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High school football: Resilient North Rowan rallies past East

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan had more of everything.

Except resiliency.

East Rowan out-passed, out-rushed, out-blocked, out-first-downed, out-covered and out-tackled North Rowan on Friday and won time of possession in a landslide.

East was the more imposing team in a dozen ways, but the Cavaliers, who were throughly whipped in the middle two quarters, managed to avoid a knockout. Malcolm Wilson, 2018 Rowan County Offensive Player of the Year, scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, and North somehow pulled out a 20-16 decision on the road.

It was nothing short of an amazing victory for North.

“We just kept fighting,” Wilson said. “We could’ve hung our heads, but we didn’t.”

Both teams were burdened with more than 100 yards in penalties. The game was a 50/50 ball until North defensive lineman Malachi Turner intercepted a pass with 41 seconds left after East had charged into the North red zone.

“It came down to the end, but we showed what BGN (Big Green Nation) is all about,” Turner said.

North’s Zay Davis returned the opening kickoff to East’s 45, and North scored on fourth-and-2 when quarterback Kyree Sims popped through the middle on a designed run, and the Mustangs couldn’t catch him. The PAT kick failed, but the Cavaliers (2-3) led 6-0.

That play by Sims would be the extent of North’s offense for a very long time.

East got even on its second possession, punching away for first downs on the ground, and scoring when Logan Forbis made a perfect throw on a second-and-16 play from the North 44. Vincent Jones made the catch in stride. North blocked the PAT to keep it 6-all.

That long pass play was East’s cue to take over the game, and the Mustangs (2-2) did. East’s defense kept Wilson boxed in and Sims was hurrying his passes. He would have minus passing yardage in the first half.

Meanwhile, East ‘s large offensive line was beginning to assert itself, opening holes for Sammy Pinckney who was knifing forward for 5 and 6 yards at a time.

“East is a lot bigger than I realized,” North coach Ben Hampton said. “That’s a very good team. They’re physical. They’re going to cause a lot of teams a lot of problems.”

Late in the half, East put a drive together. Cole Eagle missed a field goal, but a North penalty created a second chance. His field goal on the final snap of the first half gave East a 9-6 lead and all kinds of momentum.

East was still the aggressor when the second half started. Tahj Young nearly housed the kickoff, racing all the way to the North 25 before being dragged down. Forbis connected with a soaring Jones near the right flag for the touchdown that put the Mustangs ahead 16-6.

After North went three-and-out again, East mounted another clock-chewing, defender-draining march behind that powerful 0-line. That methodical push exhausted the third quarter and seemed destined to put the game away. Isa’ah Cauthen did the ball-carrying, hammering away for short, steady gains. North looked done, defenders collapsing with cramps and going down with injuries, but East stopped itself with penalties. Then North blocked a field-goal try to cling to life.

“I told our guys that East probably would make it a very physical game, but we had to keep level heads no matter how emotional things got,” Hampton said. “We did a good job of staying calm, of being resilient, but when we got the ball back there in the fourth quarter, there was only 10:53 left in the game and we’d had the ball for 45 seconds in the second half.”

In other words, it didn’t look good.

But the game U-turned on one play. Down two scores and weary from taking a steady pummeling for 23 consecutive minutes, North faced second-and-8 at the North 17. That’s when Wilson located a tiny crack in East’s defense and swiveled toward daylight. He darted for 20 yards before being hemmed in by red jerseys on the East sideline. Then yellow flags were flying.

“Fifteen yards for a hit out of bounds and another 15 yards for talking,” East coach John Fitz said. “You can’t expect to win if you don’t play disciplined, and we didn’t play disciplined in the second half. We talk discipline all the time. It’s not like we have the talent of the 1984 Miami Hurricanes. We can’t beat anyone if we don’t play disciplined.”

After 30 yards in penalties were tacked on, Wilson’s little run had become a 50-yard play. Now the rejuvenated Cavaliers were at the East 33.

It wasn’t long before Sims’ 17-yard completion to Wilson moved North to the East 2. Then Wilson punched in the TD. The PAT kick failed again, but East’s lead was down to 16-12. There was 7:11 on the clock.

North’s defense, anchored by the 283-pound Turner and linebacker Jordan Goodine, needed a quick stop and got it. With 5:26 remaining, East was punting.

North stopped itself for a while, with an illegal procedure penalty wiping out a nice run by Sims.

But then North struck gold on its pet play  — a middle screen to Wilson — and caught’s East linemen in hot pursuit of Sims.

“That play was there for us twice earlier, but Kyree had rushed and fired the ball like a rocket at me even though I was only 5 yards away,” Wilson said with a smile. “But this time he got me the ball in good shape and I was able to turn upfield.”

Wilson zipped through a gap, and once he was flying past the linebackers, it was over. He galloped 77 yards.

“That was a team-play touchdown,” Wilson said. “It was mostly the 0-line getting their blocks. And then our receivers were running with me making more blocks downfield.”

North led 18-16. Then Sims hit James Gladden, who weaved his way into the end zone for a 2-point conversion that made North’s lead 20-16. That was a big two. Now East had to retaliate with a touchdown, not a field goal. There was 4:08 left.

East came close to getting it done. Forbis connected twice with Qui’Mari McCall to advance the ball 37 yards. East got to the North 44 with breath-taking suddenness and was at the 29 after a roughing-the-passer penalty. East still had three minutes, plenty of time to run the ball, but Zay Davis and Turner made stops at the line of scrimmage.

East didn’t panic. A Forbis pass gained 7 yards and a run got the first down.

East was at the North 18 when Turner made his interception. the game’s only turnover.

“All night long, we tried everything we could do to stop East,” Turner said. “And finally, we did.”

East’s edge in first downs was 17-7. East had 120 passing yards. Thanks to the 77-yard screen to Wilson, North had 99.

East had 43 running plays for 151 yards, while North ran it 21 times for 96.

East had all kinds of statistical advantages. North got the win, its seventh straight against the Mustangs.

“It’s a game we should’ve won, but you’ve got to be disciplined and you’ve got to finish,” Fitz said. “It’s disappointing, but one game will not define our season.”

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