Salisbury opens with win over North Rowan, 9-7
By David Shaw
SALISBURY — Go ahead and shout it from the rooftops.
Salisbury’s football team played four quarters of pound-and-ground defense Thursday night and was rewarded with a season-opening, 9-7 victory over arch rival North Rowan.
“Our defense is official and certified,” senior linebacker Jabril Norman crowed at Ludwig Stadium, where the ‘visiting’ Hornets beat North for the first time since 2012. “We’ve got great players on D. If we really, really play together, nobody can run on us and nobody can pass on us. We’re that good.”
They were last night. Salisbury recovered three North fumbles — the last with 1:47 remaining — and limited Cavs’ all-everything running back Malcolm Wilson to 45 yards on 22 carries.
“We got beat off the ball a lot tonight,” said North coach Ben Hampton. “And that’s not acceptable.”
Winning coach Brian Hinson had high praise for a defense that provided a steady diet of physical punishment. It held North to 50 yards rushing and eight first downs and contained Wilson — who ran for more than 1,800 yards in 2018. The senior never gained more than seven yards on any attempt.
“We told them all week that if they could control the front, we’d match up favorably,” Hinson said. “It was all about stopping No. 22. He’s a great back. If we could stop him and control the line of scrimmage, we felt we could win the football game.”
The outcome wasn’t cemented until the final two minutes. Facing second-and-22 from his own 28-yard line, North quarterback Kyree Sims threaded a 20-yard completion to 6-foot-5 receiver Denerio Robinson across the middle. Robinson was immediately clocked by sophomore defensive back Marcus Cook and fumbled the ball toward midfield, where Salisbury freshman C.J. Toomer recovered.
“The ball popped and I jumped on it,” Toomer said. “We knew right then, that was it.”
Added Norman: “When that ball sprung out, I was amazed. I couldn’t believe it. That made it a done deal.”
Not to be overlooked were Salisbury’s two red-zone defensive stands in the third quarter. The first screeched to a halt at the 3-yard line, following a 12-yard naked bootleg by Sims on a fourth-and-13 play. He was wrestled to the turf by SHS defenders Jalon Walker and Lawon Blackwell.
“At that point in time, you’ve got to put your shoulder down and get a yard,” Hampton said. “We’re just young and don’t understand that facet of the game yet. A play like that, that’s just will and guts.”
Moments later, North wideout Tyshon Sifford made a spectactular catch on a 34-yard pass from Sims at the Salisbury 15. But a Wilson stuff and three incomplete throws turned the ball over on downs.
“I’m ready to see what this season has in store for us,” said Shellhorn, who recorded two sacks and corralled Sims in the end zone for a second-quarter safety. “We’ve got one heckuva defense. At least, it feels that way.”
Salisbury opened the scoring when it drove 59 yards for a touchdown on its first possession. Junior quarterback Vance Honetcutt rolled out to his left, juked a defender and raced 26 yards into the end zone. The lead grew to 9-0 early in the second period when Shellhorn — an undersized defensive end with speed and attitude — tackled Sims for a safety.
“Switching from linebacker, that’s the best move I could have made,” said the 205-pound Shellhorn. “You need fast feet, a strong base and you can’t be scared of anything.”
From the 2-yard line, he beat North’s left tackle with a sweeping move to the outside. “I saw him take a step back and get ready to pass block,” Shellhorn explained. “And I came off the edge. I saw an opportunity and took it.”
North’s lone score came on a fumbled punt with 3:19 remaining in the first half. Junior Zay Davis scooped up a loose ball and rambled 60 yards down the left side to make it 9-7.
“I feel like we took a shot from them in the first half,” Hampton said, afterward. “And we were only down 9-7. All we had to do was execute better in the second half, but the effort wasn’t there.”
It was for Salisbury.
“There’s no doubt our defense won the game for us,” Hinson said, as the Hornets celebrated post-game. “It’s for real. This is a rivalry game and if they want to celebrate, let them. This is something they’ve wanted for six years.”
NOTES: Sims completed 11 of 18 passes for 133 yards in his varsity debut. … Anthony Dodd and Jaden Hiligh also recovered fumbles for SHS. Devin Kendall and Davis had North’s two recoveries. … Salisbury held a 187-183 edge in total yards. … The game was initially scheduled for North’s Eagle Stadium, but the venue was switched due to poor field conditions.