High school football: Trojans overwhelm Falcons — again

Published 5:53 am Sunday, November 5, 2023

Staff report

CONCORD — West Rowan’s 49-9 loss to Northwest Cabarrus in late September wasn’t just a bad night by the Falcons.

Northwest really is that good and proved it on Friday by hammering West 52-21 in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.

Offensively, 12th-seeded Northwest (10-1) could do whatever it wanted to and whenever it wanted to do it. The Trojans threw for 276 yards and ran for 291 —567 yards of offense. Northwest employs the screen game about as well as a high school team possibly can, and the Trojans hit the Falcons, seeded 21st in the 3A West bracket, with three of those screens for big gains.

The Trojans, coached by former Catawba receiver Eric Morman, are normally high tempo, almost hurry-up, but when they got the ball late in the third quarter leading 45-21, they were ready to milk the clock. And they did just that. West couldn’t stop them. Northwest kept the ball for more than nine minutes, never had a negative play and relentlessly punched in the final touchdown of the night.

West head coach Louis Kraft came into the rematch with a plan of airing it out. Brant Graham put the ball in the air 38 times, completing 15 for 223 yards. Elijah Holmes and Jaylen Neely had nice plays on receptions, but Graham’s target basically was Evan Kennedy, who turned in an epic game with 13 catches for 181 yards.

Kennedy caught two touchdown passes, including one on which he toted a host of Trojans into the end zone with him.

Neely got West’s other score on a 5-yard run. He had 65 hard-earned yards on 15 carries. Three of Neely’s attempts were TFLs by the rugged Trojans, who also sacked Graham twice.

West stopped Northwest on downs on the Trojans’ opening possession, but the stop came at the West 22, and West stayed in lousy field position most of the first half.

West ran three plays on its first possession and lost 4 yards. A short punt gave the Trojans a short field. NWC quarterback Alex Walker immediately threw a touchdown pass to Cesidio Castricone, who made a scintillating catch for a 7-0 lead.

West’s second possession included a 12-yard run by Neely and a 31-yard catch by Kennedy, but Northwest eventually got the stop.

West got a diving interception to halt Northwest’s next drive, but that acrobatic pick on the West sideline was at the West 7-yard line, and the Falcons couldn’t move the ball. The Trojans got another short field and took advantage. Walker made a slide into the end zone to make it a 14-0 game.

When a Graham pass was deflected at the line, the Trojans intercepted, had another short field, and made it 21-0 as the second quarter got under way.

Another West three-and-out and a 16-yard punt put the Trojans in great position once again. They eagerly pounded in the touchdown that made it 28-0 with 9:27 left in the second quarter.

West got its first touchdown with 5:40 left in the first half. The Falcons drove 73 yards, with the help of a 27-yard catch by Kennedy. Graham hit Kennedy with a 7-yard scoring pass to make it 28-7.

But it was 38-7 by halftime. A big-play screen keyed a Trojan scoring drive, and NWC tacked on a field goal on the final snap of the half.

West had a forceful drive to open the second half, as the Falcons overcame a 13-yard sack. Elijah Holmes had a 20-yard catch to the 5, and Neely got the touchdown to make it 38-14.

Northwest answered with the greatest of ease, 62 yards on three plays for a 45-14 lead.

West followed with another nice drive, pushing 63 yards to make it 45-21 with 1:15 left in the third quarter. Neely had four positive runs on that march, while Kennedy had four receptions. On the touchdown, Kennedy went in motion, then veered back to where he had started from. He snagged the ball near the 5 and bulled his way through four or five tacklers.

But next came that 9-minute possession by the Trojans. That slow-motion march ended any hope of a miraculous West comeback.

Ray Jay Waters and Donovan Thompson scored two TDs each for the Trojans. Walker had one rushing TD and one passing TD, while commanding an electric offense.

Hunter Miller had a sack for the Falcons.

Northwest plays undefeated South Piedmont Conference champion Robinson next week in another rematch. Northwest’s only loss this season was to fifth-seeded Robinson. That game will be played at Robinson and could be one of the best second-round games in the state.

West (5-6) suffered its first losing season since 1998 but did keep alive a streak of making the playoffs that goes back to 2001.

Kennedy, Neely and Graham are all young, so the foundation will be in place for a much stronger season in 2024.