A.L. Brown capitalizes on turnovers, beats West Rowan 34-20

Published 12:46 am Saturday, September 21, 2019

By David Shaw

MOUNT ULLA — The training wheels have long since been removed, but West Rowan’s football team still looks off-balance.

If nothing else, Friday night’s 34-20 loss to visiting A.L. Brown was a reminder that the Falcons still have some catching up to do.

“I just don’t think we played real well,” coach Joe Nixon said, moments after West (2-3) tarnished a strong offensive game with three costly turnovers. “I think our kids played hard, but we didn’t execute well. There are a lot of factors but at the end of the day, you can’t turn the ball over. That just puts you in a bad situation and they capitalized.”

Most damaging were the two fumbles Kannapolis (2-1) returned for touchdowns just a minute apart in the second quarter. The first came as the Falcons were threatening to open the scoring. The second as they were still shaking their heads.

“Giving up big plays — that’s what hurt us,” senior receiver Ty’Kese Warren said.

The Wonders — still smarting from last week’s 30-0 loss to Mooresville — were backpedaling deep in their own territory when defensive tackle Xavier Jordan adroitly scooped up a loose ball in the West backfield and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown.

“I don’t know,” said Jordan, who also returned a fumble for a TD in K-town’s season-opening win against Ashbrook. “I just found myself in the backfield and the ball was on the ground. I was just happy to be there.”

The 5-foot-9, 230-pound senior was suddenly encircled by teammates throwing block after block as he lumbered down the right sideline. “It was a high snap,” said West scatback Jalen Houston. “I watched the whole play from our sideline. He wasn’t that fast.”

“We were doing a good job running the football,” Nixon added. “But you can’t put it on the ground.”

Just 64 seconds later, a sloppy connection between West quarterback Noah Loeblein and running back Cayleb Brawley produced another miscue. This time A.L. Brown linebacker Dezmond Adams confiscated the ball and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

“Same situation,” Jordan said with a smile. “Right place at the right time. Only he’s a lot faster than me.”

The first half ended with another missed opportunity for West. Loeblein, who passed for 126 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown, guided the Falcons from their own 31-yard line to the Brown 1. But on a second-and-goal and the game clock evaporating, he was tackled for no gain on what looked like a broken play.

“Yeah, we had some miscommunication at the line,” Nixon explained. “There’s no excuse. You get down that close to the goal line, you’ve got to be able to punch it in.”

West finally did late in the third quarter, when Houston (29 carries/164 yards) scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 7-yard burst off right tackle. The Wonders returned fire with a 68-yard scoring drive, capped when Todd Kennedy found a seam from five yards out just seconds into the final period. West inched as close as 20-13 midway through the final stanza when Houston — the senior who mixes three parts confidence with one part daylight — won a 7-yard race into the end zone.

“I’m disappointed, but happy that we stuck together after giving up some big plays,” he said. “We knew this was going to be a tough game and had to change our attitudes fast.”

The guests secured the win by reaching the end zone on each of their next two possessions. Kennedy scored on a 5-yard scamper and senior Jakhiry Bennett (16 carries/128 yards) put the Wonders ahead 34-13 when he burst into the secondary, then jogged 29 yards for a TD. “That was enough momentum,” he said. “It was still a close game and we needed a play.”

They made enough of them to forget the loss to Mooresville and win handily. “We just had to get ourselves right,” said Jordan. “We worked hard and our leaders stepped up. It’s all up from here.”

And all who-knows-where for West. While Warren believes the Falcons remain a state playoff contender, Nixon sees the rest of the season as a sturdy challenge.

“We’ve got a lot to play for and plenty of things to keep getting better at,” he said. “We’ve got to get back to work, make the most of an off-week and concentrate on West Rowan. We’ve got to get better at some things that we’re not very good at right now.”

NOTES: West played without injured running back Mike Gonsalves and tight end Luke Koppe. … Defensive end Chaz McCombs led a defense that limited Brown to 75 total yards in the first half. West ran 39 plays from scrimmage to Brown’s 21 in the opening two quarters. By game’s end, the Falcons had 21 first downs and a 357-242 edge in total yards. … West’s K.J. Hernandez and Brown’s Khalil Blanton had interceptions. … The Falcons play at Concord on Oct. 4 while the Wonders visit Davie County next Friday.