Salisbury wraps up regular season with win over Oak Grove
Wet night but good win for the Hornets
By Marny Hendrick
SALISBURY — Salisbury’s Hornets started the game with a bang then closed it out with a flair Friday night, wrapping up the regular season with a 30-10 win over Oak Grove at Ludwig Stadium.
Playing on a rain-soaked, muddy field that only got worse as the game progressed, the Hornets played inspired defense to make a two-touchdown halftime lead hold up the rest of the way.
“In these kind of conditions, everything goes back to fundamentals,” said Salisbury head coach Brian Hinson. “It was all about controlling the line of scrimmage, not turning the ball over and tackling well.”
The win on Senior Night improved Salisbury to 7-4 for the season, 7-2 in the Central Carolina Conference, third in the league behind powerhouses Ledford and North Davidson. The Grizzlies closed out their inaugural varsity season with a respectable 5-6 mark, 4-5 in the CCC.
The Hornets’ bang-bang start was inspired by their defense almost immediately, as the left side of the line buried Oak Grove runner Aiden Shewcow in the end zone for a safety just 23 seconds into the game. The 2-0 lead was set up on the opening kickoff when the return man slipped down at his own 5-yard line.
On the ensuing free kick, the Hornets got a great return to the Grizzlies’ 34-yard line. Two screen passes from Mike McLean to Cam Gill put the ball on the 14, then runner Jadarius Wood ran it in from there. Just a minute, 15 seconds into the game, Salisbury had a 9-0 lead.
To its credit, Oak Grove responded with an 80-yard scoring drive, keyed by a surprise 36-yard pass from Dylan Barker to Anthony Bowen to the Hornets’ 17. Four plays later, workhorse running back Shewcow spun in from the one to make it 9-7 midway in the first period.
The Grizzlies then threatened to take the lead on the next series when Salisbury coughed up a fumble at its own 41-yard line. A steady diet of Shewcow runs and some untimely offsides penalties pushed the ball all the way to the 5. But back-to-back holding penalties killed the Grizzlies hopes as they came up short on a 23-yard field goal try.
“That was ridiculous at first,” said junior linebacker Blaine Shellhorn as the Hornets had trouble bringing down the hard-running Shewcow at first. “But we got it straightened out and made the stop when we needed to.”
As the second quarter opened, the Hornets went back to their strength, turning things over to sophomore McLean who took snaps at both quarterback and running back. The Grizzlies handed Salisbury a gift when punter Safin Coogles knee touched down at his own 24-yard line, prior to the kick. McLean ran 20 yards to the 3 on a keeper then scored two plays later from the 2-yard line to push the margin to 16-7.
A big 10-yard sack of of Barker by Hornets’ defensive lineman Zae Clay forced a short punt that set Salisbury up at their own 45-yard line. McLean then juked left and cut back right, despite the sloppy field, and sprinted 55 yards for a touchdown, giving the Hornets a 23-7 lead into halftime.
“In the second half, I got very plain and simple with our offense,” said Hinson, in thinking he had enough of a margin to win. “We took the air out of the ball, tried to keep the clock moving and relied on our defense to keep them out of the end zone. They did a good job for us.”
With field conditions deteriorating, neither team scored in the third period, but the Grizzlies did tack on a 26-yard Coogle field goal with 8:37 left in the game.
The Hornets then used up valuable clock time behind the running of McLean and a strong effort by the offensive line. “Their defensive line had trouble keeping their feet out there,” said senior lineman Carter Jenkins. “We pushed them back and I got me some pancake blocks out there.”
Oak Grove got one final shot with about five minutes left, but Salisbury’s defense had other ideas. On third-and-17 from his own 29-yard line, quarterback Barker tried to avoid a sack with an ill-advised short pass to the flat. But the ball went straight to Hornets’ junior linebacker Jaden Hiligh, who had clear sailing to the end zone for a 35-yard pick-six. Jack Fisher kicked his fourth extra point of the game, making the score 30-10, with three minutes left.
“Our defense made great plays when they had to,” said Hinson. “Hiligh’s interception was big, while Jadarius Wood did a great job at outside linebacker and Cam Gill ran our secondary well.”
The offensive numbers were not overly impressive due to field conditions, but McLean racked up 137 yards on 15 carries and his two scores. For the Grizzlies, Shewcow was tireless with 36 carries for 152 yards and the lone TD, giving him 1,063 rushing yards for the season.
The Hornets’ attention now turns to the state 2A playoffs, with pairings set to be announced Saturday afternoon by the NCHSAA. Salisbury figures to be in the larger enrollment (2AA) bracket and will likely have to travel in their opening playoff game next Friday.
“We don’t care where we go or who we play,” said Shellhorn. “We are just ready to play. We are definitely going for a few wins, too.”
Oak Grove has a reasonable shot to make the 64-team playoff field, which is impressive for a school which opened just a year ago and a team with no seniors on the roster.
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