PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry head coach David Diamont was the first to admit that it wasn’t pretty.
But not all football victories are works of art. Sometimes, a team strings together a few big plays with a lot of heart and a lot of fight, and earns a win that maybe they shouldn’t have.
“That was one ugly win,” said Diamont, whose team played the entire contest without the services of its two leading rushers. “We’re just happy to get out of here with a win on Senior Night. We don’t have a lot of seniors and we’ve got a lot injuries out there. Our kids played pumped up all night and they played hard. These kids haven’t quit all year long.”
The Cardinals took the lead 11 seconds into the game and held on for a 17-12 victory, improving to 5-3 on a night when 10 seniors and student manager C.J. Inscore were honored during their final regular-season home game. But it was a struggle throughout, as East Surry struggled to move the ball against a Winston-Salem Prep defensive front that had about 30 pounds per man on them.
“They have a couple of big, strong kids up front up put a lot of pressure on us,” Diamont said. “We had a hard time doing anything.”
East Surry knew that Prep’s big linemen were going to be a problem for the Cardinals, but the coach found a way to get his team off to a quick start.
The home team received the opening kickoff and started from its own 36-yard line. When the Phoenix defense lined up, Diamont saw he had single coverage on speedy freshman wide receiver Quincy Smith. Smith took off downfield against Prep’s Daishawn Cameron and got a step in front as quarterback Trevor Hauser went deep on a fly pattern. Smith caught the ball in stride around the Phoenix’ 45-yard line and took it the distance. Ryan Sutterby’s point-after gave East Surry a 7-0 lead after just 11 seconds of play.
“That was something I just noticed at that point,” said Diamont, who said that the call for the long pass was made on the spot. “(Smith is) a freshman, and he made a few plays for us.”
The Phoenix got a drive of its own going later in the first quarter after stopping the Cardinals on downs, and it got on the board with 5:28 left in the opening period after a 10-yard run by Cameron. However, Prep’s kicking game is basically nonexistent — something that played a huge factor in this game — and the Phoenix went for two after the score. Stephen Creech made a one-on-one tackle against Prep fullback Nijay Patterson to keep East ahead by a point.
It didn’t stay that close for long. The Cardinals’ Conner Sheets ran the ensuing kickoff back 60 yards to the Winston-Salem Prep 15-yard line. On third-and-11 from the 16, Hauser went looking for Smith on a fade route, this time to the other side of the field, and he beat his man for a touchdown and a 14-6 lead with 4:22 left in the first quarter.
The Phoenix had a chance to get even as the second quarter got under way, using an interception to start deep in East Surry territory and move inside the East 10 as the opening period ended. But 11 seconds into the second quarter, the Phoenix fumbled and the Cardinals’ Stephen Gosnell pounced on it.
The teams exchanged punts, and then Prep made a mistake. While hitting a 33-yard punt that would have made East start a drive at its own 35 with about five minutes to play, one of the Phoenix players was flagged for a personal-foul infraction. Diamont made Prep punt the ball again, and this time, they hit a poor punt that gave the Cardinals great field position at the visitors’ 43-yard line.
As always, the going was rough against the big and rugged Phoenix defense, but East Surry reached the 15 before its drive bogged down. Diamont called on Sutterby to kick a 32-yard field goal, which he hit perfectly to give the Cardinals a 17-6 halftime lead.
“Our kicking game has been solid all year long,” said Diamont, whose squad thoroughly dominated the Phoenix in the special-teams department.
The second half boiled down to a powerful Winston-Salem Prep running attack that found itself facing an equally determined East Surry defense. The Cardinals bent, but they refused to break.
The Phoenix drove to the East Surry 35 on their first possession of the second half, but on a fourth-down play, senior Jose Juarez got into the backfield and made the stop. Prep scored on its second drive of the third quarter, moving the ball 53 yards in seven plays to score on a two-yard run by Patterson with 2:33 left in the period. Again, the Phoenix went for two. Kolt Bullington beat his man off the line and tackled Patterson in the backfield.
East Surry kept sputtering on offense, but kept holding on, thanks to great punting by Hauser and determined defense. With a little over seven minutes to play, the Phoenix reached the Cardinals’ 32 and faced fourth down again. Enter Bullington again. This time, he beat his man and introduced himself to Cameron for a two-yard loss.
Prep got one more chance after East Surry went three-and-out. Hauser hit a 47-yard punt that forced the Phoenix to go 77 yards in 6:11 or less if they wanted to win. It took them three minutes just to reach their own 40, where they faced fourth-and-4. The Cardinals forced an incomplete pass and then needed one first down to finally beat the Phoenix.
“Boy, it was a very unsettled at the end,” Diamont said. “We couldn’t get a first down, we couldn’t move the ball. They blitzed us like crazy.”
East Surry’s first two plays went for nothing. Then, on third-and-7, Suarez found a hole up the middle and gained 23 yards. The Cardinals’ last two plays were run out of the victory formation.
The Cardinals will be on the road next week to play Bishop McGuinness. The Villains (4-5, 2-2 Northwest 1A Conference) lost 49-0 to Mount Airy on Friday night. East Surry was scheduled to host North Stokes the week after that, but will instead receive a forfeit since that school dropped its varsity team.
Reach John on Twitter at @johncate73.