DOBSON — “Victory awaits him who has everything in order. Luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”
Those words were first spoken by a legendary polar explorer more than a century ago. They could just as easily be the motto of the 2016 Surry Central Golden Eagles.
“Everyone said that our winning those close games early on would probably pay dividends down the road. Tonight, it did,” said Surry Central head coach Monty Southern. “Carver’s defense has always given us fits. We have never moved the ball well against them, and we didn’t tonight. But when we had to tonight, we stepped up and made those plays.”
The homestanding Eagles claimed their fourth win of the season decided by one or two points Friday night, beating Carver for the first time ever thanks to a 21-yard touchdown run by senior Martin Palacios with just 1:31 left in the contest. Palacios’ successful PAT kick gave Surry Central a 7-6 lead in the team’s Western Piedmont Athletic Conference debut.
“I told the guys at halftime that we’ve already been in several games where not making an extra point made the difference. It was the difference again tonight,” said Southern.
The Eagles (6-1, 1-0 WPAC) allowed a touchdown late in the first half and then embarked a frustrating final 24 minutes, in which the Central offense twice advanced deep into Yellowjacket territory but failed to come away with any points. The rainy conditions seemed to favor the visitors as the game wore on, and as time wound down under seven minutes to play in Friday’s game, it looked like Surry Central might finally be on the wrong end of a close one.
Carver looked like it might simply run out the clock on its next-to-last drive of the night. The Jackets advanced the ball from their 4-yard line into Surry Central territory with a series of third-down conversions, in which it appeared as though the Carver offensive line was finally wearing down the Eagles’ defensive front. However, Central hung in there, and the turning point in the game came when the Jackets were flagged for holding on first down from the Eagles’ 47 with about 6:40 to play.
The mistake — one of several blatant holding infractions committed by Carver during the night — brought the crowd and the Central defense back into the game. Riley Dockery made a big stop on second down to keep Carver’s down-and-distance unfavorable, and an incompletion on third-and-24 forced the Yellowjackets to punt from their own 39.
Surry Central began its final drive from its 30-yard line with 5:13 remaining. Yet again, a game was coming down to the experience and poise of the Golden Eagles.
But Carver wasn’t going to just roll over. They kept the Eagles from getting a first down for three plays, and Central found itself facing a do-or-die fourth-and-6 from the 34. Quarterback Chandler Johnson dropped back to pass and swung the ball to Dockery short of the first-down marker. The senior, who would soon provide even more heroics, broke a tackle and scampered out of bounds to stop the clock at the 43.
Runs by Dockery and Eric Ramirez moved the ball across midfield, and with 1:51 left, the Eagles faced third-and-inches from the Yellowjackets’ 37. With the officials measuring on the previous down, the Central players and coaches huddled up and Southern decided he would do something other than what Carver expected — a run for the first down.
Johnson dropped back again, and this time he found Palacios near the home sideline. The junior playmaker hauled in the pass, and might have taken it into the end zone if he’d been able to keep his balance, but was tripped up just enough to go out of bounds at the Jackets’ 21-yard line.
That just postponed the reckoning for Carver.
Palacios got the call on the very next play. Central’s offensive line, which had struggled to move the Carver front all night and for years before, suddenly ripped a hole in the middle of the Jackets’ front. Palacios blasted through it and had a man to beat at the Carver 10. The defender got a fistful of jersey, but Palacios kept churning and the defender couldn’t hold on. Pandemonium ensued on the Golden Eagles’ sideline and in the bleachers. Palacios and his teammates calmly retook the field and booted the all-important extra point.
“Palacios has a ton of heart. I don’t know that I have ever been around a kid who is more competitive than him,” said Southern. “I was actually hoping his jersey would rip, because I wasn’t sure that kid would ever let go. But I know Martin would keep digging his feet.”
The only mistake that Central made was leaving 91 seconds on the clock, and that’s a lot of time for a player as talented as Carver quarterback Germane Crowell Jr.
The Eagles covered the kick well and Carver had to start at its 20, needing 80 yards since the Jackets don’t have a strong kicking game. Crowell drew a pass interference penalty to the 35, and then out-ran several Central defenders on a scramble that brought him to the Eagles’ 48-yard line with 59 seconds left on the clock.
On the next play, Crowell dropped back to pass, and Dockery read the route as it was developing. He stepped in front of a Carver defender in traffic and picked off the Yellowjackets’ last pass of the evening. Two kneel-downs by Johnson ended it.
“I texted Riley a couple of nights ago and told him that he’d had a great week of practice,” said Southern. “When he made that play, it was almost like it was fate. He had a great week of practice and then comes out and gets to make the play that seals the win.”
The entire game was a defensive battle in which both offenses were hampered by the intermittent rainfall, which at times was very heavy and clearly affected both teams. Central’s Hobie Arnder saved the day on one Carver drive late in the first quarter, picking off a Crowell pass at the Eagles’ 20, but the 6’3” senior quarterback of the Jackets struck for a 40-yard pass completion on a third-and-10 with 2:30 left in the first half. That strike gave Carver a first-and-goal at the Central 1, which Raheem Jenkins turned into six points two plays later. But only six, because Central did a good job defending the ensuing two-point conversion try.
Central’s second drive of the third quarter reached the Jackets’ 10-yard line, but they lost the ball on downs. The next one got as close as the Carver 27, but ended in a punt that Jed Kidd deposited at their 4-yard line.
We didn’t get anything out of those drives, and I know it was frustrating for the kids not to score, but we did put them in bad field position. We did a good job of keeping them in bad field position all night,” Southern said.
The Yellowjackets ate up about seven minutes on the ensuing drive before Central forced the punt that led to its winning march.
The Eagles travel to South Stokes next Friday night.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.