Sports Obituary: Salisbury linebacker was part of epic game

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2024

Darryl Alexander signs with Catawba.

Salisbury football staff. 1971



By Mike London

SALISBURY — The most famous tie in Rowan County’s athletic history occurred in 1971 when Belmont’s South Point High and Salisbury High battled to a 14-all deadlock in the Western North Carolina High School Activities Association football championship game.

The WNCHSAA, an organization completely separate from the NCHSAA, consisted of four conferences and 38 schools in 1971, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when players and fans from either South Point or Salisbury claim to be state champions, don’t argue with them. The 1971 WNCHSAA membership featured Crest, Shelby, Burns, Newton-Conover, Kings Mountain, Watauga, Lincolnton, Alexander Central, Morganton, Mooresville, North Rowan, East Rowan, North Davidson and a full gauntlet of South Piedmont Conference schools, including A.L. Brown, Concord, Lexington, Thomasville, Statesville and Asheboro.

It was a seemingly unbeatable South Point team that brought a 12-0 record to Salisbury and had throughly destroyed and demoralized opponents all season. Only the Crest game had been close. Win No. 12 for South Point coach Jim Biggerstaff’s Red Raiders had been an annihilation, 41-0, of a Newton-Conover team that entered the game with a 10-1 mark.

Salisbury, battle-hardened from the tense weekly grind in the South Piedmont Conference, lost twice in the regular season (A.L. Brown and Asheboro), so the Hornets had to be the underdogs in the championship game. While the Hornets weren’t able to beat the Red Raiders, they did tie them. Consider it one of the greatest achievements for a legendary coaching staff that included head coach Pete Stout and defensive coordinator Charlie Little. That staff also had Bob Patton, James Bridges, Bob Pharr and Charles Hellard.

One of the men who competed in that 1971 championship game passed away last week. Salisbury linebacker Darryl Alexander died at 70.

Almost 10 minutes of footage of that classic game is accessible on YouTube, and while players were smaller 53 years ago, there is no shortage of foot speed. Salisbury presents a six-man front against South Point’s superstar running back Scott Crawford. The two Hornet linebackers, who are practically climbing up the backs of the linemen to control the run, are quick. One of the LBs is Terry Beattie, a famed sprinter and Shrine Bowl pick who went on to UNC. The other linebacker, wearing the No. 51 jersey, is Alexander.

When the Post announced a 22-man all-county team after that season, half the team was from Salisbury, including six defensive players. Alexander (6 feet, 187 pounds) was one of those all-county players. He was also Salisbury’s Golden Helmet Award winner for having the best team spirit.

Salisbury had a terrific defense in 1971 that allowed under 7 points per game. The Hornets had four regular-season shutouts against a challenging schedule.

Salisbury avenged a regular-season loss to A.L. Brown with a 13-7 win in the SPC championship game. In the Piedmont championship game, Salisbury shut out a stout East Rowan team, 10-0, to reach the epic WNCHSAA championship game against South Point.

It was an historic local football season in the fall of 1971, as the school that had won 1955 and 1957 NCHSAA state championships as the Boyden High Yellow Jackets, was competing as the Salisbury Hornets for the first time. That change reflected changing times, as J.C. Price, Salisbury’s school for Black students during segregation, had graduated its last class in the spring of 1969. Black student-athletes had been allowed to attend Boyden if they chose to do so since the mid-1960s and had proven instrumental in Boyden winning basketball games, football games and track meets.

In 1970, Boyden had all of Salisbury’s Black athletes for the first time. Stout always considered that to be the most talented high school team he ever coached. The backfield included legends Kenny Holt, Roger Jackson and Aubrey Childers, while Robert Pulliam anchored the defense. Still, that team lost to Shelby, 13-7, in the 1970 WNCHSAA championship game.

The challenge looked even bigger for Stout’s team in 1971 against a South Point squad that had battered Shelby during the regular season.

South Point scored first, but Salisbury took a 7-6 halftime lead. That was only the second time South Point would trail in a game all season.

South Point went ahead 14-7 with a TD and 2-point conversion, but Salisbury blocked a punt to set up a short scoring drive. It was late in the third quarter when the Hornets scored. They kicked the PAT, and it was 14-all.

South Point made a relentless drive to try and win the game in the fourth quarter, moving from their 11 to the Salisbury 26, but that’s where the Hornets’ defense stopped Crawford on a fourth-and-1 play.

There was no overtime, so the teams were co-champions. Out-gained 250 yards to 120 by South Point, it was a deadlock the Hornets could feel good about in 1971 and still can feel good about.

That was the first mighty South Point football team, the one that laid the foundation for all the success that has occurred there. Crawford, a 185-pound Shrine Bowl pick and a future All-American at Lenoir-Rhyne, broke records and rushed for 1,573 yards and scored 200 points in 1971, but Salisbury’s defense held him to 100 yards and kept him out of the end zone.

The entire 1971 South Point team has been inducted into the Belmont Sports Hall of Fame.

Three Salisbury players from that 1971 game — Beattie, defensive lineman John O’Neal and junior quarterback Johnny Stratton, the son of Catawba College head coach Harvey Stratton, would be recruited by UNC.

Alexander was recruited by Catawba College and signed with the Indians in February 1972.

Fred Chase, the Catawba assistant who signed Alexander, said “Darryl has real good speed for a linebacker. His running time is as good as some of our backs.”

It was an outstanding era for Salisbury athletics. Alexander also played on the 1970-71 Boyden basketball team and the 1971-72 Salisbury team. Those clubs went 50-3.

The 1970-71 team, led by Holt, was the one that beat Crest and David Thompson, 41-33, in the celebrated WNCHSAA championship game played at Catawba. The next season. led by Sheldon Shipman and Donal Bunyan, the Hornets were 25-2, losing 46-44 in the WNCHSAA semifinals to East Rutherford.

Alexander played in 17 games in 1970-71. On the 1971-72 squad, he was one one of the first two off the bench for Coach Pharr and played in all 27 games. He scored 59 points.

While Catawba football didn’t work out as well as Alexander had hoped, he was a scholar and he  accomplished his academic dreams after transferring to North Carolina A&T.

He graduated from N.C. A&T in the spring of 1977 with a degree in electrical engineering.

He added a Masters degree in computer engineering in 1982.

Later in life, his athletic interest focused on golf. He became an accomplished golfer and shared his love for the sport with youngsters as a volunteer with “The First Tee” program.