Albemarle falls 40-7 to North Rowan
By Mike London, for the SNAP
North Rowan was facing fourth-and-3 at the Albemarle 9 early in the fourth quarter of what had been a competitive, punishing 1A Yadkin Valley Conference game.
Leading by 13 points and looking to put the rough, tough Bulldogs away, the Cavaliers weren’t thinking about field-goal attempts. They were thinking about putting the ball in the hands of back Malcolm Wilson and letting him slam the door.
Getting solid blocks, Wilson slithered off the left side. He had the first down but wanted more. A cluster of white jerseys gathered between him and the goal line, but he still took the ball to the end zone, putting his head down and bulling fiercely to the far pylon. That was a backbreaker.
“Sometimes you’re in a situation where you have to make a decision as a back,” Wilson said. ‘Try to juke them or try to run through them. That was a run-through-them play.”
After Wilson’s second touchdown of the night and 12th of the season, it was 26-7.
The final was 40-7. It sounds like a blowout, but it wasn’t. North Rowan, ranked seventh in 1A, started painfully, and Albemarle (2-4, 2-1 YVC) had something to do with that. The Cavaliers trailed 7-0 for a while and only led 14-7 at halftime.
“You want to set the tone on the first drive after the opening kickoff, but we didn’t,” North Rowan coach Ben Hampton said. “A championship team doesn’t miss opportunities, and right now we’re just a good team, not a championship team, because we missed all kind of opportunities. We had several dropped passes early. We had to overcome that.”
It also was homecoming night, and at a school the size of North Rowan, which has about 600 students, that means lots of football players on the homecoming court.
“Homecoming, as great as it was as far as giving us a lot of excitement and a big crowd, means a crazy week,” Hampton said. “There are festivities, pep rallies, pictures and parades. Our guys are teenagers. They got distracted, and that’s natural. I don’t think they were into this game mentally for a while. But at halftime we got everyone calmed down and refocused, and our guys flipped the switch. We were a different team in the second half.”
North Rowan (5-1, 2-0 YVC) had some issues early, trying to deal with Albemarle’s thick-shouldered, 206-pound back Elijah McCall. McCall broke a 51-yard, Cavalier-trucking, highlight-film touchdown run for a 7-0 lead, and then barreled for additional gains of 24 and 20 yards.
“We’re usually tackling people high, but that wasn’t a back you could tackle high,” North Rowan’s two-way lineman Benjamin Caldwell said. “We needed to hit his legs, and we made the adjustment. But that early touchdown he scored, that was an eye opener. A wakeup call.”
North Rowan, which had registered three consecutive shutouts around a postponement and an open date, hadn’t been scored on since August. It got a huge effort from Caldwell and from linebacker Nautica Patterson, whom assistant coach Mark Woody called “a heat-seeking missile.”
“It was Caldwell’s birthday and he had a great game,” linebacker Tyzai Lyles said. “He was making plays all over the place. The rest of us, we just followed him. As far as them scoring first, well, that’s just football. Someone was going to score on us sooner or later. We just couldn’t let them score again.”
Down 7-0, with his receivers struggling and with Albemarle doing everything it could to limit Wilson, it was up to North QB Willis Mitchell to get the Cavaliers untracked. On second-and-15 at the Albemarle 37, Mitchell broke containment and broke tackles. He zig-zagged all the way to the 3-yard line.
“What made that play was our offensive linemen getting down the field and continuing to make blocks for me,” Mitchell said.
The Bulldogs stopped Wilson on first-and-goal, but on second down, Mitchell spun through a tackler for North Rowan’s first score with a minute left in the first quarter. North didn’t execute on the PAT, and still trailed 7-6.
After North Rowan’s defense got a stop, Mitchell went back to work, and now receivers Denerio Robinson and Quintous Smith Jr. were snagging passes.
“We had those drops, but I told the receivers we had to keep our heads straight and move on to the next play,” Mitchell said. “They kept pushing.”
Mitchell’s 17-yard pass to the 6-foot-5 Robinson put the Cavaliers on top for the first time at 12-7 with 4:51 left in the half. Mitchell’s 2-point conversion flip to Smith made it 14-7 at the break.
“Stop the run, that’s what we talked about at halftime,” Lyles said. “Albemarle doesn’t throw a lot, so let’s stop the run.”
North Rowan did. Albemarle had only two first downs and a handful of positive offensive plays in the second half.
“Our defense shut them down in the second half,” Wilson said. “That helped our offense get some short fields to work with.”
After North Rowan’s defense forced Albemarle to punt early in the second half, the Cavaliers had one of those short fields, and Mitchell connected with Smith for a big play down the middle. The 44-yard gain set up first-and-goal. Wilson punched in the TD for a 20-7 lead.
“I had a drop early, but you’re not going to catch everything,” Smith said. “Albemarle threw a lot of weird stuff at us, different stuff we hadn’t seen, but we did OK. When you look at the scoreboard, that says we did OK.”
Wilson’s huge TD on fourth down came next, and it was 26-7.
North got another score a minute later. After a fumble recovery deep in Albemarle territory by Josiah Hawthorne. Mitchell hit Logan Stoner with a touchdown pass.
In the closing minutes, with Wilson resting. North Rowan’s relentless offensive line (Caldwell plays there, too) and backs Davis Broaddus and Jay Clinding pounded for the final TD.
The goal for North Rowan always is five or fewer penalties and zero turnovers.
The Cavaliers had one turnover. Mitchell had a pass picked off near the Albemarle goal line, but it was as good as a punt. North Rowan had five penalties.
“A slow start, but we’ll take the win,” Hampton said. “Albemarle played hard and played tough and physical, and we responded. In the second half, our defense did a much better job of pursuing and gang-tackling.”
Mike London is a writer for The Salisbury Post, a sister publication of The Stanly News & Press.