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Statesville pounds East Rowan for share of NPC title

Mustangs fall hard in regular season finale

East Rowan’s Tahj Young 4 breaks up a pass to Statesville’s Ky’wuan Dukes 9. Photo by Wayne Hinshaw, for the Salisbury Post

By David Shaw

sports@salisburypost.com

GRANITE QUARRY — All the X’s and O’s in the NPC alphabet couldn’t have saved East Rowan on Friday night.

With a chance to engrave memories and secure a share of the North Piedmont Conference championship, the Mustangs played a game they’d rather forget.

“I felt really good about this opportunity — and that’s exactly how I put it to them before the game,” coach John Fitz said, after East was whipped, 53-3, by visiting Statesville in its regular-season finale. “It was an opportunity East Rowan hasn’t had since 1997. I asked them, ‘What will you do with this opportunity?”’

The answer was difficult to watch and harder to swallow. Using a cut-and-paste lineup, East (6-5, 3-2) managed only three first downs and 52 yards of total offense. It turned the ball over five times, surrendered four touchdowns in a dizzying two-minute span in the third quarter and — most significantly — was relegated to fourth place in the NPC and a wild card entry in next week’s 3A state playoffs.

“We were facing a little bit of adversity,” said Sam Wall, one of 13 East seniors recognized before the kickoff. “And with adversity, you’ve got to go out and conquer it. There’s a good and there’s a bad way of playing. All I asked my teammates was to play as hard as they could.”

They barely got the chance. Statesville (8-3, 4-1) lost the body count but dominated the game, scoring touchdowns on eight of its 11 possessions. East was without starting quarterback Logan Forbis, the junior with 11 TD passes who underwent an emergency appendectomy on Thursday. In his stead, untested Damario Chalk was promoted from the junior varsity and looked hurried and raw.

“He’s a freshman,” Fitz said. “He’s taken 20 snaps at quarterback this year. That’s it.”

Chalk completed a third-quarter pass to Brandon Jefferson, but spent most of the night mistiming handoffs and evading Statesville’s beefy defense. He steered the Mustangs to a 3-0 first-period lead after Gabe Hinceman recovered a fumble. Six plays later, Hinceman drilled a 27-yard field goal to open the scoring.

“To me, that’s three free points,” said Fitz. “We didn’t have the ball anyway. But then we kick off and can’t stop them. (Statesville) lived like they’ve been living all year, on big plays. When you’re looking at a fourth-and-eight, and they’re going for it. Or you’re looking at a third-and-12, and they get it. That’s just frustrating. I think our kids got frustrated and didn’t react to it the way they’ve been taught to react to it.”

East reacted by awkwardly losing its balance on the rain-soaked field. Statesville went up, 6-3, later in the opening quarter when sophomore QB Nebanye Moore slipped around the right side on a short touchdown run. Then came a 16-play scoring drive capped when running back Dorreco Davis shouldered his way into the end zone on a 4-yard burst. And next came another long scoring drive that ended with Moore’s 28-yard TD lob to wideout Ky’wuan Dukes, providing a 20-3 halftime lead.

“I think the wet turf hurt them more than helped them,” winning coach Randall Gusler said after logging his 101st career victory. “They had lots of slips and bumps. These were horrible, horrible conditions to play in, but we seemed to play well anyway. We still used our game plan and it worked.”

It worked especially well in the third stanza, when the Greyhounds turned a cordial sit-down into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Moore threw touchdown passes on his first two attempts of the second half, just 14 seconds apart, sandwiched around an East fumble. The lead bulged to 39-3 when Dedrick Davis blocked a punt, confiscated the loose ball and tumbled into the end zone with 8:55 remaining in the quarter. And yet another fumble — on the ensuing kickoff — paved the way for Statesville’s fourth touchdown in just two minutes and two seconds.

“It was slippery, but we both played on the same field,” said East defensive end Elton Hooper. “We just played football. When you play football, you win or you lose.”

And when you play football with a capital F, this is what happens.

•••

East suffered two other significant injuries. Running back Sam Pinckney, the super sophomore zeroing in on 1,300 yards rushing, bruised his back when he was high-lowed by a pair of Statesville pursuers with 4:45 remaining in the first half. The game was halted for 10 minutes while EMS personnel treated him — and a stretcher was summoned. Then Pinckney suddenly sprung to his feet and walked off without assistance. He returned in the second half and finished with 26 yards on 13 carries.

“That’s the kind of kid he is,” Fitz said. “He wanted to go back in on the next play.”

Pinckney will be monitored closely this week and should be available for next Friday’s playoff opener. Also sidelined was senior defensive back/punter Jax Fitz, the coach’s son. He suffered a deep thigh bruise with 40 seconds to go in the opening half, but is likely to play next week.

Forbis’ status is questionable. Fitz believes the earliest he’ll be able to practice is Wednesday.

NOTES: Moore passed for 225 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for a fourth TD. … Dukes caught six passes for 127 yards. … Statesville earned a No. 2 seed out of the NPC.

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