Short of a season-ending loss in the state playoffs, it’s hard to imagine a punch in the collective gut worse than the one that Mount Airy suffered the last time it took to the gridiron.
The Granite Bears turned in a wire-to-wire flat performance and paid the price against Surry Central, as the Golden Eagles beat their county rivals 20-0. Only the Bears’ seniors were even alive the last time Central had beaten Mount Airy in football.
Redeeming that miserable Friday night will be on the team’s mind this week, when the Bears finally return to action for their Northwest 1-A Conference opener against North Stokes.
“It’s been a long two weeks,” said Mount Airy coach Kelly Holder.
As of press time, the Bears were still scheduled to play on Friday, but were considering moving the game to tonight due to a forecast of rain on Friday. A final decision hadn’t been made at press time. East Surry, whose schedule has already been seriously upset by last week’s bad weather, is taking no chances and has already chosen to move its game with South Stokes to Thursday evening at 6 p.m.
The Cardinals haven’t played since Sept. 11. The team’s inactivity wasn’t by choice, but due to a bye week and a scheduled game with Atkins that was repeatedly delayed by rain until the two schools finally agreed to make it up on Oct. 12, meaning that East will play three games in a period of 12 days.
“We’re really concerned about (the layoff),” said East Surry coach Dave Diamont, whose team is ranked No. 4 in the state in the NCPreps.com “Baker’s Dozen” poll. “We hope that we haven’t lost our edge from not playing.
“The next two weeks are going to put pressure on us, and test our depth. We’ve got to know if kids can step in if the player ahead of them is injured or sick. We’re stressing proper nutrition and fitness and telling the kids to make sure they get the right amount of sleep. All of those things factor into being ready to play, and we’re going to be expending a lot of energy.”
North Surry and Surry Central are both taking this week off. The Greyhounds’ next game will be on Oct. 9 at West Stokes, while the Golden Eagles will return to action at Carver on the same evening.
North Stokes at Mount Airy
No matter how painful the Bears’ night of futility was two weeks ago, it was a non-conference loss. Mount Airy can still win the Northwest Conference championship, reach the state playoffs, and make a run in the postseason. Ultimately, all losing to Surry Central cost the team was some bragging rights.
The Bears’ pursuit of a conference title begins on Friday, and they’ll be facing an opponent coming off a short week of practice. Due to rain, North Stokes wasn’t able to play its conference opener at Bishop McGuinness until Monday night. The Vikings pulled out a 15-12 victory that wasn’t decided until late in the fourth quarter.
Mount Airy will be favored to win, even though the teams have similar overall records. North Stokes, which suffered through a miserable 0-11 campaign in 2014, has bounced back nicely this fall with a 4-2 record. However, it hasn’t faced the same level of competition as the Bears, beating Alleghany (23-0), South Davidson (34-0), South Stokes (38-12), and Bishop, while losing to East Wilkes (27-17) and Virginia’s Patrick Co. (22-17).
“They’ve had some success and you can see they’re playing with confidence,” said Holder. “They have some good players on both sides of the ball.”
The Vikings run the ball almost four times as often as they pass it, having attempted 233 runs and only 64 passes this season. When they do throw, they haven’t been particularly successful. Senior quarterback Jackson Moorefield has made all 64 of his team’s passing attempts and completed just 28 of them (44 percent) for 399 yards, with two touchdowns and five interceptions.
Where North makes its living on offense is on the ground, running out of a Pro-I formation. The focal point of the attack is lineman Austin Tucker, a 6’5”, 315-pound senior who is being recruited by a number of college programs.
Eleven different players have run the ball for the Vikings, including seven with more than 100 yards rushing this season. Leading the way is senior Blake Williams, with 360 yards on 77 carries. Other top ball-carriers for North Stokes are Andrew Lankford (37-233), Tevin Carter (22-157), Moorefield (24-151), Dalton Sawyers (22-150) and Austyn Garcia (20-141).
“They love to run the ball,” Holder said. “We’ve got to be able to stop the run, and we’ve got to be able to score when we’ve got a chance to score.”
The Vikings similarly spread the ball around on those rare occasions when they do throw. Eight different players have caught a pass for the team this fall, but senior Logan Stevens is the team’s go-to receiver, with 15 catches for 257 yards and two scores. No other Viking has more than three receptions all season.
