BOONVILLE — The Mount Airy football team is stacked with experienced veterans this season, but a pair of underclassmen helped spark the Granite Bears to a victory over Starmount on Friday.
Freshman Johnathan Smith rushed for 101 yards and three touchdowns and sophomore Jeremiah Rosser found the end zone twice, once on offense and once on defense, as Mount Airy earned a 42-18 win over the Rams to open the 2016 season.
“It was good to see those two have a good night,” Mount Airy coach Kelly Holder said. “We’re going to need different guys to step up all year, and tonight the young guys made an impact.”
Smith became the first freshman to start at running back for Mount Airy since 1931, as Malik Frost was held out to nurse a sore ankle, and the freshman proved his worth right away. On the opening drive, Smith carried the ball five times for 34 yards and punched it in from 12 yards out to give Mount Airy an early 7-0 lead.
Both offenses struggled throughout the remainder of the first quarter, but things opened up in the second period. Starmount got on the scoreboard when Brendon Eads intercepted Jackson Smith and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. The Rams couldn’t convert the extra point, and Mount Airy led 7-6 with 8:08 remaining in the half.
Jackson bounced back on the next drive with a game-changing touchdown throw to Rosser. After a Starmount personal foul kept the Bears’ drive alive, the Mount Airy quarterback hit Rosser on fourth-and-3 with a short pass down the middle of the field. Rosser did the rest, sprinting 44 yards for a touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
Starmount immediately responded with a touchdown two plays later, but that was the end of the Rams’ good fortune on the evening. The Bears closed the half with two touchdowns in the final 2:21.
On the ensuing possession, Jackson Smith connected with Ian Holder on a 52-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field. Holder broke a pair of tackles before easily gliding into the end zone.
When Starmount took over on the next drive, Holder once again came up big with an interception to give Mount Airy an extra possession, and Johnathan Smith capitalized with his second touchdown of the evening on a six-yard run.
“That interception by Ian was huge for our momentum,” Kelly Holder said. “We ended the half really strong, and it gave us some confidence and a two-score lead going into halftime.”
Starmount controlled possession in the third quarter as Mount Airy only ran five plays in the period, but the Bears’ defense hung tough and added to the sizable advantage when Rosser scored his second touchdown of the night.
Starmount’s Patrick Usher rolled to his left, but was immediately met by a swarm of Mount Airy defensive linemen. Usher tried to find a receiver, but Rosser jumped the route and took his interception 62 yards the other direction for a 35-12 lead.
“The coaches were telling me I needed to do a better job waiting on the boot,” Rosser said. “I finally waited on it and saw it coming, he threw it right to me.”
The Mount Airy defensive line was relentless throughout the evening. Gabriel King and Ryan Edwards each recorded a sack and were constantly in the backfield, along with JJ Wheeler. Linebacker Corbin Welch also stood out and recovered a fumble as the Bears forced three turnovers on the evening.
“It’s a competition. Everyone is battling to get in the backfield and get to the ball. Everybody is just having fun when we’re playing like that,” King said.
Mount Airy capped off their terrific night with Johnathan Smith’s third and final touchdown, a one-yard run right up the middle with 10:03 remaining in the fourth quarter. Mount Airy led 42-12, and Starmount’s final touchdown came late in the contest, when most of the Bears’ starters on defense were on the sideline.
Mount Airy didn’t attempt a single pass in the second half, but Coach Holder was pleased with Jackson Smith’s ability to cope with the rain. The senior quarterback went 3-7 for 96 yards and a touchdown.
The Granite Bears will stay on the road in week two when they travel to King to face West Stokes. Mount Airy opened last season with a win over Starmount before falling to the Wildcats, and the Bears will try to flip the script this season.
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16