and they helped me get those touchdowns.”

When Salisbury kicked off after Walker’s score, West Davidson fumbled on the return, and the ever-present Gill set sail for a 35-yard score.

With 7:38 remaining, Gill struck again. This time he picked off a pass and went 65 yards to score. The Hornets had scored 31 unanswered points and led 48-12. A fierce contest had become a blowout. Salisbury beat West Davidson for the 11th straight time.

West Davidson got the last points of the night. Hardin, the workhorse with 126 rushing yards, was rewarded for his long night’s  toil with a 1-yard score to cap a grinding march.

Salisbury earned its second straight win after an 0-2 start and  hosts Lexington on Sept. 21. West Davidson ‘s next game is at East Davidson and it could pose problems for the Golden Eagles.

“West Davidson leaned on us a little bit tonight, but we’re getting used to it,” Hinson said. “All four teams we’ve played so far had a size advantage on us upfront.”