High school football: The hype for Salisbury-North may be justified

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 26, 2023


By Mike London

SALISBURY — Friday’s matchup at Ludwig Stadium is being hyped as the biggest Salisbury-North Rowan football game ever.

While that sounds crazy, given the long and rich history of both programs, the folks doing the hyping might actually be telling the truth.

You can make a case that this is about as big as it’s been. Salisbury and North Rowan haven’t been in the same conference all that often over the years and while they’ve both been strong quite a bit, they’ve rarely been really good at the same time.

For North Rowan and Salisbury to be competing in a conference championship game on the final week of the regular season is definitely out of the ordinary.

WSAT will have the broadcast.

There have been 14 different seasons in which Salisbury won 10 or more games, including 13-win seasons in 2010 and 2019. Salisbury won 12 in 1995 and 2004.

Boyden also had a pair of 10-win seasons (1955, 1970) when it was really hard to make the playoffs and hard to win 10.

J.C. Price rarely played 10 games in a season, so it wasn’t easy for the Red Devils to win 10, but in 1940, they beat the stuffing out of every Black school in the state, didn’t allow a single point and went 11-0.

North Rowan has won 10 or more games eight times, peaking with 13 wins in 2013. North won a dozen games in 1992 and 1994.

But here’s the thing.

North and Salisbury have never both won 10 or more in the same season. This may be the year that finally happens for the first time. Salisbury is 9-for-9 so far and the Hornets are a lock for 10 wins. Even if you don’t believe North can win on Salisbury’s field on Friday, North definitely can win two playoff games.

Both teams are solid this year. Everyone can agree on that. Salisbury is 9-0 and has absolutely stampeded opponents, scoring 40-plus per game and allowing less than a touchdown per game.

North Rowan scores about 30 per game and allows about 17, but has played a stronger schedule. The points allowed number is skewed a bit by the 41 Forest Hills scored against North back in August. That was North’s only loss. Forest Hills is 8-1 and is second in the 2A RPI rankings. North’s defense has improved significantly since August.

Salisbury is fifth in 2A RPI, while North Rowan is fifth in the 1A RPI rankings.

When you mention the biggest games in county history, people usually bring up the Boyden vs. East Rowan game played in 1970 at Catawba, standing room only.

Boyden smashed East pretty good that night, 40-19, with Rogers Jackson scoring four TDs. That was the most talented team of Pete Stout’s coaching era at Boyden, although it lost the next week to Shelby in the WNCHSAA championship game. That wasn’t East’s best team of that era. East peaked in 1969, a year earlier, when the Mustangs went undefeated with the best defense in school history. East still had its legendary passing game in 1970 — CM Yates threw three TD passes to Johnny Yarbrough against Boyden — but the bulk of the defense had graduated.

That 1970 season also featured a 14-all tie in an early-season non-conference battle between Boyden and a very good North Rowan team

In more recent times, there was a huge North Rowan-West Rowan matchup in 1994 that actually lived up to the hype. North, quarterbacked by Mitch Ellis, outscored the Falcons, quarterbacked by Tim Hogue, 34-30. Ellis, who later quarterbacked Catawba during national-contender seasons, threw two touchdown passes and ran for two TDs.

Salisbury and West Rowan both won state championships in 2010. The Hornets and Falcons played high-level games in that era, but those were non-conference games that were fought early in the season.

The same can be said for some South Rowan-North Rowan scraps in the 1980s. Both were really strong, but those games were early and they were non-conference.

In 2010, West’s game at Carson created a wild traffic jam for miles in all directions. Frantic fans were abandoning their cars on the road and trying to walk to the game.

Carson had the best team it’s ever had and had beaten Salisbury and there was some serious thought that the Cougars could stop a county winning streak by the Falcons that was in its ninth season. That didn’t happen. West creamed the Cougars 41-14 and rolled on to its third straight state championship.

In 2015, a first-round playoff matchup between West and Carson was expected to be good and turned out to be a county classic.

