DOBSON —Surry Central’s 2016 football season ended in characteristic fashion, as the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference champions scored a touchdown as time expired. Seven times this season, the Golden Eagles stole victory from the jaws of defeat with a late touchdown.
Unfortunately, there was no way that Eric Ramirez’ four-yard run and Martin Palacios’ point-after to end Central’s second-round NCHSAA 2A state playoff game was going to keep the team’s record-breaking season going.
Visiting Hendersonville scored on all seven of its first-half possessions, riding the hot hand of quarterback Alex Williford and wide receivers Tykel Landrum and Leon Cooks to a 45-7 first-half lead. The second half was played on more even terms, and the Bearcats (10-3) never let up until very near the end of the contest, eventually coming away with a 73-28 victory that ended Central’s season at 11-2. No other Surry Central football team had ever won more than nine games in a season.
Although a disappointing ending for a team that fielded 20 seniors this season, Coach Monty Southern chose to focus on what the team had achieved, rather than one night when everything went right for one team and not much went well for his own.
“We’re not going to let one bad moment spoil a lot of great ones,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of memories, it’s the most wins in school history, and we did a lot of great things. So we’re going to be happy and let this season be about those things and not what happened tonight.”
Southern knew that Hendersonville presented serious matchup problems for his team, and the Eagles gambled that Williford wouldn’t be on-target in the early going, choosing to concede underneath routes to Landrum and Cooks while trying to cut off the deep ball. This proved to be a miscalculation when the junior signal-caller was spot-on, completing 10 of his first 11 passes on the night, including the first six in a row, as the Bearcats mounted scoring drives of 72 and then 86 yards. The first one was capped by a 6-yard toss to Landrum with 7:46 left in the opening period, and the second was a 30-yard strike to him on an inside screen at the 2:55 mark.
“Offensively, they were just fantastic,” said Southern, whose team had allowed just 67 points in its previous three games combined. “They just picked us apart with the intermediate stuff. We didn’t want (Landrum) and (Cooks) beating us deep, but they kept catching the ball, and once they have it, they’re tough to bring down.”
Meanwhile, the Eagles’ offense was struggling to get anything going, and Surry Central had turned the ball over and handed Hendersonville another easy score on another strike to Landrum with 33 seconds remaining in the opening period.
After a 16-yard run by the Bearcats’ Ty’rese Hunt less than three minutes into the second quarter made it 28-0 in favor of the visitors, Ramirez finally gave the home team something to cheer about when he gave the Eagles their initial first down of the game on a 38-yard run to the Hendersonville 27-yard line. Two plays later, Palacios took the ball the rest of the way on a similar type of play, a delayed handoff off right end that fooled the Bearcat defense and went for a score with 8:14 left in the opening half.
“They have some weapons,” said Southern. “Their defensive line gave us problems, like I thought it would. Their linebackers did a really good job of coming up. Eric is pretty hard to tackle, but they controlled him most of the night.”
Unfortunately, the Central defense still couldn’t do anything about the Hendersonville offense, and before long, a one-yard run by Hunt and a 50-yard strike from Williford to Landrum, his fourth touchdown of the night, made it 42-7. The Bearcats’ monster first half finally concluded with a 31-yard field goal by Drew Eudy right before the break.
The second half was played on more even terms, as the Bearcats cooled off a bit but remained very dangerous, and Central finally found ways to deal with the visitors’ formidable defensive tackles. After the Eagles’ defense finally stopped Hendersonville to open the second half, Central took the ball 64 yards the other way and scored on a 32-yard pass from Chandler Johnson to Noah Wilmoth with 9:17 left in the third. However, and onside kick failed, and naturally, Williford found Landrum for a fifth time to make it 52-14.
With 5:52 left in the third, Johnson hit Palacios with a strike for a 40-yard touchdown, but Hendersonville was able to score three straight times to lead 73-21 in the fourth quarter before the Eagles drove for their final touchdown of the night and the season.
The Bearcats, the third seed in the upper 2A West pod, will travel to top-seeded Lincolnton (12-1) for a third-round game next week. Surry Central will savor the memories of a season where they said they would contend for the WPAC title, then won it outright, and ended up winning two more games than any other Golden Eagle team ever did in a single season.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.