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High school football: West knocks off No. 1 seed

Staff report

BOILING SPRINGS — When West Rowan’s football team knocked off Crest on Friday, it was a case of a No. 9 seed beating a No. 1 seed, a case of a two-touchdown underdog getting it done on the road in the 3A West bracket, but it shouldn’t have stunned anyone.

West has the powerful linemen, on both sides of the ball, to compete with anybody at the line of scrimmage, and in Jalen Houston, who scored the 51st, 52nd and 53rd touchdowns of his marvelous career, the Falcons have a special offensive player.

What was surprising was West getting a No. 9 seed to start with. The Falcons expected a 7 seed and were anticipating a first-round home game. Instead, they’ve had to play on the road the last two weeks, but they’ve handled that situation extremely well.
Crest, a team that likes to dominate with its ground attack, was an ideal matchup for a West defense that sometimes struggles against the pass, but almost always controls the run.

West (9-4) played a difficult schedule early, but it started winning the turnover battles and now it has taken seven of its last eight. The lone loss in that stretch was the overtime thriller against Statesville that decided the North Piedmont Conference championship.

West had battered Crest in a 2016 playoff game in Mount Ulla when Houston was a freshman playing on the varsity. Now the Falcons have beaten the Chargers (10-3) again.

“The kids played great and I’m really happy for them,” West coach Joe Nixon said. “Really proud of the players and coaches. You know, anytime that you’re practicing on Thanksgiving, it’s been a great year.”

Houston supplied early confidence. His 10-yard scoring run three minutes into the game put the Falcons on the board. Steady kicker Federico Cruz’s PAT made it 7-0.

“We were able to move the ball at the start of game and go down and score,” Nixon said.  “Our offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and we ran the ball right at them. We were attacking up front. The backs did a great job hitting the holes.”

West’s defense made a fourth-down stop at its own 1-yard line, but the Falcons couldn’t get out of the hole and had to punt. Crest got a short field to work with and made it 7-all with two minutes left in the first quarter.

Crest stopped West’s next possession on downs and connected on a long touchdown pass for a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.

But the Falcons owned the rest of the first half. Noah Loeblein’s 10-yard scoring pass to Ty’Kese Warren made it 14-all.
“They were loading the box on us some, but Noah made some throws and our guys were able to make some plays,” Nixon said.
A fumble recovery by Will Moseley stopped Crest at West ‘s 5-yard line.

On its next drive, West got a key first down, with Loeblein hitting Quay Weeks to convert third-and-8. Then Houston broke loose twice. He dashed 55 yards to put the ball in the end zone.  The Falcons held a 21-14 lead and took a lot of momentum to the break.
Crest booted a field goal to cut its deficit to 21-17, but Houston’s third touchdown made it 28-17 with three minutes left in the third quarter.

Houston, taking on a heavy workload with Cayleb Brawley (ankle) injured, rushed 35 times for 278 yards and three TDs.

A Charger touchdown with 11 minutes left to play made it 28-24, and it was time to get nervous.

West’s next possession was critical, but the Falcons were able to churn about six minutes off the clock. They finished that hard-nosed drive with a 1-yard score by Loeblein to make it 35-24.

Crest scored a quick aerial touchdown to get back to 35-30, but West stopped a 2-point conversion.

Crest stopped the Falcons with three minutes left. West punted to the Crest 30, and the game was in the hands of the Falcons’ defense.

Tim Ruff broke what would have been a 63-yard run for a touchdown, but a flag for holding brought that play back.

West halted Crest on downs at the Crest 35 with 1:56 left to secure the win. That fourth-down running play was stopped about a yard shy of the sticks.

“We had good pressure on their quarterback and forced some holding penalties and then, our defense held,” Nixon said.  “That ball was a good yard short, but they measured, anyway. That stop  iced the game for us. Then we could get into the best formation in football — the victory formation.”

Next for West is a third-round trip to fourth-seeded Charlotte Catholic. Catholic’s Cougars (9-3) beat Hunter Huss, 34-20 on Friday.

Catholic was trounced 45-0 by Weddington, but its other two losses were to schools outside the state.

West has reached the third round for the first time since 2016 when it pounded Crest in the second round but fell at Hibriten in the third.

“This was just a great team win,” Nixon said. “We told our guys there was no pressure on us, a No. 9 seed going to a No. 1. The only people who believed in us — was us. Let’s just go play and show people what we’re made of. Our game plan was to be physical and punch them in the mouth and see if they liked that brand of football. And we did enough.”

West Rowan   7  14  7   7   — 35
Crest                7   7   3   13 — 30

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