BOONVILLE — East Surry connected on just one pass attempt against Starmount on Friday night, but the completion proved to be the difference in the Cardinals’ first win of the year.
A 26-yard touchdown run by Joey Ray with 3:27 remaining in the fourth quarter trimmed the Rams’ lead to 27-26, and without any hesitation, East Surry coach David Diamont elected to go for two and the win.
A false start penalty pushed the Cardinals back to the eight-yard line, but Diamont kept his kicking unit on the sideline. Quarterback Connor Sheets faked a quick handoff and fired a slant pass to tight end Stephen Creech, who leaped and bobbled the football before coming down with the game-winning reception in East Surry’s 28-27 victory.
“The credit goes to assistant coach David Johnson,” Diamont said. “He called the play and brought in a tight end that could make the catch. It wasn’t my call, it was David’s call.”
East Surry (1-1) still needed a defensive stop to secure the win. Starmount (0-2) took over at its own 35-yard line and marched inside the Cardinals’ red zone with relative ease. However, the Rams faced a fourth-and-inches at the East Surry 16-yard line with 49 seconds remaining and the game on the line.
Starmount rushed for 427 yards on the evening, but the Rams couldn’t convert that final fourth down as a swarm of Cardinal defenders stopped Silas Holbrook at the line of scrimmage to seal the victory.
“That last drive, I was just sitting there screaming to our defensive line that this was it,” senior linebacker and captain Garrett Barker said. “We had a lot of underclassmen out there that have never gotten varsity experience, and they stepped up and did what they were supposed to do.”
The offense came on to the field after the fourth-down stop, took two kneels and watched the clock expire in a back-and-forth game that featured six lead changes.
“I’m just so proud of this entire team,” Ray said. “Some of the fans probably thought this game was over… But the guys on the field kept fighting and we knew we had a chance to win there at the end.”
East Surry got the evening started in a very efficient fashion. The Cardinals’ opening drive consisted of four plays, three of which were handoffs to Ray.
The junior running back tallied 43 of his 174 yards on the first drive and got East Surry on the board just 1:38 into the game with a 25-yard touchdown run. After a missed extra point, the Cardinals led 6-0.
The rest of the opening period was quiet on both sides, but the Rams took a 7-6 lead thanks to a 19-yard touchdown run by Peyton Mullins 1:10 into the second quarter.
The offenses rotated a pair of unsuccessful drives before East Surry regained the lead right on the edge of halftime. Mitchell Edwards entered the backfield and mustered off a slew of impressive runs, including a 24-yard rush that involved seven broken tackles.
Edwards capped off the East Surry drive two plays later with a five-yard touchdown run. The Cardinals went for two, but Sheets was stuffed at the line of scrimmage and East Surry led 12-7 heading into intermission.
That advantage didn’t last long. Facing a third-and-11, Starmount ran right up the middle and Mullins broke a couple tackles at the line of scrimmage before busting it loose for a 70-yard touchdown run two minutes into the second half.
The Rams extended their lead to 19-12 thanks to another touchdown run from Mullins when they regained possession. The junior finished Friday with 253 yards on 17 carries, doing most of his damage on counter sweeps to the outside.
The teams alternated scores in the fourth quarter as the defenses started to tire. Sheets found the end zone on a three-yard run, and Starmount answered with Mullins, this time a 31-yard scamper down the left sideline to give the Rams a 27-20 lead with 7:19 remaining.
Starmount then surprised the entire stadium with a successful onside kick. The Rams went for the kill, but a huge three-and-out hold by the East Surry defense gave the Cardinals one last chance to pull out the victory.
“We can’t give them the ball in that good of field possession in a tight ball game. We’ve got to learn from that,” Diamont said.
That defensive stop set the stage for Ray and Creech’s heroics at the end. Ray seemed to get stronger as the game wore on, and during the final drive, he registered 43 yards on just two carries.
East Surry now turns its attention to county rival North Surry in week three. The Greyhounds (1-1) will be the first team to pay a visit to the Cardinals this season.
“We’ve been on the road so much, having scrimmages on the road then the first two games being away, we’re excited to get back home,” Diamont said. “It’s a fun feeling playing games in Pilot Mountain, and I think everybody is looking forward to that.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16