PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry and West Stokes were billed as the “WXII 12 Playbook” game of the week on Friday with the winner going to the television studio after the contest. The game itself more than lived up to the hype.
With his Cardinals trailing by three points, East Surry’s Mitchell Edwards stripped the ball in Wildcat territory with 1:39 left in the game, setting up a game-winning touchdown by Austin Pardue on a pass from running back Joey Ray with 40 seconds left to win the game 28-24.
“I’m an experienced coach and made some bad decisions down the stretch,” said West Stokes head coach Jimmy Upchurch. “We were just trying to milk the clock and Edwards reached in and took the ball. Give them credit; they did what they needed to do to get the ball back. I just hate it for our kids.”
For the Cardinals, the victory provided a measure of payback for a game that took place four years ago. In the 2013 meeting between the two schools, a late fumble helped the Wildcats steal victory in a game where East Surry was trying to run out the clock.
“Almost exactly the same thing happened four years ago,” said East Surry head coach David Diamont. “They took the ball away and their guy took it to the house.
“Anytime East Surry and West Stokes play, it’s going to be exciting. In the last 10 years, this has been more a rivalry for us than a few of the Surry County schools. We’re just 10 miles apart.”
The Wildcats jumped on the board first in the opening quarter on a 17-play drive that started on their 36-yard line. On fourth-and-goal from the 10, West Stokes lined up as if to kick a field goal, but instead, the Cats faked the Cardinals with a 10-yard touchdown reception to Palmer Elliott from Zan Sandlin with 2:10 left in the quarter to take a 7-0 lead.
West Stokes’ lead was short-lived, as the Cardinals scored with four seconds left in the first period on a 49-yard reception to Stephen Gosnell from Jefferson Boaz. After the extra-point attempt, the teams were tied at seven.
The Cardinals forced the Wildcats to punt on their first possession of the second quarter and gained control of the ball at their 38-yard line. After nine straight runs by senior Joey Ray, he scored from three yards out to give East a 14-7 lead with 7:07 left in the half.
Just like the Redbirds, the Wildcats responded quickly to their score on the ensuing kickoff. The Wildcats’ Chris Brown field the ball around the 10-yard line and dashed 90 yards straight up the middle for the score. Caleb Peters added the extra point and the teams were tied at the half, 14-14.
West Stokes received the opening kickoff of the third quarter and tallied a field goal by Peters with 6:07 left for a 17-14 lead after running nine plays and stalling on the Cardinals’ 11-yard line.
On the kickoff, East Surry punched back and Gosnell galloped 85-yards down the left sideline to regain the lead back for the visitors at 21-17. On the following kickoff, Brown was on his way to a second kickoff return for a touchdown when a flag was dropped at midfield as he crossed the goal line. The Wildcats then took possession at their own 39-yard line.
The third quarter ended with West Stokes on the Cardinals’ one-yard line threatening to retake the lead. East Surry did not run a single offensive play in the quarter, as the defense stayed on the field the entire time.
To start the final period, Amon Conrad broke through for the touchdown, giving the Wildcats their last lead of the game at 24-21 with only four seconds gone in the last frame.
East Surry tried to respond like it had all game, but the home defense stiffened up and forced the Cardinals to punt on their next possession. Looking to run the ball and some time off the clock, West was assessed a costly penalty, putting the Wildcats into a fourth-and-long situation. They decided to punt after the penalty, but the ball hit the back of a Cardinal player and the Wildcats appeared to recover the ball to give them a new possession. After a lengthy discussion by the officials, they decided the ball didn’t make it past the line of scrimmage, therefore giving East possession with 5:12 left in the game.
After the emotional play, the Cardinals rode the legs of Ray to the Wildcats’ 26-yard line, where they faced a fourth-and-1 with two minutes left. After a timeout, Ray was stuffed for a one-yard loss by the hit of Tyler Walker with 1:49 left.
But East Surry’s defense rose to the occasion and gave their offense one more chance. On the very next play, Edwards set up the game-winning drive by stripping the ball.
“I didn’t give them a speech, we just kept playing,” said Diamont. “We had saved all three of our time-outs, and we just encouraged our defense to not let them get a first down, and lo and behold, Mitchell Edwards just took the ball from their runner.”
The Wildcats outgained the Cardinals on offense with 244 yards to 208. Ray led East with 130 yards on 30 carries and one rushing touchdown and one passing. Tyler Smith led the Wildcats with 60 yards rushing and 43 yards passing.
Defensively for the Wildcats, Walker has led the team for five straight weeks with 16 tackles. Dylan Sawyers led the Cardinals with 10.
The Cardinals improved to 3-2 with their third win over the Cats since 2010, while West falls to 3-2. East Surry will travel to Ragsdale (3-2) and the Wildcats will travel to Walkertown (0-5) next week. Games are slated to start at 7:30 p.m.
Robert Money can be reached at 336-749-1193.