Coming into the season, Mount Airy head coach Kelly Holder knew he had a receiving corps that was the envy of almost anyone in the state.
Following the Granite Bears’ season-opening 28-7 victory over Starmount on Friday night, Holder was glad he does. However, he also saw a lot of things that Mount Airy needs to improve upon.
“I don’t know that we’re very good right now,” said Coach Holder. “Donnie (Donavon Greene) pulled us out twice, and Tanner (Jackson) pulled us out once. We didn’t look very well coached tonight and you can blame that on me. But we’re going to get better.
“I’m not faulting our effort. I’m just just faulting our urgency and focus right now.”
It’s an understatement to say that the Bears’ receivers were the difference in the game. All four Mount Airy touchdowns came on plays involving the team’s receivers. Greene hauled in two scores, Jackson one, and Jeremiah Rosser the other, and all but one of the them came on a short pass where the receiver managed to get into the open field and outrun the Rams’ defenders.
Other than those situations, where they simply were unable to match up physically, the Rams actually stood in well against their hosts.
“I thought that they were tougher than we were,” said Coach Holder. “We’ve got people playing both ways and that is just the way it is. We’ve got to get into the better football shape.”
Both teams crossed midfield on their first series before being halted. Starmount moved the ball from its 35-yard line to the Bears’ 40 to open the game, but lost the ball on downs. When Mount Airy took over, Ian Holder gained 21 yards on a quarterback keeper and then Jonathan Smith picked up 16 more on the next play, but then the Bears bogged down and lost possession at the Starmount 15.
This time, the Rams were forced to punt, and on the second Mount Airy possession, the Bear’ offense faced third-and-9 at its 46 when Ian Holder fired a short pass in the flat to Greene, who promptly broke a tackle and exploded down the home sideline for a 54-yard catch-and-run play. Robert Brown’s extra point made it 7-0 with 1:24 left in the opening period.
Mount Airy’s second touchdown came about three minutes later. This time, the Bears had just forced a punt and were starting at their 30. Ian Holder delivered a short pass to Jackson, who avoided a few would-be tacklers, got into the open field and was off to the races, putting Mount Airy on top 14-0 with 10:16 left before the break.
Each side had a chance to score before the break. A bad snap on a punt attempt gave the Bears a first down at the Starmount 40, but they turned the ball over. Later in the period, the Bears suffered the first of two muffed punts, and the Rams had the ball at the Mount Airy 33. However, tough defense from Ryan Edwards and Smith kept Starmount from getting even one first down.
At halftime, Mount Airy dedicated its new high-tech scoreboard, which was funded by a community-wide effort involving several sponsors, and which was described as unique among the state’s high school programs.
When the Bears returned to the field, Greene was pretty unique, too. On third-and-14 a minute into the second half, the junior out-leaped a defender on one of the few long passes thrown all evening. He came down with the ball and took it the last 30 yards to paydirt, and after just 68 seconds of the third quarter, the Bears led 21-0.
Starmount tried to mount a response, grinding out a drive from its 35 to a first down at the Bears’ 19 midway through the period. Then Ian Holder caught Nik Pardue in the backfield for a three-yard loss. Ram quarterback Patrick Usher completed a pass to Gatlin Welborn, but Quentin Frost decked him for a loss as well. With a penalty thrown into the mix, the Rams eventually faced fourth-and-30 and lost possession.
The Bears muffed another punt early in the fourth quarter, and Starmount started out at the Bears’ 21. Hard running by Brendon Eads earned the Rams a first-and-goal at the 6, but then a bad center exchange put the ball on the ground, and Frost was on the spot to recover it for the home team.
The Bears then drove 91 yards for their final score of the night. Two runs by Ian Holder picked up 44 yards, at which point Armando Estrada took over at quarterback and led the team the rest of the way. On third-and-5 at the Starmount 25, he pitched a screen pass to Rosser, who weaved his way through the defense and scored with 6:13 remaining. Brown’s PAT made it 28-0.
The Rams drove for a touchdown in the closing minutes against the Mount Airy reserves, getting on the board when Eads went in from the 1-yard line with just 1:34 left in the game. Dawson Smith converted the extra point.
Mount Airy will be back at home next week for a game against West Stokes, while the Rams will try to get on track when they travel to East Surry.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.