South Stokes at East Surry
East Surry will be heavy favorites to beat South Stokes, a team that’s still seeking a victory — but is a bit of a mystery to its opponents.
“We’re not sure what to expect,” Diamont said. “I’ve seen South Stokes play, but they’ve had a lot of injuries and they’re going to have people coming back.”
The Sauras have enjoyed some success running the ball, but have been hampered by injuries and have struggled in the passing game. Two quarterbacks have combined to complete just 30 percent of their passes this season, with one touchdown and eight interceptions in 67 attempts. It’s not without reason that South Stokes runs the ball twice as often as it throws.
Two running backs do most of the work. The Sauras’ leading rusher is senior Keelan Goodwin, with 361 yards on 59 carries. Junior Michal Phillips has picked up 216 yards on 39 attempts. The rest of the team has just 21 carries, some of which came on designed pass plays that failed to develop.
“Their offense is three yards and a cloud of dust,” said Diamont. “We’re hoping our kids get out there and get after it against them.”
Phillips also comes out of the backfield a lot on passing plays, and has hauled in 22 passes for 90 yards. The team’s leading receiver is Jonah Moorefield, with 10 receptions for 129 yards. Moorefield also splits time at quarterback with Cole Rothrock.
Mason Dutton, a junior middle linebacker, leads the team with 59 tackles. The team’s punting has been solid, with Moorefield averaging 38.4 yards per kick.
Looking at the rest of the NWC
Coming into the season, East Surry and Mount Airy were expected to battle for supremacy in the seven-team league. So far, there’s been little reason to think otherwise, but one of the other teams looks at least troublesome for the Cardinals and Bears. Running down the other four teams (North Stokes was discussed at length earlier) in the league:
* Winston-Salem Prep: The Phoenix is a difficult team to get a read on. The team is 2-3, but one of the wins was a forfeit from Raleigh Word of God. Two weeks ago, they beat Statesville Christian 28-15 for their lone win on the field. W-S Prep opened with two expected losses to much larger Winston-Salem schools, Mount Tabor and Parkland, and was somewhat competitive with 4-A Parkland, losing 23-14. Winston-Salem Prep and Walkertown began conference play Monday night. After a slow start, Walkertown blanked the homestanding Phoenix 26-0.
* Walkertown: The Wolfpack overscheduled itself and paid the price in non-conference play. Walkertown opened the season with a come-from-behind 29-26 victory over Rockingham, then got beat by four larger schools in succession: West Forsyth (45-0), R.J. Reynolds (41-38), Parkland (14-0), and West Stokes (24-21), before beating Winston-Salem Prep on Monday night. Despite the losses, the Wolfpack’s competitiveness in all but the West Forsyth game (MaxPreps.com rates the Titans as the 18th best 4-A team in the state) marks them as a threat.
* Bishop McGuinness: The Villains are 2-4 after dropping their postponed conference opener to North Stokes on Monday night. This gives them the same overall record as Walkertown, but it’s come against much less formidable opposition. They opened with losses to Community School of Davidson (42-7) and Trinity (10-8) before winning 34-22 at Alleghany. A 28-7 setback to High Point Christian was followed by a 40-13 victory over South Stokes.
* Atkins: The Camels haven’t been competitive in any of their five losses this season, although most of them were against teams that they wouldn’t have been expected to beat in the first place. Barring a huge turnaround, it’s difficult to see Atkins as a contender in this league.
A rundown of the MaxPreps.com power ratings, which aren’t always reliable in other sports due to lack of score reporting but tend to be in football since results are reliably reported, shows the pecking order fairly clearly:
East Surry 92 (No. 5 in 1-A, No. 2 in the 1-A West Region)
Mount Airy 210 (No. 19 in 1-A)
Walkertown 238 (No. 25 in 1-A, No. 1 in 1-A strength of schedule)
W-S Prep 321
North Stokes 347
The defending champion Cardinals look like the favorite, and they’ve made it clear all along that they have bigger aspirations than just winning a lot of regular-season games. Diamont said in preseason that he “was tired of getting in the playoffs and getting embarrassed,” and alluded to his team’s goals for this season again last week. It appears the two biggest obstacles to East Surry are the Oct. 9 showdown at Walkertown, a team that won’t be intimidated by anyone in the league after what they’ve already faced; and of course the season finale against the Bears, who will be seeking revenge for last year’s loss that cost them a conference crown.
Reach John Cate via Twitter at @johncate73.