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High school football: Rowan is a no passing zone

While more and more high school teams are putting footballs in the air, Rowan County is trending sharply in the other direction.

This intentional grounding of offenses in the county is a coaching decision and comes without a flag.

East Rowan, out of necessity, has turned to the “Wildcat” formation and is snapping the ball directly to a back (or receiver).

West Rowan, quite balanced in recent seasons, has switched to a run-heavy philosophy. Right now, West is about 10 times more likely to run it than throw it.

North Rowan, Salisbury, South Rowan and Carson are definitely run-first, as well, but if you’ve got someone like Mike McLean or Malcolm Wilson or Nathan Chrismon or Hunter Courtney to hand the ball off to, you should be run-first.

The point is Rowan is bucking statewide and nationwide trends. No one in the county is throwing the pigskin around with reckless abandon.

North QB Kyree Sims, who missed the Lexington game, has thrown 121 times in eight outings. That’s 15 times per game. That’s not exactly the “Airport,” as North’s Eagle Stadium once was known. Still, Sims leads the county in passing attempts and passing yards with 828. South QB Drew Huffman, who throws about 13 times per game, leads the county with 10 TD passes.

It’s much different at many places.

At Davie High, just down the road, towering junior Nate Hampton has thrown for 2,124 exciting yards and 19 TDs in eight games and ranks among the state leaders.

At Durham’s Riverside High, Landin Sledge has thrown for 2,528 yards and a whopping 36 touchdowns. He’s the state’s passing leader. At least he’s the leader for those who post stats on MaxPreps. Not everyone does.

For the MaxPreps national leader, you have to go to Ohio, where Blaine Huston has thrown for 3,296 yards.

These confounding and astounding numbers don’t necessarily mean Rowan football  is moving backwards or is doing something wrong. Downhill runs by veteran backs behind seasoned offensive linemen actually make a lot sense. They are far less risky than forward passes thrown by youthful QBs.

Coaches want to win. They design game plans that give their personnel the best chance to succeed. Right now, many of the best players in the county happen to be running backs and offensive linemen.

East ran for 500-plus yards from the “Wildcat” last week and won. If something is working, you keep doing it until it stops working.

As long as West can keep running for 400 yards, the Falcons can’t lose. With the linemen the Falcons have on both sides of the ball, they’ve got a great chance to prevail as long as they don’t  get mauled in the turnover battle.

While Rowan running backs may not stack up with the national leaders — an Alabama back named Jalen White has rushed for 2,919 yards — they are putting up some fine numbers.

MaxPreps lists Quinton Cooley of Southern Nash — that’s Julius Peppers country — as the state’s leading ground-gainer with 1,772 rushing yards, but East Rowan’s Sammy Pinckney (1,316 yards in eight games) and North Rowan’s Wilson (1,137 yards in nine games) are up there. Salisbury’s McLean smashed his way past the 1,000-yard plateau on Thursday night.

Then there’s West Rowan’s Jalen Houston, who has been a running back only for the last five games, but now owns 838 rushing yards. Houston’s 7.8 yards per carry average matches Wilson’s, and he’s done it against generally stronger competition.

One thing is for sure. The Rowan County Offensive Player of the Year will be a running back.

While there’s still a long way to go, it’s time to start thinking about it, and we have.

Houston, McLean, Pinckney or Wilson? Those are the candidates, at this point, in alphabetical order.

While Wilson ran wild for seven TDs, 300-plus yards and state player of the week honors against Chatham Central, and Pinckney rolled for 200-plus yards against Carson, McLean may have had the most impressive game last Friday with 177 rushing yards against a vaunted Ledford defense.

Rowan County Defensive Player of the Year isn’t resolved yet. What is clear is that he will come from one of the county’s three stout defensive units. Salisbury, North Rowan and West Rowan are allowing less than 100 yards rushing per game. North and West allow two touchdowns per game, while Salisbury has been even stingier.

Those defenses are tough. West put the brakes on Pinckney and Wilson. Salisbury contained Wilson. North didn’t allow McLean, Pinckney or Houston to have a big game.

Last week was a strong one for Rowan, with four teams winning. The headliner was Salisbury’s road victory at Ledford. West Rowan’s trouncing of South Iredell was impressive. North Rowan is beating people it should beat and won its sixth straight game. Quarterback-less East Rowan put up 53 points.

For Salisbury, 10-1 is a real possibility. At the minimum, West Rowan and North Rowan are going to have winning seasons and they could do a lot more. East Rowan, at 4-4, is on the bubble.

Huge road games, season-swinging games, are on tap for East Rowan and North Rowan tonight. They’ll tell us a lot.

•••

As far as last week’s picks, Davie shocked the world and the panel of prognosticators. Scott Maddox was 5-2, correctly predicting Salisbury’s win at Ledford, but missing on A.L. Brown-Cox Mill. I was 5-2 also. I was correct on the Wonders’ game, but didn’t have enough faith in the Hornets. Marny Hendrick was 4-3. At least we all got North Rowan-Chatham Central right.

For the season, counting Salisbury’s win on Thursday (I can verify Scott and Marny got their picks in on Wednesday), Scott is 35-11, I’m 35-11, and Marny is 32-14.

This is a tough week, I think, with four games I’d put in the toss-up category. As far as the other three games, well, there are no sure things in high school sports. Davie was a 29-point underdog with a 3 percent win probability last week. Salisbury was a 14-point underdog with a 10 percent win probability.

But sometimes it rains when the weatherman says there’s a 10 percent chance of it.

