High school football: No doubt about what the big game is on 9-9

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2022

 By Mike London

SALISBURY — It’s a football Friday birthday for me — the 67th.

Some have regarded my 9-9-55 birthday as a sure sign of weirdness over the years, but it’s been mostly a fun birthday to own.

The 9-9 part I share with Tom Sexton, legendary Catawba kicker and longtime soccer and baseball coach at Salisbury High, although he’s a spring chicken, relatively speaking. He wasn’t born until 1957.

There are several 9-9 athletes locally, including former North Rowan and Rowan Legion pitcher Phil Goodman, whom I have known since he was 10 or so, and former Salisbury baller Randall Jones. He could shoot it.

Internationally, the first famous athlete born on 9-9 was Fred “The Demon” Spofforth, a cricketeer who came into the world in 1853.

Nationally, there are a host of 9-9s, including baseball Hall of Famers Frankie Frisch and Frank Chance, the first base portion of the Chicago Cubs’ famed Tinker-to-Evers-to Chance double play combination of the early 1900s.

Joe Theismann, a fine 9-9 quarterback for Notre Dame and the Washington Redskins, is unfortunately best remembered for having his leg broken on national television by Lawrence Taylor.

Also 9-9 birthdays are roundballers “Thunder Dan” Majerle — he used to dunk a lot for the Phoenix Suns — and B.J. Armstrong, part of the supporting cast of characters on those Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls teams.

Walter Davis, the former UNC and NBA hooper is a 9-9 guy. We were in some of the same classes at UNC when we were freshmen, although I’m sure he made a more lasting impression on me than I made on him.

Davis won an Olympic gold medal in 1976, playing for Dean Smith, and from almost 30 feet out, he banked in one of the more famous shots in Tar Heel hoops history against Duke in 1973.

And speaking of Duke basketball, one of my favorite Blue Devils, Shane Battier, is a 9-9 birthday.

With some health struggles the last few years, I never took reaching 67 for granted, but I’m more than grateful now for every 9-9.

I’m grateful to have survived typing the results of another Labor Day Four-Ball event. Grateful to still be employed at a place that I grew to love, although I’ve cut back to four or five days a week now. It was basically 24/7 for 20 years or so.

I will promise to retire immediately if one of the local football teams scores exactly 67 points on Friday. That will give them something to shoot for. It might happen. There’s some serious offense in the county. There are good QBs in the county.

There’s a really big game in the county this Friday. North, the county’s only unbeaten team, at West. Home opener for West.

You know it’s huge because the we’re-going-to-kick-your-assets smack talk started a few minutes after West lost at Mooresville and North won big for the third straight week.

That’s fine. That makes it fun. That makes it Rowan County.

On Labor Day I had five people text me wanting to know when the last time North Rowan beat West Rowan was. There are some confident Cavalier supporters out there, but West is still West.

The last time North beat West was not something I had to look up in the record book. I remember it. The first week of September. Week 3: 2001.

That was a time when coach Scott Young’s West machine was just starting to roll. The Falcons were special in 2000, but in 2001, they were only pretty good. They had to play that season without injured running back Joe Jackson. They plugged Ben Hampton is as the featured runner and went to work.

Hampton broke some records.

But at Eagle Stadium in Spencer, the Falcons ran into a legendary coach in his final season (Roger Secreast) and a legendary player in his final season (QB Alfonzo Miller).

Miller ran for two touchdowns, including the backbreaker with about five minutes left, and he also threw for two touchdowns. North’s defense held Hampton to 85 yards and electrifying receiver Horatio Everhart to one catch. Cavaliers 26, Falcons 14 was the final.

What made that game historic, as the years marched past, was that it was the last time West would lose to a county opponent for 11 years. A week after losing at North, Everhart ran back the opening kickoff against South Rowan for a touchdown. West beat the Raiders 29-12 and launched the famed 44-game county winning streak that wasn’t stopped until the Falcons lost (by inches) at East Rowan in Week 7 of the 2012 season.

West currently has won 12 in a row against North Rowan, some tight, some wild, some ugly.

North opened in 1958, while West’s history begins in 1959. The programs squared off every year from 1959-2008, but after West mauled the Cavs 53-6 and 60-0 in the K.P. Parks days, the series was placed on hold for a while.

It’s back in full force now. West’s 42-35 victory last fall was a classic. That’s the game in which West QB Noah Loeblein threw, ran and caught TDs.

North still leads the exciting series 28-26-2. The ties were in the 1960s, before 0vertimes came into play.

High-powered North teams famously beat high-powered West teams twice in 1994, including a showdown in the state playoffs.

North won eight of  10 meetings in the 1970s and also won the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s against the Falcons. North actually led the series 25-10 after 1994, but West is West. The Falcons have been catching up.

North Rowan (3-0) at West Rowan (2-1), 7 p.m.

West was 147-240-12 all-time when Scott Young was hired as head coach prior to the 1998 season. Now West is 373-329-12. It’s been a good run for a quarter century.

