HS football: Salisbury blanks Thomasville, 28-0

Published 2:02 am Saturday, September 14, 2019

By Mike London

SALISBURY — The Salisbury Hornets played without their starting quarterback, tossed three interceptions, produced just 15 passing yards and had a punt blocked.

They still won easily, 28-0, against Thomasville at Ludwig Stadium on Friday in the Central Carolina Conference opener for both teams.

That’s how good Salisbury’s defense is.

Jalon Walker had a pick-six.  Jabril Norman forced a fumble and recovered another one. Kameon Alford recovered a fumble. Marcus Cook intercepted a pass. Linebacker Blaine Shellhorn blew up plays sideline to sideline — and in the Thomasville backfield. Kevin Hayes was a rock.

“Our defensive staff has done a great job of putting people in the right positions,” Salisbury head coach Brian Hinson said. “And a lot of those young men who are in those right positions are very special athletes.”

Only seven points have been scored against Salisbury (3-0, 1-0) so far, and that lone touchdown came on a scoop-and-score off a special-teams fumble. Salisbury still has a shutout going through the first 12 quarters of 2019 when its ferocious defense is on the field.

“Our defensive line is giving people fits,” Hinson said. “It all starts with those guys upfront and we’ve got three very good linebackers behind them. Our guys in the back are doing a nice job of not letting people get behind them. We’re not giving up big plays.”

Thomasville (1-2, 0-1) was athletic and combative, but had no way to generate sustained offense and never seriously threatened to score, even with some favorable field position after Salisbury turnovers.

“Thomasville does have a good quarterback (Landon Johnson),” said Walker, an imposing 6-foot-3 sophomore who already has ACC offers. “But we were well-prepared for him, running and passing. Our defense was on point. We were focused on every snap.”

Salisbury’s defense wanted that zero — and earned it.

“Shutouts mean a lot to us,” said Norman, a senior leader and a college prospect who has an offer from Catawba. “The last two years we played with a young defense, but everyone bought in, we built bonds and we developed chemistry. “Now we have something special. This defense is good.”

Offensively, Salisbury is a work in progress, especially with starting quarterback Vance Honeycutt on the shelf for an undetermined length of time. Honeycutt, a junior who has committed to UNC baseball, was giving the Hornets a viable passing threat. They couldn’t throw it efficiently in his absence on Friday, but the guys who took shotgun snaps — Norman and Mike McLean — are tough enough athletes to make something positive happen even when a play looks ugly.

Usually it was Norman at quarterback, with McLean at running back. McLean, a junior, carried the offensive burden against a stacked box, hammering for 161 yards on 23 carries. He’s a downhill guy and plays larger than his listed 170 pounds in the program. The offensive line battled, and McLean crashed for steady gains. Thomasville knew McLean was coming on every first-down play, but  he’d still get 5 or 6 yards and put the Hornets in good shape to get a drive going or keep one going.

“When he was younger, Mike was trying to bounce a lot of plays to the outside,” Hinson added. “But he’s learned that you’re not going to break a long one on every play. Sometimes have to put your shoulder down and be content with that short gain. He had a great attitude tonight. We asked him to handle several different roles, and he did everything we asked.”

The game started exactly the way Hornets want games to start. Thomasville got the ball first, got stuffed and had to punt. The Hornets started their first possession on the Thomasville side of the field. McLean fought for 4 yards on a fourth-and-3 carry to the Thomasville 27 to keep things moving. From the 22, Norman broke loose for a touchdown.

“The coaches told me on Tuesday that I’d be playing a lot at quarterback against Thomasville,” Norman said. “It wasn’t all new. Whenever Vance Honeycutt had baseball stuff, I got quarterback reps this summer. On that first touchdown, it was just kind of a mixed-up play. It was supposed to be a pass play, but I saw a hole and took off.”

When Thomasville threw an incomplete pass on a faked punt in the second quarter, the Hornets had another short field to work with and made it 14-0. Fast freshman JyMikaah Wells (205 pounds) popped through a hole for 15-yard score three minutes into the second quarter for a 14-o lead.

“He’s talented,” Hinson said. “He’s going to be a really good player, and we’re starting to see flashes.”

When Thomasville failed to get  off a punt attempt five minutes later, the Hornets were in business again. This time McLean was at quarterback. Just as Norman had done, he improvised on a broken play and scored.

“That play was actually supposed to go the other way, but I saw the field, saw all that grass, and changed direction,” McLean said.

Once Salisbury had a three-score lead, with its defense, the buses could’ve started rolling. With that punting mishap, plus a wild snap and several sacks, Thomasville netted less than 100 yards of offense for the night.

“We had them in third-and-long a lot,” Shellhorn said. “Then we could just get after the quarterback.”

The Hornets patiently chewed away at the clock in the second half, with McLean and Wells carrying the ball.

The only score of the half came when Walker, the son of Curtis Walker, Catawba College’s head coach, picked off a hurried pass (he snagged it with one big hand) and scored with 5:41 remaining.

“Just reaction,” Walker said. “I saw the pass coming and I had a good break on the ball and got there in time. Then I was able to finish the play.”

Walker had another similar opportunity earlier, but couldn’t make the pick. On his second opportunity, he made it count for six points.

Josh Portillo was 4-for-4 on PATs.

Thomasville got interceptions from Jordan Williams, BJ Saunders and Janrhi Luckey.

The CCC appears to be up for grabs.  North Davidson is 0-3 for the first time since 1972. Ledford is 1-2. There may be a changing of the guard at the top of the league, and the Hornets, if they can smooth out the rough edges on offense, are contenders. There already have made some believers. They were ranked ninth in the 2A media poll this week.

Salisbury plays at West Davidson (1-2) next week, while Thomasville hosts surprising Central Davidson (3-0).