Oak Grove tops Salisbury 20-13

Published 11:25 pm Friday, March 5, 2021

By David Shaw


SALISBURY — Games like this are supposed to answer questions, not raise them.

Salisbury’s hard-to-digest 20-13 loss to visiting Oak Grove on Friday did nothing but set off a few alarms. The Hornets lost two fumbles, were penalized 13 times and yielded 224 total yards in the second half — all after all-county linebacker Jalon Walker left the game with a finger injury.

“Disappointed in myself,” SHS coach Brian Hinson said, moments after Salisbury (1-1 overall) dropped its CCC opener. “Our execution was not very good — and that’s my fault. A lot of penalties. A lot of missed assignments, bad tackles, improper alignments. That’s all comes back to the coaching.”

It was a clumsy, square-wheeled performance for Salisbury, which forced eight Oak Grove (1-1, 1-0 CCC) punts but played porous defense in the third and fourth quarters.The Hornets took a 7-0 lead in the opening period, when quarterback Vance Honeycutt directed a 10-play, 63-yard scoring drive, capped when receiver Marcus Cook caught a 14-yard slant pass over the middle midway through the first stanza.

“You gotta remember, those guys played in the state championship game last season,” winning coach Mark Holcomb said. “Salisbury didn’t graduate very many kids, they’ve got good players and they’re well-coached. For us to come here and win this ballgame says a lot about our program.”

It says the Grizzlies were better for the last two quarters. Halfway through, Oak Grove had managed a paltry 36 yards total offense, including minus-2 on the ground. Senior running back Aiden Shewcow — the conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 — was effectively shackled, gaining just 2 yards on six first-half carries.

“We didn’t play a game for 400-plus days,” Shewcow noted. “And we played scared in the first half. In the second half, we put our heads together and realized we could play better and we could win this game. We just had to put our heads down. Once the (offensive) line shook off the nerves, the holes were there.”

Shewcow, who finished with 146 yards and three touchdowns, launched his second-half turnaround with a 66-yard TD run on OG’s first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. A missed extra point was nullified by a roughing-the-kicker penalty against Salisbury — and a subsequent two-point try was stuffed.

Down 7-6, the Grizzlies forced a punt on Salisbury’s ensuing possession, then drove for a penalty-aided, go-ahead score. SHS was guilty of a 15-yard face mask infraction, an offsides call and a third flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. Oak Grove marched to the 3-yard line before Shewcow shouldered his way into the end zone for a 12-7 edge.

“The big one he had, we kind of had him in the backfield,” said Hinson. “But we got lazy and didn’t execute on some tackles there. That’s why he’s the Player of the Year. He’s just a good running back.”

Salisbury had its own workhorse in sophomore back JyMikaah Wells — a 223-pound bruiser whose twisting, billiard-ball running style netted him 106 yards on 26 carries.  But he couldn’t overcome an unforced error that followed Honeycutt’s 12-yard completion to Cook with 6:11 remaining in the third quarter. The duo hooked up on a 27-yard gain early in the fourth, triggering Salisbury’s last positive drive. This time a pair of OG penalties, including a late hit out of bounds following Honeycutt’s 5-yard bootleg, benefited the Hornets. They grabbed a 13-12 lead when Wells muscled his way into the end zone with 7:55 to play.

That set the stage for Oak Grove’s grand finish, with Walker relegated to sideline cheerleader. “Losing Jalon changed the game tremendously because you always have to account for him on the field,” Hinson said. “Every play you run, you have to know where (number) 11 is at. He’s a mismatch problem. Nobody can block him. He can cover multiple people. He was missed in the second half, but that’s not the reason we lost the game.”

Oak Grove’s winning drive covered 87 yards in 13 plays and melted more than five minutes off the evaporating game clock. Quarterback Dylan Barker (10-for-21, 110 yards passing) arrowed a 16-yard completion to Kahleb Craven and later a 41-yard strike junior Conner Sorenson, producing a first down on Salisbury’s 27 with less than six minutes remaining. Shewcow scored on a 5-yard burst 2:47 to go, then plowed up the middle on a two-point conversion.

“We didn’t come here to bunt. We came to win this game,” Holcomb said afterward. “They picked me up when they had to. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

An opposite vibe was visible on the Salisbury side. The Hornets collected 218 yards total offense, but at times resembled a disorganized yard sale.

“Our inconsistency was a direct correlation of the protection,” Hinson concluded. “Our protection was the issue tonight. We did not block very well up front. What we’ve got to do is keep practicing and hold true to our beliefs.”