The biggest thing that went awry for the Falcons in the 35-14 loss to Mooresville was the absence of a consistent running attack. Mooresville’s 310-pound nose tackle caused problems up front. West was intercepted four times.

West will try to get  back on track this week. West would like to feed it to workhorse Landon Jacobs  30 times and let him work behind an experienced offensive line. Jacobs rushed for 100-plus yards in wins against Salisbury and Davie.

West QB Lucas Graham had posted back-to-back 300-yard passing games and has thrown for 815 yards and seven TDs. West receivers Evan Kennedy (13 catches, 360 yards, 3 TDs) and Adrian Stockton (13 catches, 304 yards, 3 TDs) are putting up big numbers, and West head coach Louis Kraft expects Paxton Greene to break loose for a big game at any time.

“He got hurt in the first game his sophomore year and that cost him a development year, but he learned a lot last year on the sideline watching Noah Loeblein,” Kraft said. “He doesn’t have the arm strength Loeblein had, but he understands our offense perfectly. We don’t have to tell him where the ball needs to go. He knows where it’s supposed to go. He’s a dude, and we’ve known for a while he’d be a dude.”

North’s sophomore Jeremiah Alford is coming off an Alfonzo Miller type of game in last week’s rout of North Stanly. Alford was 12-for-14 passing for 229 yards and two TDs and ran for 94 yards and two TDs.

Alford had a shaky opener, but he’s been really good the last two weeks.

He’s thrown for 406 yards, while rushing for 309 yards.

Jaemias Morrow provides the steady ground punch for the Falcons and had 106 rushing yards last week.

Big-time receiver Amari McArthur has been relatively quiet (10 catches, 141 yards, 1 TD) so far, but Kemon O’Kelly and Xavier Suber are coming through as other targets for Alford. O’Kelly topped 100 yards last week.

North’s defense has improved remarkably from last season and has created tons of turnovers in three straight lopsided wins.

While West is a two-TD favorite by the analysts, this one should be something to see.

Salisbury (2-1) at South Rowan (1-2), 7 p.m.

South was still above .500 all-time at 180-169-8 after Larry Deal’s final season as head coach in 1994, but there have been quite a few more lean years than good years since then.

South is 277-374-8 now and could fall 100 games below .500 this season for the first time.

South has been outscored 105-0 the last two weeks by North Rowan and Robinson, so it’s hard to see anything going wrong for the Hornets in this one.

QB Brooks Overcash and back Landon Richards have generated most of South’s offense.

The Hornets are favored by analysts by 35 points. They wiped out South 62-3 last fall.

Salisbury rushed for 400-plus yards in beating East Rowan 35-7 last week.

Salisbury’s standout back JyMikkah Wells was hurt early in that game. Clayton Trivett indicated on Wednesday that Wells is coming along and is  “day-to-day.”

The good news is it sounds like he’ll be back on the field soon. Until Wells returns, QB Mike Geter, who had a humongous rushing game last week, and Jamal Rule will keep the Hornets moving.

South received a forfeit victory from the Hornets following the 2015 season, but the last beat time the Raiders beat Salisbury on the field was 38-20 in 2009. That memorable South team also was the last South team to make the state playoffs.

Salisbury leads the series 22-7.

Robinson (2-1) at
Carson (1-2), 7 p.m.

Carson comes off the excitement of new head coach Jonathan Lowe’s first win, a 47-0 blowout of South Stanly, but it will be hard to sustain a winning streak.

Robinson, which roughed up South Rowan last week,  comes in with plenty of premium athletes, including two huge defensive linemen who could wind up in the SEC or ACC.

Carson will hope for another huge game from QB Michael Guiton and will hope the offensive line can move those large Bulldogs and move the chains consistently.

Carson’s defense was stout last week, but Robinson brings a whole lot more speed and size to the table than South Stanly did.

Carson beat Robinson in 2009 and 2010 — that was Carson’s 10-3 team — but Robinson has won the last five to lead the series 5-2.

In the 2012 game with Robinson, Carson’s K.J. Pressley set the school receiving record with 241 yards on six catches.

Carson put up a fight last fall before losing to the Bulldogs 22-10.

Robinson is favored by about two touchdowns.

East Rowan (0-3) at North Davidson (0-3), 7:30 p.m.

North Davidson is 0-3, but is a 30-point favorite over the Mustangs, who also are looking for their first win.

North Davidson smashed the Mustangs 52-7 in 2021. The Black Knights dropped a 28-21 battle with 4A Davie last week.

East’s most recent win in the series came in 2006. That was a 2-8 East team, but it knocked off North Davidson 7-3 in a defensive struggle.

East leads the all-time series 9-8-1 and beat North Davidson in a 1971 playoff game.

East took its 400th football loss last week at home in the 35-7 setback against Salisbury.

The Mustangs have won 274 and tied eight.

Davie, A.L. Brown off

Davie (1-2) and A.L. Brown (3-0) can benefit from a well-placed open Friday before they head into league play on Sept. 16.