High school football: North Stanly holds off East

Published 4:41 am Sunday, August 27, 2023

Staff report

NEW LONDON — After a bleak first half, East Rowan’s football team put on quite a passing display in the second half to make things exciting at North Stanly.

North Stanly’s 37-31 non-conference victory wasn’t secured until Dylan Poplin recovered a late onside kick.

After that recovery, North Stanly took a knee and shook hands, and Comet fans breathed a collective sigh of relief.

It looked like it would be breezy for the Comets at halftime when they led comfortably 23-3, but the Mustangs found a burst of energy prior to the second half.

The game’s standout was North Stanly running back Jay Jackson, a 215-pound cannonball  who barreled for the lion’s share of the Comets’ 387 rushing yards. Jackson shed tacklers, plowed through tacklers and ran away from tacklers. East’s defense had no answers for him.

North Stanly also threw for 108 yards and amassed nearly 500 yards of offense.

East quarterback Gavin Walker nearly matched Jackson’s production with a monumental aerial effort. Walker threw four touchdown passes, all in the second half. He finished with 269 passing yards and also ran the ball with authority. He threw no interceptions in an effort that was the sharpest of his career.

North Stanly dominated the first half, but couldn’t put the Mustangs away because of turnovers. East stopped North Stanly’s opening drive with an interception, and  East was able to pounce on two fumbles inside the East 5-yard line.

A blocked punt led to North Stanly’s first touchdown, and the Comets made it 9-0 with a safety when East mishandled the snap on a punt attempt. Punting situations were so dicey for East that the Mustangs went for it a few times on fourth and long, even on their side of the field.

North Stanly rolled 88 yards after East’s free kick following the safety to make it 16-0.

Carter Honeycutt’s 43-yard field goal — which had plenty of yards to spare — got the Mustangs on the board with 7:02 left in the second quarter.

North Stanly answered East’s first score with an 80-yard drive for a 23-3 lead the break.

East was good at returning kickoffs and generally had solid field position after the first quarter. East returned the second-half kickoff almost to midfield and got its passing game going. Walker hit AJ Goodman in the end zone for the 4-yard TD that got East within 23-10.

When East’s defense came up with its second interception (and fourth takeaway), momentum had clearly switched to the Mustangs. Walker rifled a 68-yard touchdown pass, and Honeycutt’s PAT made it 23-17.

Jackson then made what may have been the game’s biggest play. He was hit solidly in the backfield by a sturdy lineman, but shrugged off that would-be tackler and spotted daylight down the home sideline. Jackson turned a potential negative play into a 63-yard gain. His individual effort set up the TD that put North Stanly ahead 30-17 at the end of the third quarter.

East was starting to click offensively, and Walker’s 15-yard TD pass to Tijon Everhart made it 30-24 early in the fourth quarter.

North Stanly turned to Jackson again, and the big back did a lot of the pounding on a clock-eating, 80-yard drive that put the Comets ahead 37-24 with 4:39 left in the game.

Walker’s fourth touchdown pass made it 37-31, but North Stanly recovered the onsides kick and held on.

The Comets are 2-0 and play next at Western Alamance (1-1). East can build on Friday’s comeback but is 0-2 heading into a road game at Salisbury (2-0). The Hornets have dismantled their first two opponents.


NOTES: North Stanly nearly lost another fumble when the return man dropped the ball on a kickoff. That was a 50/50 ball as it lay on the ground, but the Comets   kept possession and averted disaster. … Billy Chesney snagged two TD passes for the Mustangs, while Jordan Brooks pounded for some tough yards inside.