DOBSON — On a night when Surry Central honored its 1976 conference championship football team, the current Golden Eagles took a huge step toward claiming one of their own.
Central won for the fifth time this season when trailing in the fourth quarter, scoring two unanswered touchdowns in the final stanza to take a 26-21 victory over Western Piedmont Athletic Conference rival North Surry.
The Golden Eagles (8-1, 3-0 WPAC), who took the lead for the final time on a one-yard run by Eric Ramirez with 4:52 remaining, can clinch no worse than a share of the conference title next week with a home victory over Forbush.
The lead changed hands four times in a game that featured outstanding plays on both sides of the ball by both teams. The Greyhounds, who already own a win over defending league champ West Stokes, also harbored conference title aspirations despite losing at Carver last week, and both teams performed as if their seasons were on the line.
“Tonight was what high school football should be about,” said North Surry coach Danny Lyons. “I coach the toughest group of kids around, and I’m proud to be their coach. Hats off to Surry Central and Coach (Monty) Southern.”
The Hounds made it clear in the first half they had no interest in complying with the Eagles’ script. Surry Central took a 7-0 lead on a 16-yard touchdown run by Ramirez with 3:43 left in the first quarter, but it was the North Surry defense that was setting the tone throughout the first half. Central’s score was set up by a badly shanked punt that had given the Eagles possession on the North Surry 27-yard line.
Meanwhile, great kicking by the Golden Eagles kept the Hounds’ “Air Raid” offense grounded until Avery Smith connected with Reid Stanley for a 54-yard touchdown pass with 6:33 left in the first half. However, Izzy Garcia’s attempt to tie the score got hung up in a wind gust and hit the right upright to leave Central on top 7-6.
But not for long. The Eagles fumbled the ensuing kickoff back to the visitors at the Surry Central 44, and Smith went right back to work. After running the ball down to the Eagles’ 18 on a series of runs, Darius Duncan streaked down the middle of the field on a play similar to the first touchdown, and Smith found him in stride for a 13-7 lead that stood up until intermission.
“North Surry’s defense played really well, especially in the first half,” said Southern. “We had some good field position but they gave us a lot of problems.”
The Eagles regained the lead on the opening series of the second half, with Martin Palacios breaking a tackle near the line of scrimmage on a third-down play and romping 51 yards to a first down at the North Surry 5. Two plays later, Ramirez found the end zone again, this time from eight yards out, and Central led 14-13 with 9:45 left in the third after Palacios’ successful point-after.
The Eagles made an uncharacteristic mistake later in the third quarter, after forcing North Surry to punt from their own end zone on a fourth-and-34. A roughing the punter penalty gave the Hounds an automatic first down, and Smith took advantage, leading his team on a drive that accounted for more than 100 yards of total offense (sans several penalties) and culminated in Stanley hauling in an 13-yard reception on an inside slant with 3:16 left in the quarter. Smith threw to Chase Chandler for two points and a 21-14 lead.
The home team responded on its next series, moving the ball 55 yards for a score of their own. After picking up one first down, Central struck quickly, with Riley Dockery picking up 26 yards on a double reverse and then Chandler Johnson connecting with Noah Wilmoth for 26 more and a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. However, it was Palacios’ turn to be bedeviled by the wind, and a missed PAT by the Eagles left North Surry ahead by a point.
The Hounds started a drive of their own and moved back into Central territory, but a holding penalty followed by a busted play resulted in Smith getting trapped in his backfield and stripped of the ball near midfield. The Eagles’ Dylan Mitchell recovered the fumble and returned it to the North Surry 31-yard line. Johnson threw to Jed Kidd down to the 21, and then Ramirez carried the ball three times in a row down to the 5. It took three plays from there before Central found the end zone.
“Eric ran so hard on that drive, he just would not be denied,” said Southern. “Their defensive line is so big and strong, and he just ran through them a few times. Eric was determined to score.”
North Surry had two more possessions afterwards. After the score, the Hounds moved back near midfield, but Palacios picked off a long pass from Smith and returned it to the Eagles’ 39. Wilmoth and Ramirez both had big runs for first downs on this series, but North Surry got the ball back at its own 17 with just 17 seconds remaining. Two incomplete passes concluded the game.
The Greyhounds will host South Stokes next Friday night, on the same night that Central will go for a share of the WPAC title.
”We’re happy about that,” said Southern, “but we set a goal to win all of our conference games, and we’re taking it one game at a time.”
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.