BOONVILLE - The 2013 edition of the annual Battle of the Bridge returned to the roots of the rivalry showdown from years past.
Coming off back-to-back Starmount routs, the Buckin’ Elks gave their bitter rivals all they could handle, nearly ending a seven-year drought of hoisting the trophy.
But in the end, the Rams won their seventh-straight game in the series Friday night in Boonville, 35-21.
“I’m just extremely proud of them,” Starmount head coach Scott Johnson said after the emotional win. “They stay together, they keep fighting, they keep playing for each other and they expect they’re going to win. We’re just making it harder on ourselves.”
Helped by Starmount miscues in the first quarter, the Elks jumped out to a surprising 21-7 advantage in the frame on the road. Junior quarterback Josh Strickland fired three touchdown passes in the quarter - two to Tyrek Hayes, one to Kody King - as Elkin came out firing on all cylinders.
But the Rams regrouped and found their rhythm on both sides of the ball in the second.
After Elkin missed a field goal, Starmount drove down the field and cut the deficit down to 21-14 on John Johnson’s second score of the half.
Kyle Matthews then picked off Strickland, setting the Rams up deep in Elk territory. On the next play, Johnson found paydirt for the third time in the half, knotting the score at 21-21 late.
Looking for the go-ahead score heading into the locker room, the Elks drove to the 13 yard line. But Trey Bryant swatted away a Zane Millsaps’ field goal attempt just before the horn to keep the game tied at the break.
In the third quarter, defense took over after a 42-point first half. Neither team could muster any consistency on offense, with the Rams picking up the lone first down in the frame.
Needing a spark, Johnson elected to insert starting quarterback Zach Freed back into the line-up after missing the past several weeks with mono. And the decision paid off almost immediately.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Will Simpson, who filled in for Freed under center during his absence, broke off a 60-yard touchdown scamper down the left sideline to give the Rams a 28-21 advantage, completing the hard-fought comeback and ignite a rowdy crowd that was looking for something to cheer about.
“I think everybody should see that when we have our quarterback in there, we’re a different offense. Will did a tremendous job, you couldn’t ask for anything better. But [Freed] is just another threat,” Johnson said.
From there, Starmount’s defense stood tall and kept the Elks out of the endzone. Matthews tacked on a final score with six minutes to play to seal the Rams’ seventh-straight victory in the series, 35-21.
“This was a big win for us,” Johnson said. “It seems like we can’t stand prosperity and we want to make things harder on ourselves than it needs to be with penalties and turnovers. But it was a big win for us. I told them after the game that I was extremely proud of their character.”
Elkin head coach Scott Wood saw it as a “missed opportunity” for his team.
“This was a tough loss, considering at one point in my mind we were up 28-7 - we had a holding penalty and that 28 was taken off,” he explained. “A lot of missed opportunities for us, but they did a good job coming to play.
“It was a two-sided game,” Wood continued. “You had a first half full of offense and second half that was pretty much defense. We didn’t make plays in the second half - bottom line. We actually picked it up on defense in the second half, but then they’d break a big one on us. You have to give them credit, they played hard.
“We came out and made plays early. They had some turnovers early, and that helped us. They regrouped and we quit making plays. They changed a little bit, but we just quit making plays. We have to continue to make plays if we’re going to make things like that happen.”
After being blown out 99-6 in the past two meetings with their biggest rival, Elkin doesn’t see the 14-point defeat as anything but a loss.
“I don’t see a moral victory in this,” Wood stated. “Our mindset coming into this game was that we were going to win this game. We had no doubts, our mind was made up and our kids were determined that we were going to win. No moral victories in this for us - this is a loss.”
Starmount improved to 3-2 on the season, notching its first Mountain Valley Conference victory of the year, while Elkin fell to 3-2 and 0-1 in league play.
The Rams hit the road this week, traveling to Millers Creek to take on West Wilkes. The Elks host conference-leading North Wilkes at home in their second league game.
“We have to regroup because we have North Wilkes next week,” Wood said. “This is a tough little stretch for us - 3A school, Starmount then North Wilkes - it’s not going to get any easier.
“Now we’re in a situation with Starmount being 1A that we have to roll and play ball. We don’t have time to sit around and rest on this one because we have to get ready for next week.”
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.