It’s been 17 years since North Surry could boast about being a conference champion, but that all changed on Friday night against Western Piedmont Athletic conference rival West Stokes. The Greyhounds capitalized on miscues by the Wildcats and won 17-7 behind 23 seniors and their leadership.
“This game was a defensive battle and I’m really proud of my kids,” exclaimed Danny Lyons, the Greyhound’s coach. “After our Mount Airy loss, the kids really focused in on the remainder of the season. They didn’t want that feeling again. Our seniors have really led our team this year. It’s somebody different each week. I know those kids over there at West are young and they will be in the same position next year. Tonight, we just made a few more plays on offense than they did.”
The Wildcats forced a punt by the home team to open up the game and then marched down to a first down at the Greyhounds’ 17-yard line. The Cats managed five more yards, but were forced to try a field goal after the North Surry defense stiffened. Caleb Peters missed from 32 yards with 5:49 left in the opening quarter.
On the Greyhounds’ next possession, they advanced to the West Stokes 30, but lost the ball on downs. The Wildcats responded with a 10-play drive and scored when quarterback Tyler Smith picked up a fumbled snap and ran in from the 3. Peters made the extra point, and the Wildcats led 7-0 with 10:10 left in the second quarter.
The teams traded punts on their next possessions, but it was the Greyhounds who got a break when the Wildcats’ punt traveled only seven yards, giving them a first-and-10 on the West Stokes 38-yard line. North Surry needed six plays to score the tying touchdown — but it didn’t come easy. On third-and-goal, Sammy McMillian galloped in from nine yards out straight up the middle and Ethan Evans split the upright with 2:15 left in the half.
“Coach (Patrick) Taylor made a great call there,” said Lyons. “I questioned him calling a running play on third-and-goal from the 9, but he just said, ‘Coach, it’ll work.’ We brought in (wide receiver) Darius (Duncan) and they doubled him, and our offensive line did a great job opening it up for Sammy.”
On the kickoff, Dustin Blevins returned the ball 41 yards, giving the Wildcats good field position at their 42. They moved into Greyhound territory, but the North defense halted them on downs at the 38.
“We were trying to be aggressive and get some points going into the half,” said Wildcat coach Jimmy Upchurch. “We knew we got the ball to start the second half, so we were trying to make things happen. It’s unfortunate, because on that fourth down play we had Sandlin (Zan) standing by himself in the end zone. Dustin (Blevins) just didn’t see him. Credit them for their defensive pressure on that play.”
The Greyhounds took over on downs with 54 seconds left in the half and set themselves up with a first and goal on the nine-yard line after a huge pass play by Chase Swartz. He connected with Jordan Shelar for a 34-yard gain. With one second left before intermission, Ethan Evans hit a 24-yard field goal, and North Surry went ahead for good, 10-7.
The Wildcats owned the time of possession in the third quarter and kept the ball away from the Greyhounds. They moved to the home team’s 27-yard line before turning the ball over on downs.
On its next possession, West Stokes took a 17-play drive inside the Hound’s one-yard line early in the fourth quarter. On the first play of the final period, the Wildcats sent their ‘heavy’ package in the game to convert on a fourth-and-goal situation. West had attempted the same play two other times in the game and been successful. But this time, Smith took the snap and bobbled the handoff after a great push from North’s defensive line.
“That was the play of the game,” said Lyons. “My three defensive line seniors led that push. Alex (Gudino), Ryan (Eldridge), and Ward (Hank) did a great job and got the push we needed.”
After the defensive stop, the Greyhounds drove the ball into Wildcat territory before turning the ball back over on downs with 6:42 left in the game. West Stokes had three more possessions in the game, all ending in interceptions. The second interception was the fatal one for the Wildcats. Senior Avery Simmons picked off a pass deep in West Stokes territory and returned it to the Wildcats’ 9-yard line. McMillian ran it in from there, putting the Hounds up 17-7 with 3:05 remaining in the game.
“Give North Surry a lot of credit, they came in with a great game plan,” stated Upchurch. “I’m happy for Danny and his kids. They deserved the game tonight. They simply outplayed us.”
Neither team had much offense, with the Greyhounds totaling 223 yards and the Wildcats 209. McMillian led the home team with 72-yards rushing on 19 carries and two touchdowns. Smith led the Wildcats with 68 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown, while passing for 60 yards.
“This game had kind of a throwback feel to it,” said Lyons. “A lot of hard hitting by two really good football teams. (But) it was a good night to be a Greyhound.”
On the defensive side, Avery Simmons led the Hounds with 12 tackles and an interception, while Nic Rodriguez added 10. For the Wildcats, Parker Pratt and Tyler Walker had 15 tackles each, with Parker getting his seventh sack of the season.
North Surry finished their season at 10-1 and 6-0 in conference play. The 2017 Greyhound team is only one of three teams in the 67-year history of North Surry football that has won 10 games. North won its seventh conference title, but its first since winning four straight between 1997 and 2000. The team wore pink ribbons on their helmets in honor of girls’ soccer coach Julie Gammons, who is battling cancer.
The Hounds will take next week off before learning their first-round playoff assignments as one of the top seeds in the 2A West.
“We’re glad to have the break,” said Lyons. “We have some kids banged up, but we’ll be ready to roll when the playoffs start. This isn’t the end for us.”
West Stokes (7-3, 4-1) will host Forbush next Friday to close out the regular season.
Robert Money can be reached at 336-749-1193.