One could call the race for the 2018 Western Piedmont Athletic Conference title a three-horse race, but the defending champs would prefer a Greyhound race.
But whatever you call it, they’re right in the thick of it after clobbering Carver 48-6 on Friday night.
“We’ve got some things ahead of us that we’re excited about,” said North Surry head coach Danny Lyons. “We weren’t too excited about how we played the first quarter tonight, but we overcame that and played really well in the second quarter, then stretched the lead out.
“We’ve got a shot, and that’s all you can ask for at this time of the year.”
The Hounds got off to a slow start against the winless Yellowjackets (0-9, 0-4 WPAC), but found the can of Raid in the second quarter and roared to a 27-6 lead by intermission. North Surry kept pouring it on in the third quarter, tacking on three more quick touchdowns and forcing a running clock with 4:24 left in the third, when linebacker Ty Montgomery pounced on a Carver fumble in the end zone for the last score of the game.
Neither team mounted much of a threat down the stretch, and the Greyhounds improved to 6-3 overall and 4-0 in conference play. North, which won the WPAC outright in 2017, leads West Stokes (7-1, 3-0) and Forbush (4-4, 3-0) by a half-game in the standings. The Hounds host the Falcons next week on Senior Night and then head to King in two weeks to take on the Cats.
North Surry was tabbed as a 35-point favorite by NCPreps, and started the game like that was going to be conservative. It took only about a minute before the Hounds were on the board, with Chase Swartz hitting Nick Badgett in stride for a 28-yard touchdown. Ethan Evans’ PAT made it 7-0.
However, North got stuck in neutral for the remainder of the opening period, and only tough Hound defense kept Carver from getting back into the contest. North Surry lost a drive to an interception late in the first quarter, and didn’t get moving again until the second, when it reached the red zone and Swartz called his own number from a yard out eight minutes before the half.
“Defensively, they have some speed, and 55 (nose guard Tyrek Thompson) can play for anybody,” said Lyons. “They have some players. Overall, I was pleased with how we played. We just need to clean up some things here and there.”
Down 14-0, the Yellowjackets began resorting to their ground game and a big offensive line in order to move the ball and keep it away from Swartz and his receivers, but it only worked for so long. When the Hounds did get it back with time running under three minutes left in the third, Swartz connected with Badgett for 43 yards and another score for a 20-0 lead.
Carver answered this time, with Javon Baxter hauling in an 85-yard touchdown reception to cut its deficit to 20-6 with 1:41 left in the first half, but this just made the home team mad.
After the Yellowjackets kicked off, Swartz and Co. methodically marched down the field on a two-minute drill, going 62 yards in five plays before Badgett hauled in his third TD catch of the night, this one on a fade route from four yards out. With 24 seconds remaining in the first half, North was back in command at 27-6.
Carver had the ball first to open the second half, and quickly moved from their 20 to the 44 on a quarterback keeper. However, Hound cornerback Keylon Smith had seen enough, and he picked off a pass on the very next play from scrimmage, returning it to the Yellowjackets’ 40-yard line.
Swartz threw to Jordan Shelar for 13 and then found Badgett down the middle for his fourth touchdown of the game and a 34-6 lead after just 59 seconds of the third quarter.
Carver got a first down on its next series, but then Clay Shumate dragged Baxter, now behind center for the Jackets, for a big loss and forced third-and-19. The Hounds forced Carver to punt, and Badgett returned it for 19 yards to the Carver 35.
It only took two plays for North to score again. Chandler Hawks dragged a pile of Yellowjacket defenders for nine yards. On second-and-1, Swartz threw a screen pass to Shelar, who avoided seven Carver defenders and weaved his way into the end zone with 6:51 left in the third.
Swartz completed 16 of 25 passes for 312 yards and five touchdowns in the win. Badgett, his favorite target, hauled in six of those receptions for 189 yards. Shelar also snagged six passes to cover 74 yards.
“We threw the ball exceptionally well tonight, for the third week in a row,” Lyons said. “Hats off to our offensive line.”
The Yellowjackets were down 41-6 and began to show their frustration, getting a number of unsportsmanlike conduct flags and one ejection, but the Hounds kept their composure. After Hunter Burrell and Shumate dumped a Carver running back for a loss, the visitors were forced to punt again.
“We’ve matured a lot throughout the season,” Lyons said. “I was pleased with our maturity and leadership tonight.”
Swartz found Tanner Woods for 41 yards down to the Yellowjackets’ 5, but was hit as he threw and Carver got an interception at its 1-yard line.
They bobbled the center exchange and Montgomery fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, invoking the mercy rule.
Senior Ryan Smith played sparingly as he recovers from injuries suffered earlier this season, but did have 12 carries for 53 yards to pass the 1,000-yard mark for the campaign. Hawks got the ball four times and picked up 34 yards.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.