PILOT MOUNTAIN — Starmount closed to six points early in the fourth quarter, but then East Surry pulled away, literally, with two long touchdown runs for a 39-20 home win.
The Rams’ running attack ground out several first downs through the first three and a half quarters, but the Cardinals’ defense clamped down in the clutch, allowing only three yards in two drives before East Surry wound the clock down to just 12 seconds left.
The Cards never trailed, and only briefly was the score tied. The home team took the opening kickoff to midfield, then quarterback Jefferson Boaz hit Quincy Smith down the right sideline for a 40-yard completion to the 10-yard line. The Cards couldn’t punch it in, but settled for a 23-yard field goal from Ryan Sutterby to make it 3-0 less than three minutes into the game.
On Starmount’s second play from scrimmage, the running back lost the ball. Gunnar Smith scooped the ball up and would have scored except for Brendon Eads grabbing on to his lower legs.
East Surry got six yards up the gut by Conner Sheets, four yards from Stephen Gosnell, then Boaz connected with Austin Pardue on a slant pass on the right side for a 4-yard touchdown catch. With the extra point, the Cardinals led 10-0 with 8:56 left in the first quarter.
Starmount came back with a long drive, finding space on the outside to pick up first downs to the East Surry 43-yard line, then the 36-yard line, the 25-yard line and the 13. From there, Gatlin Welborn ran up the right side for a 13-yard TD. With the point-after, East Surry’s lead was just 10-7 with 4:04 left in the first.
Gosnell got the crowd excited with a long kickoff return nearly to the Rams’ red zone, but a penalty knocked the Cards back to the 45-yard line. The home team went three and out, but their punt rolled to a stop at the 6-yard line to pin Starmount deep.
That paid off, as a Starmount fumble rolled into the end zone, and Dylan Sawyers dove onto it for a score to make it 17-7 with 2:50 in the quarter.
East Surry had scored 14 points off turnovers and had only needed to gain 11 yards to do it.
On the next drive, Starmount moved the ball to midfield, then got backed up to its 35 before suffering another turnover. East Surry took over there.
The Cards reached the 4 before turning the ball over on downs.
Starmount couldn’t get out of its own red zone, then its punt went diagonally left and put East Surry back on the field at the Rams’ 25-yard line.
A couple of penalties kept the Cards from advancing, but Sutterby nailed a 35-yard field goal for a 20-7 lead with 3:30 left in the half.
After yet another fumble, the Cards got one more opportunity before the half, but Ryan Sutterby’s 27-yard field goal try was low and to the right.
In the second half, Starmount got a first down from Welborn, then a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct to move to East’s 26-yard line. Ethan Barnes and Jmax Swaim moved the ball to the 2-yard line, where Peyton Mullins punched it in for a touchdown. With 9:28 left in the third quarter, the lead was cut to 20-14.
East had a drive stall, then Starmount went three and out. East also went three plays and a punt, but left the Rams on their 15. This would be important, as the Rams once again dropped the ball.
Mitchell Edwards picked it up and dragged defenders up the left sideline all the way to the 1-yard line.
A fullback plunge from Sheets scored another touchdown to make it 26-14. East tried a two-point conversion, but came inches from scoring as an outside run saw the player stretching out for the goal line as the defender broke the ball loose from his grasp.
Starmount had a nice drive on the next possession, but ate up a lot of clock, stretching through the end of the third quarter and all the way to the 7:57 mark before Swaim scored a 7-yard TD run.
Curiously, the Rams tried a two-point conversion despite being down six points, not a margin coaches usually try the conversion. It failed and left it 26-20. That would be the end of the offense for the visitors.
Pardue took the next kickoff to the 43-yard line, then Joey Ray turned the left corner and sprinted up the visitor sideline with a 57-yard touchdown run. With 7:34 left, the Cards led 32-20.
A bad snap on the extra point wound up with an unsportsmanlike penalty on on Starmount. The try didn’t count, but East Surry kicked off from the Rams’ 45-yard line and got an easy touchback.
Three running plays netted only about three yards against a fired-up Card defense. The ensuing punt only went to the Starmount 39-yard line.
Two runs reached the 30 and made it third-and-1.
Ray started right and looked like he might not get back to the line of scrimmage, much less make a first down. But then he made several players miss on the outside before dragging a defender over the goal line for a 30-yard touchdown run. With the extra point, that made it 39-20 with 4:16 left.
Starmount didn’t gain a yard on the next drive and punted.
East Surry took over with 2:33 left just needing to run out the clock. The home team left only a dozen ticks on the clock when Starmount got the ball back before the home crowd celebrated the Cardinals’ first win of the season.
Next week the Cards travel to North Surry, which beat Elkin 35-14 Friday night.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.