Other than the Hornets, who moved their game up to Thursday, it’s a full slate tonight, with just one home game in Rowan. Statesville is at Carson. South Rowan is at Lexington. West Rowan is at North Iredell. North Rowan is at North Stanly. East Rowan is at South Iredell. A.L. Brown is at Northwest Cabarrus. Glenn is at Davie.

Marny says Statesville, Lexington, West Rowan, North Rowan, East Rowan, Northwest Cabarrus and Davie will be winners. Scott agrees. I’ll take South Rowan. There are also some reasons to take North Stanly, South Iredell and Glenn tonight, but I can’t make myself do it.

•••

South Rowan (1-7, 1-5 CCC) at Lexington (1-7, 0-6 CCC)

History is on the side of the Yellow Jackets, who have won 11 of 12 in the series and beat the Raiders 48-26 in 2018.

According to the Massey Ratings, which are informative and intriguing, but obviously not infallible, South Rowan is a 10-point underdog with a 29 percent win probability.

Lexington is ranked 344th in the state by MaxPreps, while South is ranked 354th.

It’s homecoming for Lexington, which hasn’t won since it edged North Rowan (minus Kyree Sims) on Sept. 6. South’s lone win came emphatically on Sept. 13 at East Davidson. East Davidson edged Lexington recently.

Lexington hasn’t been able to score (70 points all season), while South hasn’t stopped anyone lately (349 points allowed). It’s resistible force vs.movable object.

When two 1-7 teams are playing, it probably comes down to who wants to win more.

South finishes with Central Davidson and Salisbury. The Raiders aren’t likely to win either of those, but they’ve got an opportunity tonight.

•••

West Rowan (5-3, 2-0 NPC) at North Iredell (0-8, 0-2 NPC)

The Falcons should be able to do whatever they want to. Look for massive rushing totals from Jalen Houston and Cayleb Brawley. They may even toss a few TD passes.

West’s Massey Ratings win probability is … you guessed it, 100 percent. The Falcons are 41-point favorites.

West won 49-7 last season and has taken 21 of 24 meetings. North Iredell’s most recent triumph against the Falcons was in 2002.

•••

Statesville (8-0, 2-0 NPC) at Carson (2-6, 1-1 NPC)

The Massey Ratings give Carson a 1 percent chance of stunning fourth-ranked Statesville.

The Cougars are 35-point underdogs.

That’s not to knock Carson. They’ve won two, and they’ve won the two they should’ve won.

Statesville demolished Concord 61-6, but the Cougars should do better than that.

They’re still playing very hard. East Rowan coach John Fitz was complimentary about the Cougars’ level of effort last week.

Carson is 1-8 against the Greyhounds. Carson won 10 years ago.

•••

North Rowan (6-3, 4-0 YVC) at North Stanly (4-4, 3-0 YVC)

This is the Yadkin Valley Conference championship game.

North Stanly crushed North Rowan last year, but that was a far different North Stanly team, a more talented team. This year’s North Stanly squad is still sound and well-coached, it just doesn’t have as many gifted athletes. North Stanly will have a good plan for containing North Rowan star Malcolm Wilson. Whether the Comets can execute that plan remains to be seen. Wilson, the state player of the week, has scored 15 touchdowns in the last three weeks, and North Rowan’s offensive line has improved a lot since the season began,

North Stanly lost to East Rowan on opening night, but the Comets throttled Carson.

North Rowan has won six straight after a shaky start that included losses to Salisbury and West Rowan.

North Rowan leads the series 14-7, but has lost big to the Comets the last two seasons.

The Massey ratings project a score of North Rowan 21, North Stanly 19. The Cavaliers have a win probability of 54 percent.

•••

East Rowan (4-4, 1-1 NPC) and South Iredell (2-6, 0-2 NPC)

South Iredell, somewhat surprisingly, is a 14-point favorite according to the Massey Ratings and has a win probability of 75 percent.

MaxPreps also rates South Iredell higher than the Mustangs, mostly because of the impressive schedule the Vikings have played to this point.

West Rowan made South Iredell look awful last week, but West’s offensive and defensive lines can do that.

People still shouldn’t forget that this is a South Iredell team that beat Davie.

South Iredell will be eager to bounce back on homecoming.

East should be able to put up four touchdowns. The question is can East’s defense, which has allowed 27 points per game, get enough stops.

East leads the series 9-2-1 and upset the Vikings, who were really good, in 2018.

•••

A.L. Brown (5-2, 1-1 SPC) at NW Cabarrus (8-0, 2-0 SPC)

Northwest Cabarrus has risen from nowhere to state powerhouse in a hurry.

Three years ago, the Trojans were 2-9 and were being shut out by a lot of people, including East Rowan.

The Trojans are ranked second in 3A in the state media poll and survived a major test last week from Central Cabarrus.

The Massey Ratings have Northwest as a 20-point favorite with an 86 percent win probability, but I think this will be a lot closer.

The Wonders lead the series 40-4-1, but the Trojans rolled over the Wonders 58-27 last season for their first win in the series since 1976.

•••

Glenn (5-3, 1-1 CPC) at Davie (5-3, 2-0 CPC)

Davie knocked off a West Forsyth team that was considered to be one of the best in the state last week.

Even after that improbable 37-34 victory, MaxPreps ranks West Forsyth fifth and Davie 73rd.

Davie is unpredictable. The War Eagles’ season includes three straight September losses to 3A teams, one of them to South Iredell (2-6).

Davie is undefeated in October, though, and in a six-team conference October is a lot more important than September.

Glenn is the only team that’s beaten Reagan (7-1) this season. The Bobcats are ranked 54th in the state by MaxPreps.

The Massey Ratings project Glenn 26, Davie 24 and give Davie a 46 percent chance of winning.

Glenn beat Davie in 2017 and 2018, so maybe the War Eagles are due.

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