The quadrant of the 1-AA West Regional that includes third-seeded East Surry has turned into a challenge tournament between the two top teams of the Northwest Conference and the Yadkin Valley Conference.
Come Black Friday, one of the four teams will be one game away from a shot at a state championship. But to get to that point, the Cardinals, second-seeded and fellow unbeaten West Montgomery, and the runners-up in their respective conferences, Walkertown and East Montgomery, all have work to do.
For East Surry, tonight’s assignment is Yadkin Valley runner-up East Montgomery, the sixth overall seed in the region. The Eagles beat North Stanly 33-21 in last week’s first round to earn a date with the 12-0 Cardinals, ranked fourth in the state by MaxPreps.com and second by CarolinaPreps.com.
“They’re a very good football team,” said East Surry coach David Diamont. “They didn’t have a good year last year (5-7), and they have a new coach this season. Coach (Ben) Hammer and his staff have done a great job. This year, they are very good.”
As Diamont stated, the Eagles are a cut above the average high school unit. The team, which operates out of a spread formation, is effective both running (7.1 yards per rush) and passing (an average of 117 yards per game, 56 percent completion percentage, and 15 touchdowns against just eight interceptions). East Montgomery is very athletic, even on the offensive line, a rarity at the 1-A level.
“They run a lot of counter, and they’re pulling linemen all of the time,” Diamont said. “You don’t see that unless the linemen are very athletic.”
The leading rusher for the 10-2 Eagles is senior Arron Flowers, who has carried the ball 132 times for 1,020 yards. However, in recent weeks, the team has shifted sophomore Courtney McKinney to running back and given him the majority of the carries. The speedster has 761 yards on just 65 carries, for a whopping 11.7 per-carry average.
Despite not being used in the passing game for the past few weeks, McKinney remains the team’s leading receiver. Seniors Nick Wall and Cameron Watkins have done most of the pass-catching duties since the switch in early October.
Two quarterbacks, senior Colby Maynor and junior Gavin Watts, share time for the Eagles. Maynor has a slight edge in raw numbers, having completed 40 of 73 passes (55 percent) for 717 yards, with eight scores and six interceptions. He is also the team’s third-leading rusher (109-579, 7 TD’s). Watts is 35-for-62 (57 percent) for 682 yards, with seven touchdowns and two picks. He received the nod and played the entire game against West Montgomery, but the two players shared time in the playoff win, where East Montgomery rallied from a 21-13 halftime deficit.
“(Maynor) runs the ball very well and is pretty good passing the ball, too,” said Diamont. “(Watts) probably passes the ball a little better than he runs.”
Defensively, East Montgomery might seem a bit vulnerable, having allowed 226 points in their 12 games to date, but 71 of those points came in the team’s first two games, facing a 3-A and then a 2-A school. The former was a 43-26 loss to Union Pines, the second a 48-28 win over Eastern Randolph. After that, the team had just three games where a team reached double figures against them.
The Eagles’ second loss came in their final game of the regular season, when they hosted arch-rival West Montgomery in a showdown for the conference title, and lost 26-6. That final score was deceiving, as the teams were tied 6-6 going into the final quarter of play.
“They move people around a lot defensively,” said Diamont. “We’re not sure what look we’re going to see, so we’ve had to prepare for a lot of different things.
“They have two very good linebackers. One of them (Rivers Hall) is very quick moving from sideline to sideline. If you move, he is going to hit you.”
Hall, a 5’8”, 190-pound senior, leads the team with 98 tackles. Second on the team is the other linebacker Diamont cited, Tony Brown. The 5’8”, 185-pound sophomore has 63 tackles despite missing two games earlier this season.
Things won’t get any easier if the Cardinals get past East Montgomery. In the other half of the quadrant are the Northwest runners-up, Walkertown, who beat Pine Lake Prep 35-26 last week to advance as the 10th seed. They face West Montgomery, the No. 3-ranked team in 1-A, per CarolinaPreps, and sixth according to MaxPreps. The winners will play one another on the day after Thanksgiving for the right to play in the regional finals.
“We’re just excited to be where we are,” said Diamont, who said he and the rest of the Cardinals would also be pulling for the other three NW1A teams still in the playoffs to keep winning. “We’re looking forward to tomorrow night.”
Reach John on Twitter at @johncate73.