PILOT MOUNTAIN — A little blood, a lot of sweat, and a fair amount of tears made Friday’s must-see football game between East Surry and North Surry one for the ages.
A game with six second-half lead changes resulted in a 35-31 win for the Cardinals in their home opener. Similar to their battle last season that was separated by just four points, a rollercoaster four quarters kept fans on both sides of David H. Diamont Stadium on the edge of their seats.
Fans weren’t the only ones proud of their team. Despite leaving with a loss, North Surry coach Danny Lyons gave his players the highest praise after the game.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years and we’ve won some big games, but I’ve never been more proud of a football team,” Lyons said. “From where we were last week in the second half of that Elkin game, to lose our quarterback, then to have a sophomore that came in and kept us alive. To play a football team like [East Surry], which I think is one of the best in the state of North Carolina…it’s one of my proudest moments as a coach.”
North Surry (1-2) lost starting quarterback Chase Swartz on the Greyhounds’ first drive of the game. The Hounds started on their own 15 after an interception by Jordyn Ward. Swartz scrambled on the first play and was halted by East’s Quincy Smith and Rommie Speaks. Swartz then left the game with an undisclosed injury and would not return.
Sophomore Carson Hawks entered the game and gave the ball to North’s workhorse, running back Ryan Smith. Smith, who finished with 166 yards rushing and two touchdowns rushing on 33 carries, marched down the field for first down after first down. Hawks was incomplete on his first passing attempt of the night, but was saved by an East Surry personal foul call.
East Surry’s Isaac Washington stepped up and stopped Smith in his tracks on the next run. Speaks joined the party on the next play to force third-and-long. Cardinal AJ Bruton broke up a pass to force fourth down. Kicker Ethan Evans, who would make his mark later in the game, had the power for the 42-yard field goal, but it sailed wide to give East Surry possession.
It took East 10 plays to get into the red zone on the ensuing drive. Plays included scrambles and designed runs for QB Stephen Gosnell, pitches to Logan Ray and passes to Dillon Mosley. Slowly but surely East marched down the field. Gosnell was incomplete on an end zone fade to Jefferson Boaz, but made up for it with five-yard rushing TD. Derek Sutterby added the PAT to put East up 7-0 to close the first quarter.
Hawks, whose confidence was building, took to the air more on North’s first drive of the second quarter. Hawks found Jordan Shelar to move the chains, but was eventually stopped at East Surry’s 40. Hawks pitched the ball to Nick Badgett and Badgett fired a pass to Ward, but it fell short.
East took over with 6:11 left in the half after the turnover on downs. Boaz slid in at QB while Gosnell moved to receiver. The two connected on a 50-yard touchdown pass to give East a 14-0 advantage.
A pass interference call gave North Surry the ball at midfield, while an ensuing 21-yard pass to Badgett put them in striking distance. Known usually for his short runs, Smith broke free for a 24-yard rushing TD to cut the lead to 14-7.
The Greyhounds got the ball back soon after, when Seiver Huff recovered an East Surry fumble. With just 1:38 remaining, Hawks was looking to the end zone. A pair of incomplete passes and a halted run from Smith set up fourth-and-7. Instead of letting time expire, Lyons called a time out at 0:01 to give Evans a shot at redemption. Evans then sent the ball through the uprights from 48 yards away with power to spare. East led 14-10 at the half.
Flags got East Surry in trouble in the third quarter. Starting things with a kickoff out of bounds, a personal foul and pass interference calls put North on the Cardinals’ 22. East’s Dylan Sawyers held up Smith and Blaine Bouldin on runs to force fourth down. Evans nailed a 41-yarder to make it 14-13.
East Surry managed a first down on its next drive, but it was called back due to a personal foul call. East punted to Badgett, who returned the ball to East Surry’s 40. A personal foul on the return gave North the ball on the Cardinal 25. Only one play was needed to give North the lead. Smith barrelled through defenders for a 25-yard TD run. Hawks was sacked by Ray on the 2-point conversion to make it 19-14 in favor of the Hounds.
Not happy with the last drive, East wasted little time regaining the lead. Gosnell began the drive with an 18-yard rush, followed by a 35-yard run from Ray. Gosnell seemed headed for the end zone on a QB keeper before he was tied up by Clay Shumate. After a short run from Ray, Gosnell ran it in three yards for the score. A failed 2-point conversion left the score at 20-19, with East Surry back on top.
North Surry took a risk by going for it near midfield on fourth-and-3 with 2:10 left in the quarter. Hawks sent a deep pass to Badgett who then elevated over the Cardinal defender before running into the end zone. Another failed 2-point conversion left the game at 25-20.
The scoring barrage of the third quarter ended when Gosnell ran in another touchdown. Mitchell Edwards ran in the first 2-point conversion of the night to give East Surry the 28-25 lead heading into the final period.
A combined 29 points were scored in the third quarter, so it was a shock to see back-to-back punts to start the fourth. North got the ball with 8:01 remaining and went back to Smith on the ground. Smith moved the chains before finding a hole and running for 44 yards. Smith was headed for the end zone, but was tripped up by Gosnell on the one. Hawks kept the ball for the rushing TD to make it 31-28 Hounds with 4:14 left in regulation.
The lead stayed at just three points thanks to a blocked PAT by Boaz. East Surry remained calm and stuck to the ground game of Gosnell and Ray to move down the field. Gosnell crossed the goal line on an 8-yard run with just 1:10 on the clock to put the Cardinals up 35-31.
Washington began the next drive by sacking Hawks eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. An incomplete pass set up third-and-18. Hawks connected with Tanner Woods for a 17.5 yard gain that fell just shy of the first-down marker. The QB found Shelar on the next play to keep the drive alive.
Edwards deflected a pass with just 10 seconds on the clock. On the next play, North was called for an illegal block with two seconds on the clock. This gave them two seconds to hike the ball, but they couldn’t get a play off.
“At no time on the sideline did I hear anything but determination to win from our guys,” said East coach Trent Lowman. “It was a great team win, with several guys stepping up at key times.”
East Surry will travel to Surry Central next week, while the Greyhounds travel to Community School of Davidson.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith