High school football: Lots of adversity, but the Hornets found a way

Published 4:47 am Monday, September 18, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Mike Geter claimed Salisbury’s career total offense record in style with a long completion on Friday, while Deuce Walker added the school receptions record to his record for receiving yards.

But while school records fell, there would have been little for the Hornets to celebrate without another victory.

The Hornets had been methodically destroying teams opponents with electric offense and suffocating defense, but they had to scrap for every inch to beat old rival Thomasville, 12-6, in the Central Carolina Conference opener for both teams.

The defining play was a 42-yard fumble return touchdown by two-way star Walker, who was announced as a Shrine Bowl pick on Sunday.

Salisbury (5-0, 1-0) didn’t secure victory until Jaylin Graham-Taylor came through with a sack on a fourth-down snap from the Salisbury 16 in the final minute with the Bulldogs (3-2, 0-1) knocking on the door and with the Hornets one missed tackle away from disaster.

One kneel-down by Geter later, and it was finally over.

It was a brutal battle for the Hornets. Waves of penalty flags crushed Salisbury’s offensive production and injuries piled up in a physical struggle with the Bulldogs.

“We lost four starters during the game, all on the defensive side of the ball,” Salisbury head coach Clayton Trivett said. “That made it tough. We just had to try to survive, and that wasn’t easy to do against Thomasville. We don’t know yet how serious the injuries are.”

Among those who went down were veterans Kenyon Hairston, DJ Adams and Dashawn Brown.

Jaden Warren, normally a defensive end for the Hornets, was in the game as one of the tight ends in Salisbury’s short-yardage package when Geter hit him with a 12-yard touchdown pass that would be the only score of the first half. The pass from a scrambling Geter was a low dart, and Warren snagged it.

Walker’s scoop-and-score came in the first minute of second half. That big play put Salisbury ahead 12-0, but Thomasville kept its deficit at a dozen points by blocking Hank Webb’s PAT for the second straight time.

Geter completed eight passes for 155 yards, while workhorse running back Jamal Rule had an explosive reception and managed 117 rushing yards on 20 carries, but flags — and the Bulldogs — kept Salisbury from scoring again.

Walker had four catches — giving him 90 for his career.

After Walker’s defensive touchdown,  the task for the Hornets was trying to hold on to that two-score lead.

Thomasville quarterback Keshawn Carpenter was the problem. He was a one-man band for the Bulldogs. He kept the visitors in the game with an occasional pass, but mostly with his legs. He ran the ball 28 times for 223 yards.

“He’s a good player,” Trivett said. “He’s athletic and he runs hard.”

Salisbury’s Bennie Howard intercepted Carpenter twice. Both of Howard’s picks came in the Salisbury end zone, which provides an idea of how well Thomasville moved the ball between the 20s.

Thomasville turned it over six times. Warren, Jackson Sparger and Jelani Ziyad had fumble recoveries that stopped Thomasville possessions.

Graham-Taylor had a forced fumble and was in on 11 stops. Emmanuel Asare was in on 13 tackles and was credited with three tackles for loss.

After Geter hit Walker for a 50-yard pass play, Salisbury had a chance to go up three scores in the third quarter, but the Hornets lost a fumble near the Thomasville goal line.

Late in the third quarter, the Bulldogs drove to the Salisbury 13, but they were halted by plays by Graham-Taylor and Sparger.

Thomasville finally got on the board with 3:17 left in the game. Carpenter got the touchdown. The Hornets stopped the 2-point conversion try.

The Hornets had a chance to kill the clock, but when they went three-and-out, Thomasville, down 12-6, still had a very realistic chance to win the game.

Webb punted to midfield, and the Bulldogs began their final, desperate push.

The Bulldogs converted a first down at the Salisbury 35. Then a face mask penalty advanced the ball down to the Salisbury 11, as the depleted Hornets dug in for one last stand.

Thomasville fumbled the ball, didn’t lose possession, but lost precious yardage.

Then the Hornets kept the pressure on Carpenter until Graham-Taylor got the sack that meant victory.

“It was an ugly one, but the important thing is we found a way,” Trivett said.

By winning this early showdown, the Hornets established themselves as the favorite to win a third straight CCC championship.

Salisbury will play at West Davidson (0-4, 0-0) next.

Thomasville plays Salisbury and North Rowan back-to-back and will welcome the Cavaliers (4-1, 1-0) to historic Cushwa Stadium on Friday.