Salisbury rolls over South Rowan in regular season finale

Published 1:05 am Saturday, November 9, 2019

By David Shaw

SALISBURY — It almost didn’t look fair.

The last intra-county matchup of the regular season quickly became a mismatch Friday night at Ludwig Stadium, where playoff-bound Salisbury scored touchdowns on seven of its first eight possessions and routed visiting South Rowan, 55-7.

“Just a great start, executing right from the first drive,” third-year coach Brian Hinson said, shortly after Salisbury (9-2, 7-2) clinched a tie for second place in the jumbled Central Carolina Conference standings. “Any time you get up real fast on people, it makes it hard to come back. It was one of those games where we just had to take the air out of them early.”

Salisbury dominated the first half — collecting 14 first downs and 389 total yards in the first two quarters — and built a 48-0 lead. The Hornets followed the lead of junior quarterback Vance Honeycutt, who passed for 195 yards and three touchdowns.  “Our guys just ran good routes and got open,” Honeycutt said. “We’ve got good athletes. They catch the ball, make plays and make people miss.”

For South (2-9, 2-7 CCC), finishing the season was the equivalent of running out an infield fly. The Raiders were limited to 112 total yards and didn’t score until the game’s final minute — when QB Drew Huffman hit receiver Austin Peacock on a 5-yard rollout pattern.

“Not the way we wanted our season to end, but proud of my guys for fighting all the way through,” said South coach Daniel Yow. “I told them they were as tough as nails. It’s not easy to keep coming to practice week-in and week-out and working as hard as we worked, trying to put our best foot forward.”

South’s best wasn’t enough to scare Salisbury. It’s can’t-stop-anything defense couldn’t stop the Hornets, who scored before the game was two-minutes old on Honeycutt’s 26-yard touchdown pass to wide-open wideout Patrick Taylor.

“It was important to come out strong and put the first points on the board,” Honeycutt said. “After that, it was just execution. It starts with the offensive line. All good things happen when the OL gives me time to throw and the receivers time to get open.”

More good things happened as the SHS defense — a lean, muscular unit pared down to its fighting weight — sandwiched four three-and-outs around a couple of interceptions and an unsuccessful fourth-down scramble by South punter Jacob Ritchie.

Junior back Mike McLean added another brushstroke to his suitable-for-framing season, rushing for 75 yards on six carries and scoring his 11th and 12th touchdowns. Freshman teammate JyMikaah Wells scored on a 14-yard cutback in the first period and a 5-yard spurt up the middle in the second. And Marcus Cook, a 160-pound sophomore, caught TD passes two-minutes apart — giving him three end zone appearances in the past two weeks.

“(Honeycutt) has perfect aim,” Cook explained, after making five receptions for 84 yards. “The first one hit me in the chest. I didn’t have to move at all. The second one was perfect blocking. I was one-on-one, just me and the safety. I made a move and it was a touchdown.”

The second half was a polar opposite for the Hornets. With a running clock at their back, their only possession produced a mid-range punt. South, on the other hand, looked re-energized, driving 14 plays to the Salisbury 2-yard line. But misfortune struck when strong safety Jadarius Wood recovered a third-and-goal fumble, emerged from a rugby scrum and galloped 95 yards for a fourth-quarter TD.

“It was a blitz play,” he said. “The quarterback fumbled, I picked it up and No. 2 (South running back Brayden Garrett) was the only defender. My teammates pushed me forward and I just broke loose.”

South closed the scoring on Peacock’s touchdown catch with 35.7 seconds to play. The Raiders had nine first downs in the second half and totaled 100 yards, mostly on straight-ahead blasts by Garrett and well-placed strikes by Huffman.

“At times, we looked really successful,” Yow said afterward. “We’ve just got to work hard in the off-season and put it together for next year.”

Salisbury enters the state playoffs as the CCC’s No. 2 seed and was seeded No. 7 in the 2AA East bracket on Saturday. The Hornets will host Mount Pleasant (4-7, No. 10 seed) at home next Friday.

“We took care of business,” Honeycutt concluded. “Now, we’ve just got to play the cards we get.”

NOTES: Salisbury was held to negative-four yards in the second half. … Peacock’s TD catch prevented SHS from notching its sixth shutout. … Honeycutt finished the regular season with 1,018 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. … Jalon Walker and Lawon Blackwell had interceptions for the Hornets.