The Falcons survived 28-27 in overtime. There was a fumble that was wrestled for by both teams. West got the call and the ball, and that probably made the difference.


North Rowan (8-1, 5-0 CCC) at Salisbury (9-0, 5-0 CCC), 7:30 p.m.

Old rivals meet for the Central Carolina Conference championship.

Salisbury has a special trio in QB Mike Geter, running back Jamal Rule and receiver Deuce Walker, but North can counter with QB Jeremiah Alford, back Jaemias Morrow and receiver Amir Alexander.

Salisbury defensive end Jaden Warren has been devastating, but so has North linebacker Khor’on Miller.

Miller had 17 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Lexington last week. Coach Josh Sophia said it was as good a defensive stat line as he’s ever seen.

The Massey Ratings predict Salisbury will overwhelm North 41-7, but it should be much more exciting than that. This doesn’t look like the same North team that got routed by Salisbury the last two seasons.

At halftime, coaching legends Fred Ponder and Bobby Sims will be honored.

North finally beat Salisbury for the first time in 1977 and has held the edge in the series since then, but all-time Salisbury leads 30-25-2.

The Hornets walloped North 53-22 and 60-0 the last two seasons. North’s most recent win was in 2018.


West Rowan (4-5, 4-2 SPC) and East Rowan (0-9, 0-6 SPC), 7 p.m.

Despite a modest overall record, West has clinched a playoff berth with a third-place finish in the South Piedmont Conference.

West has a 1,000-yard back in Jaylen Neely, who is quick and tough, and the passing combination of Brant Graham to Evan Kennedy has put up serious numbers in recent weeks.

East welcomed QB Gavin Walker back last week from a long-term injury, and he delivered most of the offense in the 33-12 loss to South Rowan.

While the Falcons would like to get to 5-5, the Mustangs would like to avoid 0-10.

East hasn’t lost them all since 2003, but it’s going to be a challenge to upset the Falcons. West is favored by 32 points.

West romped 50-0 in 2022 and has won the last eight meetings.

East crushed the Falcons — 59-14 — in a surprising result in 2014 for the Mustangs’ most recent win in the series.

West leads the series 33-23-1. It’s that close because East battered the Falcons in the 1960s and 1970s.


South Rowan (3-6, 2-4 SPC) at Carson (3-6, 2-4 SPC), 7 p.m.

The teams have identical records, but Carson is favored by 28 points by the Massey Ratings, with a 42-14 score projection.

South is given an 8 percent chance of shocking everyone. South has won as a substantial underdog against Central Cabarrus and East Rowan, so you never know.

South QB Brooks Overcash needs 58 passing yards for 1,000, while Landon Richards needs 44 for 1,000 rushing yards.

Linebacker Gavin Bisco was destructive at East last week, while Macon Fuller had a 98-yard fumble return.

Carson has a solid defense. Lineman Tristen McBride is an East-West All-Star pick.

Offensively, Carson QB Griffin Barber is getting more comfortable each week since replacing injured Michael Guiton. He’s been giving the Cougars 100-plus passing yards.

Jay McGruder gives Carson’s offense an anchor. He has 774 rushing yards and has scored 11 TDs.

Carson has won the last six meetings with the Raiders, including a 35-21 decision in 2022.

South’s last win in the series was by 19-16 in 2016.

Carson leads the series 12-4.


Concord (5-4) at A.L. Brown (4-5), 7 p.m.

A.L. Brown is 29th in the 4A RPI rankings, while Concord is 30th in 3A RPI.

Both come off losses and both are in bubble territory as far as the upcoming 32-team playoff brackets, so they need to win this one.

It goes without saying that it’s been a storied and hotly contested series over the years.

The Wonders lead 48-44-2 all-time, and there’s been a lot of bell-ringing in Kannapolis lately. The Wonders have won eight straight meetings with their arch-foes, a rare run of dominance in a series that has been back-and-forth for decades.

The Massey Ratings score projection is for the Wonders to maul the Spiders 38-6 behind Mekhi Herron and CJ Gray, but it’s unlikely to be that easy.