WALKERTOWN — North Surry had been here before. This time, the Greyhounds responded.
Playing at Walkertown as a three-touchdown favorite, North jumped out to an early 10-0 lead on the Wolfpack, but then lost star running back Ryan Smith to an injury. This, coupled with some costly mistakes in the passing and kicking games, put the Hounds in a 10-point hole late in the third quarter.
The script sounded a lot like a game earlier this season, where North was upset by Elkin as a big favorite. But this time, the Hounds answered the bell.
Two fourth-quarter drives, featuring hard running by senior running back Chandler Hawks and clutch catches by Tanner Woods and Jordan Shelar, enabled North Surry to retake the lead at 31-27 with 3:38 to play. A defensive stand by the Hounds’ defense secured the hard-fought victory.
North Surry (4-3, 2-0 Western Piedmont Athletic Conference) drove 90 yards in 13 plays after forcing a Wolfpack punt with 8:29 left in the game. When the Hounds’ offense took the field, the offensive line got downright nasty against a tiring Walkertown defense. No Ryan Smith? No problem for Hawks and the line.
The senior ripped off six yards, then busted through the line for a gain of 14 and a first down at the 30. Walkertown held him to two on the next play, but then he rumbled to the 45 for another first down. When the Wolfpack caught on and got Hawks in the backfield, the Hounds finally took to the air. Jordan Shelar ran a crossing route, hauled in a Chase Swartz pass, and then weaved his way down for a 26-yard gain down to the Walkertown 32-yard line. Six straight rushes for Hawks followed, but in the shadow of the goal line, the Wolfpack fought for every yard, and as time ran under four minutes to play, North found itself facing fourth-and-goal at the Walkertown 1.
Swartz called his own number off right end and scored easily. Ethan Evans’ extra point put North Surry on top 31-27.
That didn’t end the drama, though. Three and a half minutes was plenty of time for Walkertown quarterback Isaiah Conrad and a group of speedsters who had given the Greyhound defense fits all night.
Walkertown, a deceiving 1-6 on the season with several losses to strong 3A and 4A teams, made the finish interesting. Evans’ kickoff pinned them back on the 20, but the Wolfpack made consecutive fourth-down conversions to open the drive. The second one, an 11-yard catch by Cody Luster, gave the Wolfpack a first down at the North 48 with about a minute to play.
This far and no further. Luster caught another pass on the next play, but only for a short gain. The Wolfpack’s Leonard Greer got behind the defense on one play, but Conrad didn’t have time to deliver the ball on the money. Soon, Walkertown was facing fourth down yet again, and this time Nick Badgett and Clay Shumate were on the spot to make sure Conrad’s final pass of the night fell incomplete.
North ended the game in the victory formation, and the Greyhounds, who entered the night with six starters out for various reasons and lost Smith during the game, had the kind of win that Coach Danny Lyons couldn’t help but be proud of.
“We needed that win as a team and as a program,” he said. “This is the kind of win that changes a culture. I think it’s the second time in my career here that we’ve come back from 10 or more points and won a game.
“Walkertown may have been 1-5, but they’ve played the toughest schedule in our conference, and (running back Teryan) Cherry is as good as anybody in our conference.”
Lyons said that his team had found “every way possible not to win the game” during the course of the night. Much of that game in a disastrous third quarter. North had taken a 17-14 lead into the half after Swartz, making his first start since coming back from an injury, directed a 60-yard drive that took just over a minute before Badgett hauled in a 10-yard touchdown pass with just 12.5 seconds left in the second quarter. Swartz, who threw for 330 yards, completed five passes on the drive.
But if the Hounds had thought this would give them the second-half momentum, they were wrong. Cherry had a 74-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter, and Walkertown had to drive just 23 yards to retake the lead on a one-yard keeper by Conrad with 8:45 left in the quarter. A bad snap led to a missed PAT, but North was still on the wrong end of a 20-17 score.
It became 27-17 when the Hounds were unable to move the ball on their next series and then botched a punt, with Evans unable to corral a high snap and getting tackled at his own 32-yard line.
Cherry’s 13-yard touchdown run with 4:28 left in the period gave the Wolfpack a 27-17 lead.
North Surry responded with a 71-yard scoring march of their own, a drive in which poise on the part of the Hounds and undisciplined play on the part of Walkertown made a big difference. The Wolfpack was flagged for three costly infractions on the drive, including one where Swartz drew them offsides on fourth down. Hawks ended up scoring from one yard out with 79 seconds in the third quarter. Evans’ PAT pulled his team back within three.
Another booming kickoff forced the Wolfpack to start from their 20, but the Walkertown offense remained potent, and before long, the home team had a first down at the North 34-yard line. Here, the defense made a stand, with Hunter Burrell leading a charge and sacking Conrad on first down. When Kaleb Hunter broke up his second-down pass, the Wolfpack faced third-and-long and the defense forced the punt that led to the Hounds’ game-winning drive.
With Smith in the backfield and Swartz back at the controls, North opened the game like world-beaters even with the other players who were unavailable. Swartz opened the game with a 67-yard strike to Badgett, and despite a penalty moments later, connected with him again for 20 yards and a touchdown after just 88 seconds of action.
North’s second series was almost as impressive, as they reached the Walkertown 25-yard line and Evans booted a 42-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 3:40 left in the first quarter. Unfortunately, Smith’s leg issues had returned, and he was out. The senior, who needed just 50 yards to get to 1,000 for the season, tried to come back briefly in the third quarter, but couldn’t go.
Following the field goal, the Wolfpack drove 80 yards to get on the board, eating up more than six minutes before Conrad found paydirt with 8:51 left in the first half.
Swartz finally showed some rust on his next two series, losing a fumble at midfield to end one series and then throwing an interception on the next. The Wolfpack took advantage of the lull and a breakdown by the North defense and took the lead for the first time with 1:27 left in the first half, when Greer caught an inside slant and out-ran the whole North defense for a 68-yard catch-and-run. Uziel Salazar hit the PAT to make it 14-10 in favor of the Wolfpack.
The Hounds will travel to county rival Surry Central for round three of their WPAC title defense next week.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.