DOBSON — Anyone just looking at the 52-14 final score of Surry Central’s loss to East Wilkes in Friday night’s game is likely to think that the Golden Eagles were never in it.
That wasn’t quite the case, however.
Central, which is suffering the growing pains one would expect of a team that lost more than 20 key seniors a year ago, mounted an impressive rally after being down 28-7 at halftime against the 2-0 Cardinals, who used an explosive passing attack led by quarterback Bryce Vestal to score touchdowns on all four of their first-half possessions.
Vestal threw three touchdown passes in the first half and ran in the other East Wilkes score himself. Perhaps the only interesting part for Central rooters is that their team actually led by one point at the end of the first quarter.
On their first series of the second half, the Cardinals marched right down the field, starting out with runs by Deven Couch before Vestal completed his first pass for 16 yards and a first down at the Eagles’ 32-yard line. A few plays later, he hit Couch for 23 and a 6-0 East Wilkes lead seven minutes into the game.
However, the homestanding Eagles responded with a scoring drive of their own. Maisen Holt checked in at quarterback and threw a long pass on third down to Austin Mills for a first down in Cardinal territory. After Ryan Martin ran for another third-down conversion, Central faced third-and-1 at the Wilkes 31. On this play, Martin Palacios was back at quarterback, and he called his own number, broke a tackle and outran the Cardinals to paydirt. After kicking the extra point with 86 seconds left in the opening period, the Eagles led 7-6.
Central stayed ahead well into the second quarter, but then Vestal started finding the range. He called his own number and plunged in from the Eagles’ 1 with 9:38 left in the first half. After Central went three-and-out on offense, he tossed a 35-yard scoring pass to Damien Reed to extend his team’s lead to 20-7 with 3:57 left in the half.
However, the Cardinals weren’t done. Some poor clock management on the part of the Eagles allowed East Wilkes to get the ball back at its 46-yard line with 52 seconds left before intermission. Vestal immediately found Reed over the middle for 39 yards and a first down at the 15. Two plays later, he rolled right and found Couch for the score.
To Central’s credit, it fought back hard in the third quarter. Wilkes got the ball first and Vestal marched them inside the Eagles’ 5, but Surry Central defense made an inspired stand, and eventually forced a fumble on a play where they sacked the quarterback at the 15.
One first down later, Palacios went 74 yards on a quarterback keeper, kicked the PAT, and with 3:44 left in the third quarter, it was 28-14. Then the Eagles fooled their guests with an onside kick that they recovered at their 49-yard line.
With a golden opportunity to get back in the game, Central’s offense stalled, but fooled the Cardinals again when Palacios passed from punt formation on third down, finding Matthew White for a first down at the Wilkes 20. However, they could gain just five more yards before losing the ball on downs.
From this point on, it was all East Wilkes.
Wood hauled in a 10-yard TD pass from Vestal on the second play of the final period. Central misfired on offense and allowed a safety, extending the Cardinals’ lead to 36-14. East Wilkes poured it on, with Vestal throwing another scoring pass to Wood with 7:17 remaining, and then adding one more score in garbage time for the final margin.
With two impressive road wins under its belt, the Cardinals finally play at home next Friday against Forbush. The Eagles will head to Wilkes Central and try to claim their first victory.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.