Surging West Rowan plows through the mud — and Carson

Published 1:31 am Saturday, November 2, 2019

By David Shaw

CHINA GROVE — West Rowan may be on the road to the 3A state playoffs, but it had to stop and pay a few tolls Friday night.

The surging Falcons had a tougher-than-expected time in a 26-7 North Piedmont Conference victory on Carson’s water-logged field.

“I think our seniors did a good job of keeping us focused on the task at hand,” coach Joe Nixon said, moments after West (7-3, 4-0) secured its fifth straight win and finished 3-0 against county opponents. “We knew the field conditions wouldn’t be ideal tonight. That took a little bit away from us, but Carson brought in a great game plan. ”

West adapted well enough to remain tied for the league lead with Statesville. It totaled a modest 289 yards of offense — including 199 rushing — while its defense forced two turnovers and limited Carson (2-8, 1-3) to just 71 yards on the ground.

“Honestly, we just did what we were supposed to do,” said left tackle Edwin Berrios. “We knew who to block and when to block them. There was always going to be an unblocked person because they filled the box with so many people. But the running backs did a good job of making them miss.”

Carson, meanwhile, was held scoreless until the game’s final minute, when sophomore quarterback Alex London tossed a 19-yard touchdown pass to wideout Jake Harris, who made a spectacular catch in the end zone. It capped a 14-play, 95-yard scoring drive that consumed more than five minutes.

“We tried to slow the game down,” said first-year Cougars’ coach Daniel Crosby. “And we’ve been doing it pretty well the last few weeks, all the way back to the Kannapolis game (a 28-0 loss Oct. 4). We got it to where we wanted in the second half. We talked about it at halftime. We weren’t gonna throw it down. We were gonna pull out all the stops and try to win the game.”

Carson had a fighting chance in the first half, when West used a couple of Federico Cruz field goals to build a 6-0 lead. But the third quarter proved instrumental, as Falcons’ QB Noah Loeblein directed a pair of touchdown drives.

“We tried to contain the run inside and not let any passes get caught,” explained Carson cornerback Mikhail Gomez. “But in the third quarter, I think we had some bad reads. We thought the ball was somewhere else. A lot of times, it went the other way.”

Blame Jalen Houston for that. The West senior took the second-half kickoff and accelerated like a Ferrari to midfield. Six snaps and an encroachment penalty later, Loeblein (6-for-8, 90 yards) feathered a 24-yard TD pass to Quay Weeks on the right side.

Later in the period, West DB Daniel Sell made his third interception of the season and had a stirring return nullified by a blocking-in-the-back penalty. Houston got the yardage back with a 38-yard run on first down. Then on third-and-7 from the Carson 27, Loeblein found a crease and muscled his way to the two. On second-and-goal, linebacker Baiden Suddarth lined up in the backfield, took a handoff and bulldozed into the end zone for a 19-0 lead.

“We started off slow,” Berrios noted. “In the second half, we did what we know how to do.”

They did it again early in the fourth quarter, when Loeblein threw his second touchdown pass — and 10th of the year. This time he found Houston  (75 yards rushing, 59 receiving) streaking across the middle for a 32-yard score.

“He’s just fast,” said Gomez, who intercepted a pass with 1:14 remaining in the first half. “Too much speed.”

Carson never recovered. The Cougars managed only eight rushing yards in the second half, when London completed six passes for 88 yards.

“We’re not pleased with losing,” said running back Alex Stirewalt. “We never are, but we really didn’t execute enough. What we would have liked was to get some bigger runs and bigger plays.”

West, in its signature style, wouldn’t allow that, no matter how sloppy the field was.

“I think we played well considering the conditions,” said defensive tackle LeVontae Jacobs, a senior with ham-hock forearms. “It was hard to dig in. We just had to stay low and find another way.”

NOTES:  West will play for its first conference title since 2011 when it hosts NPC co-leader Statesville (10-0, 4-0) next Friday. The Greyhounds are unbeaten in five road games. Carson closes its season at South Iredell. … Carson’s Brandon Haas recovered a fumble on the night’s weirdest play — a partially blocked, third-quarter punt by teammate Andrew Beaver, who was shaken up on the play. Before the smoke cleared, the Cougars’ Evan Johnston had been ejected from the game. … West’s Cayleb Brawley rushed for 91 yards on 20 carries. Cruz converted 22-yard and 29-yard field field goal attempts, his seventh and eighth of the season. The first came shortly after teammate Nathaniel Estrada recovered a fumble on the Carson 30.