West Rowan blanks North by winning in the trenches
Falcons too much for North Rowan, win home opener
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — Sometimes it’s not rocket science.
West Rowan’s behemoths controlled the trenches on Friday, and the Falcons overpowered North Rowan 34-0.
“We did not roll off the ball, could not create a new line of scrimmage against West’s defensive line,” said disappointed North coach Ben Hampton. “And our penalties were awful. We stayed behind the chains, stayed in negative field position. We never could dig our way out. It was two steps forward and three steps back.”
West (1-1) was shut out by Mooresville on opening night, but this time it got two touchdowns each from back Michael Gonsalves and receiver Ty’Kese Warren to manhandle the Cavaliers (0-2).
“The difference between tonight and last week for us was offensive execution,” Warren said. “We moved the ball. We couldn’t run the ball at Mooresville, but we were able to run it tonight, and that opened up the pass.”
The Falcons, who won 44 consecutive county games from 2001-12 under head coach Scott Young, have quietly started County Streak Chapter II under Joe Nixon. West is 16-0 vs. Rowan opponents since Nixon became head coach in 2015.
West won its 11th straight against North Rowan.
The shutout was the first recorded by West since the Falcons blanked South Rowan 35-0 in the middle of the 2016 season. The Cavaliers hadn’t failed to put points on the scoreboard since they took a 51-0 beating from Albemarle in 2011. That was a stretch of 94 games.
“That zero does feel pretty good,” West defensive lineman Levontae Jacobs said. “I’m proud of the way our defense played. North has fast players, but we didn’t let them get outside. The game plan was to keep (running back Malcolm) Wilson and the quarterback (Kyree Sims) in the box, and we did that.”
The fun started for West shortly after North accepted the opening kickoff. DB Reggie Everhart delivered a colossal hit for a loss of 3 yards on a pass completion on North’s second snap. North was punting not long after that, and sophomore QB Noah Loeblein and West’s offense headed onto the field for the first time with the ball resting on North’s 39.
“I was a lot less nervous tonight than I was for the Mooresville game,” said Loeblein, who was 9-for-15 passing for 128 yards and made some plays while scrambling. “I was more comfortable. There was not as much defensive pressure.”
It appeared a penalty might stop West’s first push, but on third-and-long at the North 20, Loeblein connected with Warren near the North sideline. Warren had the first down, but he wanted more. He showed his strength, powered through multiple tacklers and put the ball in the end zone.
“After I caught that ball, I just did what comes naturally to me,” Warren said.
West started its second possession with more great field position at the North 40, but was stopped. The key play was a sack of Loeblein by Brandon Jefferson, but that was the only sack West’s offensive line would allow.
West’s third possession started at the North 40, and the Falcons advanced those 40 yards — all on the ground — with the o-line hammering and with Cayleb Brawley or Gonsalves carrying. That TD, late in the first quarter, gave West a 13-0 lead.
“Great job by our guys early in the game to win the field-position battle in the kicking game,” Nixon said. “Our defense was getting three-and-outs, and our offense was converting on the short fields. We were playing at a fast tempo, but just because we’re playing fast, that doesn’t mean we can’t be physical.”
When North lost the handle after fielding a second-quarter punt, West cashed in and made it 20-0. Loeblein flipped a pass to his left where Warren had one-on-one coverage in the end zone. Warren made another quality play, adjusting, coming back to the ball, and producing his second touchdown grab.
“That was just a jump ball,” Loeblein said with a smile. “That one was all Ty’Kese.”
Federico Cruz’s PAT gave West a 20-0 halftime lead. North had just four first downs and Wilson had been limited to 15 yards on six carries, so that lead felt as secure as 40-0.
“The challenge for our guys in the second half was not to give up,” Hampton said. “Our struggles were mostly on the o-line where we’re beat up and we’ve got kids playing out of position. But we’ve got to find a way to get off the ball better than we did tonight. You can only use inexperience and youth as excuses for so long. At some point, it comes down to grit, focus and drive.”
West threatened to score again after taking the second-half kickoff. Jaharion Graham’s interception briefly denied the Falcons, but North couldn’t move the ball, and there was a miscommunication after North went into punt formation inside its 10-yard line. West stopped a faked punt easily, took over at the North 7, and handed the ball to Gonsalves for a breezy touchdown.
“I’m not sure what we thought we saw there, but we basically gave them a touchdown,” Hampton said.
Early in the fourth quarter, West’s Jalen Houston returned a punt into North territory. Houston got popped, and the ball was jarred loose, but it was West’s night, and the Falcons’ Nathaniel Estrada, who was trailing Houston, recovered at the North 34.
Brawley and the offensive line smashed it in from there, 7 and 8 yards at a time against tiring North defenders.
“We made a lot of mistakes, and there definitely are things to clean up, but we got better,” Nixon said. “Noah (Loeblein) improved tonight, and some easy early throws (to Quay Weeks) helped him settle in. Things slowed down for him some, and getting the running game going helped a lot.”
Sims, a junior, had a decent stat sheet, with 12 completions for 106 yards, but 41 came on one strike to towering Denerio Robinson.
Linebacker Jordan Goodine had physical stops for losses for North, but there weren’t a lot of positives.
“The good thing is our kids are resilient,” Hampton said. “They’ll show up Monday and we’ll get back to work and get better.”
Lexington (0-1) is next for the Cavaliers.
Cox Mill (1-1) comes to Mount Ulla next week.
“Our schedule doesn’t get any easier,” Nixon said. “But we’ll enjoy this one for a little while before we get back at it.”