The end came a little sooner than North Surry would have liked, but it doesn’t change anything the school’s record-setting 2017 football team did.
The Greyhounds led 10-6 at halftime of their NCHSAA 2A state playoff opener with Patton High School, but finally ran out of gas in the second half, when the Panthers executed superbly on three straight scoring marches and came away with a 26-10 victory that ended North’s season.
“Tonight, I felt like we missed a few opportunities in the first half to have a bigger lead at halftime, and then in the second half, nothing went right for us, whether it was our own doing or whether it was extenuating circumstances,” said North Surry head coach Danny Lyons.
North ends the season with a 10-2 record, matching the school’s all-time wins record and also its best-ever record in a single season. And of course, the Greyhounds, who had 25 seniors on the roster, ended a conference championship drought that had begun in the year most of them were born.
“We brought back a lot of kids, but most people didn’t know a lot about them, other than Darius (Duncan), Avery (Simmons), Nic Rod(riguez) and a few more,” said Lyons. “But it jelled. We knew we would play hard every game, and we did, and fight to the end every game, like we did tonight.”
Patton, the Northwestern Foothills Conference runners-up. improved to 9-3 and will travel to second-seeded Hibriten (12-0) next Friday night in a rematch of a regular-season game from last week.
There were a few plays in the first three quarters of the game that the Greyhounds probably would like to have back. North Surry outplayed the visitors in the first half and probably should have had a larger lead at halftime.
Michael Martin returned the opening kickoff 30 yards to the Panthers’ 40-yard line, and North Surry ended up in Patton’s red zone after Carson Todd made a one-handed catch of a Chase Swartz pass for a first down at the 12. However, in what became a recurring theme, the Panthers’ defense tightened up, and North settled for a 22-yard field goal by Ethan Evans at the 8:47 mark of the opening period.
The Hounds’ defense forced Patton to punt, but North Surry muffed the punt and the Panthers recovered it at the Hounds’ 16. On fourth-and-2 from the 6, Ryan Ward broke a tackle and made his way into the end zone. Austin Swartz blocked the extra point to leave Patton ahead just 6-3 with 4:21 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers forced a three-and-out and began another march downfield that bridged the first and second quarters, but on the second play of the second period, Patton coughed up the ball and the Hounds pounced on it. Momentum now swung back to the home team, as Jordan Shelar hauled in a pass from Chase Swartz and dragged four Patton defenders to a first down at the 35. On the next play, the quarterback escaped a rush and scrambled to midfield. On a third-down play, Sammy McMillian came out of the backfield and rumbled down to the 31, then caught two more passes in a row to reach the 18. On third-and-12 from the 20, Chase Swartz again eluded the rush long enough for Kaulin Smith to get open at the 12, catch the pass and sprint into the end zone. The 12-play, 76-yard drive put North in front 10-6 with 6:56 left in the first half.
North’s next drive reached the Panthers’ 35, but ended in an interception on third-and-long. However, the Hounds’ defense stepped up and forced Patton to punt in the last minute of the second quarter. The Panthers’ punter rushed the kick and shanked it for minus-2 yards, giving North the ball at the Patton 14 with 21 seconds left. They reached the 10, but time ran out before they could spike the ball and try a field goal.
The Hounds’ coaching staff fooled Patton with an onside kick to begin the third quarter, which kicker Izzy Garcia recovered at the Panthers’ 49-yard line.
Again North Surry marched deep into Patton territory, using catches by Duncan and Nick Badgett to reach the red zone. But again, the Panthers held, and Evans’ 35-yard field goal try came up short.
“We moved the ball well 20 to 20, but then they would tighten up,” said Lyons.
The rest of the night belonged to the Panthers. Although no one from the Hounds was using it as an excuse, North played this game with several important players not at 100 percent even after a week off, and Patton’s offense — a one-back, no-huddle formation with the quarterback under center — started to get rolling.
Patton’s next three offensive possessions resulted in long drives, marked by outstanding execution, and ended in touchdowns. The Panthers went 80 yards in six plays after the missed field goal, retaking the lead at 13-10 on a 12-yard run by quarterback Ty Causby. After the Greyhounds failed to respond, Patton got the ball back at its 16 with 5:30 left in the third quarter and went 84 yards in 12 plays, scoring again on a razzle-dazzle play in which both luck and skill were on the visitors’ side. The Panthers faced third-and-8 at North’s 26 as the quarter ended. They called a halfback-option pass with slotback Mason Streppa getting the ball and throwing deep to Cody Davis. North’s Keaton Ward had the play well-covered and actually got a hand on the slightly underthrown ball, but couldn’t knock it down. Instead, it went off his hand and right into the hands of Davis for a touchdown and a 20-10 Patton lead.
North Surry began a drive that reached midfield, but had to punt, and Patton drove 74 yards for its third straight TD of the second half, on a 20-yard run by Logan Shipley with 4:05 remaining.
“They’re a good football team, they run that offense well,” said Lyons.
North Surry needed a quick score, but couldn’t get it, and time ran out of the Hounds’ unforgettable fall.
“It takes nothing away from our season. We went 10-2. That’s tied for the best record every at this school. These seniors left a legacy, and we have a good JV team, some good players coming back,” said Lyons. “I’ve never been part of a group like this. They loved each other like a family, they took care of each other, and when things get nasty, they stand up for each other. Some of these kids have to fight for a lot of things in life, and that carried over onto the football field. I could not be more proud of my team.“
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.