Salisbury High bucks historical trend in dominant shutout of West Rowan

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, February 25, 2021

SALISBURY — Playing in front of an almost empty Ludwig Stadium, Salisbury High (1-0) put on a show and exorcised some historic demons en route to a 36-0 win over West Rowan (0-1) on Thursday night.

The game was delayed from the fall to the spring by the pandemic and moved up this week from Friday to Thursday to avoid expected wet weather.

“It doesn’t matter when it is, it’s always good to get a win over a county opponent,” said Salisbury High School Coach Brian Hinson.

Played in front of no more than 100 fans due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was the first matchup on the gridiron between the two schools since 2014 — when West Rowan claimed a 44-7 victory and won its 14th-straight game over its cross county opponent.

The roles were reversed on Thursday night, and it was the Hornets, led by quarterback Vance Honeycutt, who delivered a commanding performance over the depleted Falcons. Honeycutt, a University of North Carolina baseball commit, displayed his versatility on the football field by running for three scores, throwing for a fourth and pinning the Falcons deep several times with precision punts.

“(Honeycutt) is an all-around athlete,” Hinson said. “He’s signed with UNC for baseball playing shortstop so it tells you what kind of athlete he is. He would be a college football player if he wanted to be. If the kid wanted to be on the chess team, he’d probably be the best chess player we’d have.”

Honeycutt’s night got off to a rocky start when the quarterback was intercepted by defensive back Martez Smith on Salisbury High’s first possession of the game. 

The elusive passer made it up for it on his team’s next possession by running in a 6-yard score. He followed that with a 59-yard scoring keeper down the sideline late in the first quarter and a 17-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to Jackson Murphy. The quarterback continued his prolific performance with another running touchdown in the third quarter. 

Honeycutt was aided in his offense attack by sophomore running back JyMikaah Wells. All of 223 pounds, the bruising tailback ran through defenders when he wasn’t jumping over them. Wells found the end zone himself late in the third quarter to extend the Hornets’ lead to 34-0.

“I was proud of him for his pass blocking number one tonight and number two, when he finally quit trying to jump people,” Hinson said. “I told him he was 220-pounds, just put your shoulder down and run them over.”

The Hornets ran the ball almost 40 times for more than 250 yards in the win over West Rowan and chipped in another 100 yards through the air, collecting 17 first downs along the way.

While Salisbury High’s offense consistently moved the ball downfield, West Rowan struggled to get anything going early after losing quarterback Lucas Graham to injury. Graham tossed a 50-yard gain on the first play of the game, but sustained a shoulder injury while being tackled on the second play and spent the rest of the night watching from the sideline with his arm in a sling.

Andrew Kennerly filled in for Graham, who was already replacing starter Noah Loeblein, one of several key players for West Rowan that were busy helping the school win a second round basketball playoff game against Cox Mill. 

“It was less than ideal, but the kids fought the whole time,” said West Rowan Coach Louis Kraft. 

Kennerly spent most of his time evading a relentless Salisbury High pass rush led by top-tier prospect Jalon Walker, who disrupted more than his fair share of plays throughout the game. The currently uncommitted Walker played helped force West Rowan into a safety when he pressured Kennerly into an intentional grounding penalty in the Falcons’ own end zone in the fourth quarter to make the score 36-0.

“(Walker) comes off the edge and you hear him,” Hinson said. “He impacted the game tremendously tonight. (Defensive lineman) Zae Clay did a great job. I thought our linebackers did a great job.”

Without starting left tackle Josh Noble, who was on the court and not the field for the Falcons, West Rowan struggled to generate a running game or protect the quarterback.

Along with missing Loeblein and Noble, the Falcons were without Georgia Tech commit and defensive lineman Zeek Biggers, who was also playing basketball. Kraft, in his first year as head coach with the program, said he was glad when he heard that his missing players helped West Rowan beat Cox Mill 61-52. Biggers had 12 points in the win.

Despite missing several stars on both sides of the ball, Kraft didn’t want to blame the loss on his less-than-complete roster.

“That excuse only goes so far,” Kraft said. “We still have to show up and be better than the other team, which we weren’t tonight.”

Salisbury High will face a tough test against Oak Grove next week and West Rowan will play Davie County.