West Rowan holds off North, 42-35
By Dave Shaw
For the Salisbury Post
SPENCER — West Rowan didn’t earn many points for artistry Friday night, but it got the job done.
Despite committing 16 penalties and playing without its fiercest offensive lineman, the visiting Falcons racked up 440 yards total offense and staved off a frantic fourth-quarter rally to edge North Rowan, 42-35.
“It feels great to get in the left-hand column,” winning coach Louis Kraft exhaled, just moments after West secured its first triumph in three decisions. “That’s what I told the guys all day. We weren’t leaving here without getting a win.”
The outcome wasn’t cemented until the waning moments, when West strong safety Jaeden Neal intercepted a pass just a few strides from the end zone and returned it into North territory with 2:38 remaining.
“Yeah, I think it was a blown route,” said Neal, a senior who held his ground and swiped a pass intended for wideout Orion Harris. “I think he was supposed to run a curl. That’s what it looked like to me. I just stayed home, defended my zone and then got as many yards as I could.”
The pass was the last thrown by North’s Jeremiah Alford — the freshman quarterback who threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns, then closed the scoring with a 2-yard TD run. That it came moments after teammate Jamar Jefferies recovered an onsides kick at the West 48 soured a productive evening for the Cavs (2-1).
“We got what we wanted,” said North coach Nygel Pearson. “Our kicker (Daniel Montes-Medrano) executed a perfect hop and we took our shot to try to win.”
It settled a dizzying offensive display that saw the teams combine for 820 yards. West was paced by senior QB Noah Loeblein, who completed 13 of 23 attempts for 240 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for two touchdowns and caught a shovel pass from understudy Lucas Graham for a 4-yard score midway through the third quarter.
“We came in here ready to score points,” Loeblein said. “It was a combination of experience, hard work and lots of practice. We drove the ball like we’re supposed to and executed when we needed to.”
And they did it all without left tackle Josh Noble, a 290-pound O-line pillar blessed with whipcord strength. Noble was a game-time scratch after suffering a right hand injury in last week’s loss to Mooresville. “We thought he was gonna be able to go,” Kraft reported. “But we were told about 10 minutes before kickoff that he couldn’t. I thought that unit, with Tyler Cline stepping in, did an exceptional job.”
“Josh wasn’t cleared by the doc,” explained right guard Braydon Haglan. “But even so, we were a freight train. We were bigger and we wanted it more.”
The beneficiaries included West running backs Akin Robinson (14 carries/101 yards) and Cayleb Brawley (17-71). Each scored a first-half touchdown to help the Falcons grab a 21-7 lead. North’s Jae’mias Morrow and Amari McArthur reached paydirt in the third period as the Cavs inched within 28-19. The game’s decisive touchdown came on a broken play with 8:21 on the clock — when Loeblein found receiver Garrett Fesperman open over the middle on a 51-yard touchdown play.
“I didn’t call it to go there,” said Kraft. “Noah was trying to hit (Evan) Kennedy over here on our sideline, but it wasn’t there. That was just two seniors making a play.”
And a 205-pound junior who saved the day. Never mind that Alford’s well-placed, 48-yard TD pass to Jerome Blakeney was nullified by an illegal shift infraction on North’s final possession. When push came to shove, Neal made an easy pick and returned it nearly 50 yards. “We coach our kids not to move on the line,” Pearson noted. “But they’re kids and they make mistakes. We’re gonna continue to coach them hard.”
“Our defense wasn’t great,” Neal said after North drove for touchdowns on three of its four second-half possessions. “Not at all. But we clutched up in the end. It was a rough night. We can’t get saved by the offense like this ever again.”
“We all felt a little nervous before that interception,” added Loeblein. “But Jaeden Neal made the biggest play of the season so far. One hundred percent. Hopefully, it gets us rolling.”
Despite all the stress, the Falcons appear ready to taxi down the runway and lift off. They’ll open their SPC season next Friday at Carson, fresh off a daring escape act.
“That’s what matters at the end of the day,” Kraft concluded. “In a month we won’t care that we won by seven or won by one. We won — and winning is all that matters.”
NOTES: North opens its CCC season next Friday at home against South Davidson. … McArthur, the county’s leading receiver with 449 yards, was routinely double- and triple-teamed. He caught three passes for 86 yards and his fifth touchdown of the season. Teammate Zion Milton intercepted Loeblein’s second pass of the game, thwarting an early drive. … North wideout Dylan Bates celebrated his 18th birthday. … West’s Lee Vaughters recovered a fumble on a kickoff midway through the opening period. Four plays later, Brawley scored on a 2-yard run for a 14-0 Falcons’ advantage. … Loeblein has passed for 670 yards and 6 TDs in three games.
West Rowan 14 7 7 14 — 42
North Rowan 0 7 12 16 — 35
WR — Loeblein 1 run (Artega kick), 5:47 1st
WR — Brawley 2 run (Artega kick), 4:14 1st
WR — Robinson 3 run (Artega kick), 4:44 2nd
NR — Morrow 4 run (Montes-Medrano kick), 1:55 2nd
NR — Morrow 3 run (kick failed), 10:14 3rd
WR — Loeblein 4 pass from Graham (Artega kick),6:02 3rd
NR — McArthur 45 pass from Alford (kick failed), 4:54 3rd
WR — Loeblein 3 run (Artega kick), 10:30 4th
NR — Blakeney 55 pass from Alford (Alford run), 10:04 4th
WR — Fesperman 51 pass from Loeblein (Artega kick), 8:21 4th
NR — Alford 2 run (Alford run), 4:35 4th
First downs 22 17
Rushes-yards 41-196 35-181
Passing 14-24-1 8-16-1
Passing yards 244 199
Penalties 16-130 11-55
Punts 2-27.5 1-36
Fumbles-lost 2-1 4-1
Rushing — WR: Robinson 14-101; Brawley 17-71; Loeblein 7-16; Stockton 2-7; McManus 1-1. NR: Morrow 15-94; Alford 19-89; Miller 1-(minus 2).
Passing — WR: Loeblein 13-23-1, 240; Graham 1-1-0, 4. NR: Alford 8-16-1, 199.
Receiving — WR: Fesperman 5-101; Williams-Simpson 7-79; Cuthrell 2-35; Sweet 1-58; Loeblein 1-4. NR: McArthur 3-86; Alexander 2-34; Blakeney 1-55; Morrow 1-13; O’Kelly 1-11.