SALISBURY — It was next man up for the Red Springs football team on Friday night.
Down to their third-string running back, a junior receiver that hadn’t had any rushing attempts in a game this season, the Red Devils found a way to pull out a 19-7 win over Salisbury in the first round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs. The win is the program’s first playoff victory since defeating Pender 34-24 in 2012. Red Springs will travel to Hendersonville next Friday in the second round.
Having to go deep on its roster challenged the willingness and the depth of 11th-seeded Red Springs (9-3) when twice a running back went down with an ankle injury. But they showed to be up to the challenge.
“Our execution was excellent, we are just low on numbers. It doesn’t matter because we just plug and play the next man up, cut and paste and keep working.” Red Springs coach Lawrence Ches said. ”I don’t know what it’s (a playoff win) supposed to feel like, but all I know is it feels like another win and we’re going to try and win again next week.”
Starting running back Lee McLean suffered an ankle injury on the first series of the game, and on the few snaps he had after he lacked the speed and elusiveness he normally brings on his runs. The injury led back-up tailback Nichorie West into the game, and the senior picked up where the sophomore left off and totaled 48 yards in the first half, including a three-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter to put the Red Devils up 13-7 going into halftime.
On West’s first rush of the second half, he was tackled going out of bounds, and suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for the rest of the game. Ches then turned to junior receiver Jayshawn Carthen to see his first action at running back of the season.
Carthen totaled 60 yards on 12 carries and his first-down conversions late in the game helped keep No. 6 Salisbury (7-4) off the field to prevent it from tying or taking the lead late.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him and I couldn’t be more proud of our resolve as a team and the character we show every night,” Ches said.
While Carthen provided the lift for the offense for much of the second half, it was a familiar face that finished the Hornets off.
Facing a third-and-one with 1:14 left in the game on its own 44-yard line and Salisbury with no timeouts and down six points, a minimal game was all that was needed, but senior Jerome Bass didn’t want to chance it. Bass scored for the second time in the game on a 56-yard run after busting through a hole on the offensive line to push the lead to two scores.
“Coach (Vinston) Thorpe told me to get it over the marker, but when I saw that bit of daylight I just had to go,” he said. “It was crazy, my mind was racing. I just knew I had to get to the end zone.”
Bass led the team with 79 yards rushing, and also had a 10-yard touchdown catch on the first play of the second quarter.
“I couldn’t be more happy for a kid that deserves something like that in his possible last game,” Ches said. “He wanted to extend his career one more week as a Red Devil and I couldn’t have been more prouder.”
With Bass also at the center of the defense, the Red Devils held Salisbury to 182 yards of total offense. Each time the defense was pushed into its own territory, it made a play to keep the Hornets with just the one score on the scoreboard.
On the play following his touchdown run, West picked off Salisbury quarterback Griffin Myers, and Myers threw two other picks in the second half, one to Traveze Billinger early in the fourth quarter and then by Monte’ Wilkerson at the Red Springs 4-yard line with 2:44 left to set up the game-clinching drive.
“A lot of our defense tonight was preparation. The kids had a great week of practice preparing for this game,” Ches said. “Without Coach (Robert) Dove and without the attention to detail we spend defensively, we are not the team we are today. We are not 9-3 and playing in the second round of the playoffs.”
“I saw heart. They stepped up when they needed to, but they never gave up,” Bass said. “We were reading the offense and just playing assignments. All year they (the defensive backs) had been begging and crying talking about how they wanted more passes and more interceptions, and tonight was their night.”
Playoff wins have eluded Red Springs the last three years, including an overtime loss two years ago to South Columbus. Getting over the hump with his high school career was a long time coming for Bass.
“It’s like it’s long overdue. We’ve had teams that should’ve been able to do it before, but just didn’t fall through,” he said. “Tonight was just a great team win.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.