RONDA — On Friday night, East Wilkes took on Surry Central in its first home football game of the 2016 season. The stands were packed on both sides of the field, but only one side got the outcome they were looking for.
East Wilkes opened up the game with a touchdown on their first drive down the field. Jayveon Ross had the first carry of the night to earn a first down for the Cardinals. East Wilkes quarterback Bryce Vestal handed the ball off to Austin Jolly, who swept down the field for a 35-yard touchdown run. The Cardinals decided to go for two, but the attempt came up short as the Eagles smothered the play.
The Golden Eagles didn’t let the Cardinals’ touchdown get them down, as they also came out firing on their first drive of the night. Martin Palacios found an open hole in the East Wilkes defense and ran for a 65-yard touchdown to give Surry Central a 7-6 lead.
The excitement wasn’t over for the Eagles in the first quarter. After several penalty calls, a loss of 25 total yards, and coming up short of the first down, Central intercepted the ball at its 10-yard line just as the Cardinals were looking to retake the lead. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they came up short and had to punt the ball away. It looked as though the Cardinals would have great field position after making the Eagles go three-and-out, but that wasn’t the case. Jed Kidd gave the visitors a 74-yard punt and plenty of field position for them to make a stop on defense.
The start of the second quarter saw East Wilkes score its second touchdown of the night five seconds into the quarter. Vestal pitched the ball to Devin Couch, who ran for a five-yard touchdown to give the Cardinals a 12-7 lead. The home team saw the opportunity to get a bigger lead, going for the two-point conversion to make the score 14-7. Three minutes later, after a turnover, Surry Central found itself in scoring position with 8:14 left to play in the first half. Chandler Johnson found an open receiver in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14. Before the half was over, Wilkes fumbled four times and each time Surry Central recovered the ball.
“I feel like recovering the fumbles was a big one, without the recoveries we would have lost,” said Surry Central coach Monty Southern. “We made some nice plays offensively. It was good for all of our seniors to make big plays tonight.”
With 1:16 left in the half, East Wilkes fumbled once again and the Eagles recovered. The Cardinals intercepted Johnson on the next play, but were called for pass interference. With a big stop needed before the half and less than a minute on the board, Andrew Elmore came up big for East Wilkes. Elmore read the play by the Surry Central defense, and made the tackle to stop the Eagles’ momentum. On the final play before the half, the Cardinals’ Joah Logan made another huge play, intercepting the ball in the end zone. Logan’s pick gave East Wilkes a sigh of relief as they ended the first half still tied.
“Overall, I feel like we squandered opportunities early, but I give credit to East Wilkes as they played hard and did some things defensively that we weren’t prepared for,” said Southern. “The plays caught us off guard, but luckily, right there down the stretch when we needed someone to make plays, they made them.”
The third quarter saw both teams shake off their first-half nerves as they both dealt with fumbles and interceptions. In the final quarter with 9:39 left to play, East Wilkes got the touchdown they were looking for. Vestal once again found Couch in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown pass. The Cardinals’ extra point was blocked, but they had a 20-14 lead under their belt with less than seven minutes remaining.
On the next East Wilkes drive, Austin Jolly came up with a 60-yard run to give the Cardinals a huge first down. The excitement from Jolly’s run didn’t last long, as East Wilkes fumbled once again and the Eagles came up with the ball. With 2:10 left in the game, Eric Ramirez scored to give Surry Central a 21-20 lead and the Eagles didn’t look back. They came up big in the final seconds of the game, and took home a one-point win.
“We need to improve on taking care of the football. (Surry Central) had a lot of team speed, and when you make mistakes on defense that can expose you, it’s not good,” said East Wilkes head coach J.K Adkins. “We’re going to focus on taking care of the football next week and being sound on defense.”
East Wilkes moves to 1-1 for the season. The Cardinals are off next week before visiting North Stokes on Sept. 9. Surry Central moves to 2-0. The Golden Eagles’ next game will be at home versus Wilkes Central on Sept. 2.
“I thought our improvement from week one to week two was tremendous. We didn’t get the exact outcome we were looking for, but I’m pleased with our effort,” said Adkins. “We made some critical mistakes, and that’s why we lost the game.”
Kristian Russell can be reached at 336-258-4052 or on Twitter @YadkinElkSports.