PILOT MOUNTAIN — The young East Surry football team has come a long way in just two weeks.
If someone hadn’t seen the action on the field in the previous two and a half hours, the grin on the face of head coach David Diamont as he spoke to the team in their post-game lineup on the field said it all. The Cardinals trailed only briefly in taking their fifth straight victory in the series, 31-21 Friday night over county rival North Surry.
“The improvement we’ve made in the last two weeks has just been phenomenal,” said Diamont. “I’m tickled to death about what we did, because I think North Surry is a really good football team.”
East Surry (2-1) used a smashmouth running attack led by offensive linemen Will Felts, Nathan Vass, Logan Moore, Morgan East and Luis Suarez to get the better of the Greyhounds in an offensively rambunctious first half. Junior running back Joey Ray followed his blockers for more than 150 yards in the first half as the teams swapped scores in the opening quarter. In the second quarter, the Cardinals’ defense was able to make a few key stops and East Surry carried a 24-14 lead into intermission.
“I think Coach Wicks has done an excellent job with our offensive line,” said Diamont. “We had five guys in there all the way through, three juniors and two seniors. They played together, and they’ve done a lot of really hard work in the weight room. They have a lot of pride.”
The second half was a completely different contest, as North Surry made several adjustments on defense and shut the hosts down for the first time all evening, but failed to score in the third quarter despite getting into the East Surry red zone twice. The Cardinals then made a surprise switch at quarterback, their offensive line re-established control of the line of scrimmage, and they drove for a game-clinching touchdown on a three-year run by Conner Sheets with 5:52 remaining. North Surry answered on its next possession, but failed to recover an onside kick and never saw the ball again.
“We got the ball deep into their territory twice in the third quarter and didn’t get it in,” said Greyhounds coach Danny Lyons. “We’re fighting through some injuries, and it really should have been 24-21 at halftime, but it wasn’t. The kids didn’t get down and they fought back.
“Our offense played well in the first half and our defense didn’t, and then our defense played well in the second half and our offense didn’t. We need to put it all together, and it’s tough because we’ve got some people out.”
The home team, playing in front of its fans for the first time after starting the season with two road games, made its intentions clear from the start. East Surry started its opening drive at its 31-yard line and called Ray’s number on the first four snaps of the night. He followed his blocks and ran over defenders when needed, giving the Cardinals a first down at the North Surry 25. The Hounds tightened up their defense after a holding penalty moved it to the 12, but Ray powered his way past two defenders on third down, reaching the 2. Two plays later, junior quarterback Trevor Hauser, making his first start for the Cardinals at the position, rolled out and tossed a six-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Barker in the right flat for a 7-0 lead.
It took the Hounds just five plays to respond, as senior quarterback Avery Smith made his 2016 debut and took the North Surry offense 69 yards in just five snaps, the last one an 18-yard run with 6:42 left in the opening period. Izzy Garcia’s point-after tied the game.
The Cardinals, who were well-nigh unstoppable in the first half unless they did it themselves, answered quickly, as Ray bolted 54 yards to the Hounds’ 8 on first down. However, East stopped itself this time, committing an illegal procedure penalty followed by a hold, and ended up settling for a 30-yard field goal by Ryan Sutterby to lead 10-7.
Back came Avery Smith and Co. The North Surry offense was so confident in its abilities that they actually went for a first down on 4th-and-2 from their own 35, and Smith circled right end and gained 21 yards. He quickly marched them down the field, finally dashing 37 yards into the end zone with 1:22 left in the first quarter to give the visitors their only lead, 14-10.
The Cardinals refused to back down. Jose Juarez gained 22 yards on a dive play to open their next series. Then Hauser threw to Juarez for 22 more yards as the opening quarter ended. From there, the East Surry offensive line manhandled North Surry as the Cardinals regained the lead on a one-yard plunge by Juarez with 8:14 left in the first half.
Then the Cardinals’ defense got the first defensive stop of the night, and a bad punt set East in business on the Hounds’ 47. Ray, already well over 100 yards by this time, reeled off a series of hard runs to move his team to the 23. On a third down play, Hauser again his Juarez, this time for 18 yards and first-and-goal at the 3. Two plays later, Ray followed East into the end zone and it was 24-14 with 3:52 left in the quarter.
The rest of the first half and the entire third quarter are what North Surry fans will rue. The teams exchanged fumbles on their next two possessions, but then Smith marched the Hounds deep into Cardinal territory with a little more than a minute left. On second-and-goal from the East Surry 1, Smith was stripped and the Cardinals’ Mitchell Edwards picked up his second fumble recovery in less than two minutes. The Cardinals were able to run out the clock and take their 10-point lead into the break.
North Surry’s Darius Duncan returned the second-half kickoff 54 yards to the East Surry 23. A sack by Barker disrupted the North offense and it came down to a fourth-down play from the 15, where Smith was flushed from the pocket and tried to scramble for the first down, but was stopped short. The Hounds’ defense forced a punt for the first time all night, but Smith cramped up after he led them from their 41 to the Cardinals’ 11 in just a few plays. He was able to come back in on second down, but East’s Kolt Bullington busted through the line and sacked him at the 25, forcing a fourth-and-20 on which the Cardinal defense held.
The deciding drive came early in the fourth quarter, when East started on its own 17 after a Hound punt. Diamont re-inserted Sheets at quarterback. The junior had started the Cardinals’ first two games, but the coach decided to give North some different looks on Friday.
“We decided to play a little Madden tonight (with the quarterbacks),” said Diamont. “Make up, be a little creative.”
The switch, which Diamont stuck with for the entire final stanza, proved to be checkmate. Sheets marched the Cardinals on a long, time-consuming drive featuring runs by himself and Ray, finally culminating in a touchdown that put East Surry up by three possessions.
North didn’t fold, even though Avery Smith left the game again. Brent Crouse, who started the Hounds’ first two games, led the offense on a 64-yard drive to paydirt that took up just 1:45 before Andrew Smith scored from 11 yards out with 4:07 to play.
The visitors needed a successful onside kick, but their recovery took place before the ball went 10 yards, handing the ball back to the Cardinals. They ran the clock out, and were deep in North Surry territory when the game ended.
Both teams will be home next week, the Hounds against Mount Airy and East Surry against West Stokes.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.