Salisbury shuts out determined Central Davidson, 10-0

Published 1:02 am Saturday, October 5, 2019

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Central Davidson forced the tempo it wanted and got the low-possessions, clouds-of-dust game it wanted.

The Spartans got everything they wanted except a victory that would’ve rained harshly on Salisbury’s homecoming parade.

Central Davidson left guts and hearts splattered all over historic Ludwig Stadium in a valiant effort. Salisbury’s fierce defense bent like a horseshoe at times, but it refused to break, and the unbeaten Hornets claimed the Central Carolina Conference struggle, 10-0.

“I guess it was an ugly one, but the good teams find ways to win the ugly ones,” Salisbury quarterback Vance Honeycutt said. “No, we didn’t execute the way we should have tonight, but the game plan this week was to go 1-0. We accomplished that.”

It was ugly in the sense that both teams had far too many penalties. But there were zero turnovers, and except for one brief shoving match and one flag for excessive jawing, both teams did a decent job of maintaining composure in a brutal, bone-cracking, physical game.

Salisbury stayed on a collision course for next week’s contest at high-powered Oak Grove, which is also undefeated, but Friday’s game was even closer than it sounds. It was 3-0 forever.

Mike McLean finally broke a 37-yard scoring run with 1:37 remaining to clinch another victory for the Hornets (6-0, 4-0).

“Central Davidson has impressed the people they’ve played,” Salisbury defensive coordinator Mike Herndon said. “They make you play football in a phone booth.”

Salisbury doesn’t like phone-booth football. The Hornets like to fly around and use their athletes to create havoc, but flying around against Central Davidson just gets you out of position. Central Davidson’s linemen come at you shoe-to-shoe, straight ahead, with two wingbacks, a fullback and a tight end tightly packed. There are no wideouts, just nine blockers trying to outnumber the defenders with sheer power. It’s dinosaur football, old-school football, 1950s football, but it’s hard to stop a hard-running back (usually Cory Casilac) from getting 3 or 4 or 5 yards every time he assaults the line of scrimmage.

Central ran the ball 47 times. Salisbury ran it 28 times.

“Control the ball, control the clock, that was our plan,” said Central Davidson head coach Clayton Trivett, who played at Catawba and is a former Salisbury assistant. “For the most part, our guys did everything they could do, but penalties hurt us. We kept the ball and we moved it, but mistakes and penalties kept us from finishing drives against a good defense. Salisbury’s defense is athletic. They get off the ball.”

Central Davidson (3-3, 1-3) set the tone with a sturdy march on its first possession. Moving from their 30 to the Salisbury 32, the patient Spartans used 12 plays and burned up most of the first quarter before the Hornets were able to dig in and stop them.

“That’s kind of what we talked about all week, that this was going to be a game with limited possessions,” Salisbury head coach Brian Hinson said. “Central Davidson does what they do very well. We knew whenever we were able to get the ball,  we had to execute, but we failed miserably to do that.”

Early drops hurt the Hornets. Honeycutt made the throws, but the Hornets didn’t make the catches on potential big plays. Catch those, put Central Davidson in catch-up mode, and it’s a whole different story. But the game was still 0-0 heading to the second quarter.

McLean’s 24-yard run and Honeycutt’s 20-yard completion to Marcus Cook put the Hornets in field-goal range.  Wade Robins kicked the 29-yard field goal that provided the only points scored in the game until the final minutes. He had to kick that field goal twice. His 24-yarder also was good, but the Hornets were flagged and were moved back 5 yards.

Central Davidson’s offense didn’t threaten in the second quarter as Salisbury’s defense, which has allowed one TD all season, began to assert itself.

“They have a different offense, but we were prepared for it,” Salisbury linebacker Jalon Walker said. “As long as we read our keys and played our roles, we were fine. But we got out of order a few times and they got some yards.”

Halftime festivities included floats and the crowning of Salisbury linebacker Jabril Norman as homecoming king. Norman traded his crown for a helmet, and it was a good thing he did. He would be needed for a big play in the second half.

Central Davidson accepted the second-half kickoff and embarked on a determined, grinding push from the Central 25 to the Salisbury 39, but again the Hornets held.

Then Salisbury drove inside the Central 5 with the help of another Honeycutt-to-Cook connection and a roughing-the-passer penalty, but the Spartans made a defensive stand and denied McLean on fourth down. Salisbury could’ve opted to kick another field goal for 6-0, but a touchdown still would’ve beaten them. It made sense to try to punch it in, but Central’s defenders, a lot of them the same guys who were playing offense, stood tall.

“Defensively, they were showing us a different front than the two fronts we’d seen them play,” Hinson said. “We hadn’t practiced against that front since early in the season, and it wasn’t easy for our guys to adjust their blocking on the fly. And I didn’t do a great job of play-calling in the red zone. That’s on me.”

With its backs to its own goal-line, Central had faint hope of getting out of the hole against Salisbury’s defense, but the Hornets let them out with a horse-collar tackle. That allowed Central to possess the ball the rest of the third quarter. It was still 3-0, as the fourth quarter began with Central moving at the CD 33. Hornet fans were getting antsy and anxious.

Central kept driving slowly, but surely, overcoming a false start, and converting on fourth-and-2 at the Salisbury 39.

“That offense of theirs, everything is jumbled up,” Salisbury defensive lineman Zae Clay said. “That made it tough.”

The lengthy, clock-chewing march reached the Salisbury 16 with 7:13 left in the game. Stops by Norman and Nick Hall forced Central Davidson to try a field goal, but Drake Cullens’ attempt was blocked.

Norman got it.

“Honestly, I thought they were going to fake the field goal and go for it,” said Norman, who came from the inside. “But I came free, and I was able to block it.”

Salisbury tried to return the blocked field goal and was backed up. A turnover might have lost the game for the Hornets at that point, but Honeycutt came through, as did receiver Parker Lippard.  On second-and-12, under pressure, and with the game on the line, Honeycutt hit Lippard for a huge first down at the Salisbury 18.

“Parker didn’t play all the snaps tonight, but when he got his chance, he made it count,” Honeycutt said.

On third-and-8 from the 20, Honeycutt found Lippard for another first down and on third-and-8 from the Salisbury 35, with just over two minutes remaining, the duo did it again. That put the ball in Central Davidson territory. Two plays later, McLean broke his touchdown run past tiring Spartan defenders, and it was over.

“It was tougher than we thought it would be,” Norman said. “We thought we would put up more points than we did, but we made mistakes. We all made mistakes, but the defense still got the zero and the team got the win. That’s what matters.”

Spoken like a king.