11-8 Statesville-West Rowan football advance

Statesville's Jasaiah Gathings (14) turns upfield after making a catch during last year's 34-28 win over West Rowan. The teams meet again Friday night in Mt. Ulla with the winner claiming the North Piedmont Conference championship.

The goose egg in their record’s right column has remained with the Statesville Greyhounds since the 2019 high school football campaign kicked off in August.

“All glory to God on an undefeated season so far,” receiver Ky’Wuan Dukes said.

The sixth-ranked Greyhounds (10-0, 4-0) would like to keep it that way. It behooves them to do so. 11-0 looks better than 10-1 when the N.C. High School Athletic Association seeds qualifying teams Saturday for the upcoming state playoffs. The No. 1 seed in the West is a possibility.

West Rowan (7-3, 4-0) will do its best Friday to derail Statesville’s bid for its first unbeaten regular season since 1989.

Playoff seeding and one team’s continued quest for perfection aren’t the only things riding on the outcome in Mt. Ulla. The North Piedmont Conference co-leaders hope to get their claws on the league championship.

West Rowan hasn’t been crowned a conference champion since 2011, when the Falcons extended their run of NPC titles to eight straight. Statesville shared the NPC title with South Iredell a year ago.

“Coach (Randall) Gusler and his staff will have his team ready to go,” Falcons coach Joe Nixon said. “We are excited for the opportunity to be playing in Mt. Ulla against a very good team. Our goal every year is to win a conference championship just like every other team. We are just fortunate enough that the last game on (senior) night is for a conference championship.”

Both sides will insist they need to avoid turnovers on offense, get after it on defense and be sound on special teams.

A gadget play might not hurt either.

Statesville used some trickery in the 34-28 victory over West Rowan last year in Greyhound Hollow. Running back Dorreco Davis took a pitch from quarterback Nebanye Moore and sold the run late in the first half. As West Rowan defenders converged on Davis he threw the ball to Dukes, who hauled in the pass for a 30-yard touchdown reception that propelled the Greyhounds to a 20-7 halftime lead.

Max Blackledge returned a blocked punt 35 yards for a touchdown and Reggie Everhart took a kickoff 74 yards to the end zone as the Falcons mounted a second-half comeback. Statesville held on thanks, in part, to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns from then-sophomore Chavion Smith.

Smith’s junior season ended several weeks ago prematurely due to a leg injury that required surgery. He won’t be the difference maker Friday if the score is tight late in the game.

But it’s not about one single player anyway.

“I have confidence in my team, and I feel that we will win,” Dukes said.

“As a team,” he emphasized, “together we are unstoppable once we get going. … I’m more than happy (and) excited for this game.”

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