EDEN — Mount Airy thought it was facing a familiar opponent when it made the 60-mile road trip to Eden for a second matchup in as many years with old rival Morehead High School.
What the Granite Bears quickly discovered is that the Panthers were a very different team than the one that they run over and around a year ago for an easy victory. Following the game, head coach J.K. Adkins told his team that he didn’t think they realized just how big a win the Bears’ hard-earned 21-10 victory was.
Mount Airy improved to 4-0 on the season, but it didn’t come easy. The Panthers, who suffered their first loss last week against 2A contender Reidsville, scored first and held the lead for quite a bit of the first half. It took a pair of touchdowns, one to end the first half and the other to start the second, for Mount Airy to take the lead and then gain some breathing space.
Morehead, which lost 38-14 to the Bears a year ago en route to a dreadful 2-9 season, made its statement right away, driving right down the field and scoring a touchdown six and a half minutes into the contest. The Panthers converted a fourth down deep in Bear territory and then scored a play later, and the home team held the lead for the rest of the opening period. The Bears’ first three drives ended in two punts and a bad snap on a punt attempt that gave Morehead the ball on the Mount Airy 35-yard line late in the first quarter. However, for the first of several times in this game, the Bear defense was Granite-tough, and kept Morehead out of the end zone.
“They have good athletes, and they’re well-coached and they play with tremendous effort. This is a good win,” said Bears coach J.K. Adkins, who is one of only two Mount Airy head coaches to ever begin his career with the team at 4-0. “They have tremendous athletes that can match our speed, so we kind of had to lean on our guys up front.”
Mount Airy later had two punts partially blocked in the game and struggled with this part of the game all evening. However, the Bears got their offense going early in the second quarter. Or should we say, Johnathon Smith got going. On a third-and-6 play, Smith took the ball on a draw play up the middle, broke free, ran over a Morehead defender and took the ball 61 yards for a game-tying touchdown with 8:10 left in the first half.
“Third and long, you can throw a screen, throw a home run or run a draw,” Adkins said. “We had a 33 percent chance of being right, I guess.”
The Panthers may or may not have been impressed, but they had some playmakers of their own. Following the score, quarterback Jamal Dalton hit Jaden Brown twice in a row on third-and-long, moving Morehead from its 20 to the Mount Airy 33. Hard running by Duron King got the Panthers into the red zone, but for the rest of the night, the red zone was renamed the “Bear Zone.” Will Cox stuffed Morehead’s Charles White for a short gain, and then Jaedon Hill and Donavon Greene put the brakes on King to force third-and-5 at the 9. An incomplete pass followed, and the Panthers had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Logan Dodson to retake the lead at 10-7 with 2:27 before intermission.
That was too much time for the Bears, who went into hurry-up mode. Holder Poindexter found Donavon Greene for 18 yards on first down to the Mount Airy 47. Kaulin Smith hauled in a pass to the Morehad 44, and then Poindexter went looking for Greene again, who got mugged by a defender for a pass-interference penalty. Johnathon Smith motored down to the 1-yard line, but an illegal block moved it back to the 11. It took three plays before Poindexter rolled left and hit Cole Shelton in the flat for a touchdown with 42 seconds left in the second quarter. Jackson Tumbarello made it 2-for-2 on extra points, and the Bears took a 14-10 lead into the break.
Mount Airy had the ball to begin the second half, but not for long. Johnathon Smith made sure they didn’t need it for long. Shelton returned the second-half kickoff to the 25 and then Smith got the call on another draw play on first down. Seventy-five yards later, the Bears had a 21-10 lead.
Johnathon Smith, who was out last week with an injury, ran for 218 yards this week. Adkins acknowledged the explosive dimension the junior running back gives the team, but what he was even more pleased with was his toughness late in the game.
“He’s explosive, (but) the thing I was most impressed with was the three-and four-yard stuff. He’s very durable and he ran behind his blocks,” said Adkins. “That is very valuable when you’re trying to run time off the clock and move the sticks.”
The visitors had a chance to possibly break the game open on their next series, when passes from Poindexter to Kaulin Smith and Greene and a run by Johnathon Smith got the Bears all the way to Morehead’s 3-yard line. However, they faced a fourth down there, and Adkins decided to go for six points rather than settle for a chip-shot field goal by Tumbarello. An incomplete pass gave the ball back to the Panthers.
The rest of the game consisted of tough defense and atrocious special teams by Mount Airy, coupled with threatening drives by the Morehead offense. But no one else scored.
“The special teams played horrendous, and that’s something we have to address,” said Adkins.
The Panthers drove from their 3 all the way to the Mount Airy 29, but then Rayquan Brown stuffed King for a four-yard loss. On second down, Dalton threw to Jaden Brown, but Greg Greene stuck him for a loss of seven. A holding penalty put Morehead in third-and-long and they eventually lost the ball on downs.
The Bears’ next drive went three-and-out and the Panthers partially blocked Armando Estrada’s punt to get the ball in excellent field position on the Mount Airy side of the field. Morehead got as close as the Mount Airy 13, but another excellent tackle from Greg Greene was followed by a quarterback keeper in which the Bears stripped Dalton and Mount Airy’s Tallin Gray pounced on it at the 16.
By this time, just 10:54 remained and the clock was an ally of the team in navy and white. Mount Airy ground out three first downs before getting flagged for holding. Finally forced to punt, the Bear special teams continued to be the home team’s best friend. Another partially blocked punt gave Morehead the ball at the Mount Airy 46.
A fierce rush led by Rayquan Brown and Eric Olvera made life miserable for Dalton. On fourth-and-10, he threw long and Greg Greene picked it off with 6:39 left on the clock. The Bears played keep-away for four minutes and finally got a punt off, only to watch Brad Bonds return it to the Morehead 40. The Panthers got the ball across midfield, but Estrada picked it off. Unfortunately, it was called back because of a roughing-the-passer penalty. The Panthers threw a jailbreak screen on the next play and Bonds took it inside the 10, but got stripped. None other than Estrada got the free ball —and this time he got to keep it.
The Bears return home to Surry County next week, but they’ll still be on the road, playing at North Surry.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.