Titans rule! West beats North to win CPC crown
Just a junior, Jalen Dalton is a 6’6” all-star defensive lineman who is known for his ability to pursue and wrap up opposing ball carriers.
But last Friday night, with his team clinging to a 17-14 lead in the conference championship football game against North Davidson, Dalton unveiled a rarely-seen skill — returning kickoffs.
Needing to recover an on-sides kick to have a shot at victory in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, the Black Knights bounced an end-over-end kickoff towards the left side of West’s front line. Dalton, inserted for his sizable wingspan, alertly collected the ball in mid-air and then took off down the North sideline. The Knights brought him down after a short gain but the damage had been done. Dalton’s recovery all but sealed a memorable West victory.
“I just thought it was time to show off my kick return skills and get some rushing yards,” Dalton said with a laugh, following West’s sixth consecutive win in Central Piedmont Conference play. “No, really I was just glad I was able to catch it. I thought about trying to hurdle one of their guys when I was running down the sideline but I figured I had better play it safe.”
Dalton’s heroics helped West earn its 10th win of the season and were just part of a night that featured a host of West highlights.
Down 7-0 in the second quarter, the West offense began to click behind the rushing efforts of running back Kealand Dirks and quarterback Darion Slade. Dirks, who is rapidly closing in on a 1,500-yard season, gashed the North Davidson defense for 147 yards on 22 carries. His 29-yard burst up the middle got West on the board in the second period. An eight-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter boosted the Titan lead to 17-7.
Two other key offensive contributors for West were Slade and placekicker Ben Esposito. Slade carried the ball 14 times for 54 yards. In addition to two extra point kicks, Esposito provided a clutch 27-yard field goal that gave West a 10-7 lead in the third quarter.
Still, the biggest star of the night was the Titan defense. Stung by a North touchdown early in the second quarter, the Titans silenced the Black Knights the rest of the way. North had 205 total yards but only 63 in the second half.
Dalton, who blocked a punt in the fourth quarter to set up West’s final score, teamed with fellow end Quintin Brinkley and tackle Dominick Rowdy to dominate line play. Linebacker Tyki Lawson-Oates and defensive back Phil Taylor added key interceptions in the second half.
“We have played together as a team all season and that’s what made the difference tonight,” Brinkley said afterwards. “We missed a few tackles, got down early and overall just weren’t executing. But we never lost focus. We started making plays and let our offense do the rest. It was just a great night for the whole team.”
• In addition to his interception in the fourth quarter, Phil Taylor also had a 13-yard first down run to spark the first West scoring drive. Taylor’s run came on a fourth-and-two situation when the Titans surprised North with a fake punt.
• Dirks currently has 1325 rushing yards and 13 TDs for the season.
• West is now 10-1 overall. North, which fell to Mount Tabor earlier in the season, finished 9-2 overall and 4-2 in CPC play.