RONDA — Since the start of the 2018 season, East Wilkes has only lost one game, which was the opening game against East Surry. Since week one, the Cardinals have been on a roll with a six-game win streak.
On Friday night, the Cardinals hosted Starmount in a battle of the undefeated conference teams. The Rams came to Ronda with a Mountain Valley Athletic Conference record of 2-0, the same as East Wilkes. Both teams put up a hard fight, but it was East Wilkes who came out on top with a 38-24 win over Starmount.
“I fell like we did a lot of good things, and the kids played hard,” said East Wilkes head coach Jonathan Wilmoth. “Our kids are playing hard right now, we are 6-1 and we have came together. I’m excited and I’m happy to be here.”
Starmount had a new quarterback in play, as Trey Dezern was battling a bone bruise. Starmount was relying on the sophomore hands of Alex Armstrong, who is the starting J.V. quarterback. The Rams received the ball first, and on their drive, they accumulated just 2 positive yards. Starmount was unable to gain the yards it needed for a first down and it was forced to punt the ball away.
After the punt, East Wilkes came up with the ball on the 20-yard line and the home team was in the driver’s seat. The first play was a backwards play, as Caeden Howell passed the ball to Brayson Church, who was tackled by Nik Pardue for a loss of 4 yards. On second-and-14, Howell kept the ball and ran for a 3-yard gain. With the ball on the 19-yard line and 11 yards to go before the first down, the Cardinals were looking for a big play.
As the play clock hit four seconds, the ball was snapped to Howell. With the offensive line blocking the Starmount defense to the best of their ability, Howell looked down field for an open player. Church was the player Howell spotted, and the play was in motion.
Howell put the ball into the air and into the hands of Church. Church was able to evade his defender and turn on his jets as he ran the ball 81 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was good, and the Cardinals led Starmount 7-0 with 9:18 left in the first quarter.
As the first quarter rolled on, Starmount was able to get the ball back and make its way down the field. The Rams started the drive on their own 28-yard line, and they ended on East Wilkes’ 37. The Rams were flagged four times in the same drive — twice for a false start, and twice for holding. The Rams struggled to pick up their tempo, and on third-and-13, Armstrong looked down the field for an open player. As the pass went through the air, it was intercepted by Trey Lambert, who returned it to the 46.
The Cardinals were able to make the most of the interception, as they drove down the field and made it to the red zone. Howell passed off the ball to Church, who ran in for a 10-yard touchdown. The point after was through the uprights and East Wilkes had a 14-0 lead with 1:33 left in the first quarter.
The kick-off by East Wilkes didn’t go how the visiting team wanted. The Cardinals kicked the ball off, and just as Starmount was about to let the ball fall for its drive to begin, it touched the ball and East Wilkes was able to recover it. Blaine Harris came up with the ball at the 44-yard line to give East Wilkes a first down.
Things continued to go East Wilkes’ way as the game went into the second quarter. The Cardinals put the ball into the end zone for their third touchdown of the night, as Howell passed the ball to Lambert for a 16-yard touchdown. East Wilkes had all of the momentum with a 20-0 lead over Starmount with 11:17 left before halftime.
Starmount put its first touchdown on the board two minutes later, as Ethan Barnes made an 18-yard run into the end zone. The Rams went for the two-point conversion and it was completed, and Barnes once again put himself between the pylons. Starmount had cut East Wilkes’ lead, 20-8, as the second quarter clicked on.
Just as it looked like East Wilkes was about to add another seven points to the board, the ball was fumbled and Pardue recovered the ball and returned it to the 43-yard line. Starmount was unable to make the most of the recovered fumble as the Rams went for the first down on fourth-and-8 from the 20-yard line. Isaac Barker made his way through the defensive line to sack Armstrong for a loss of 12 yards, which resulted in a turnover on downs.
East Wilkes once again made its way down the field, but as the drive hit the red zone, the Cardinals fumbled and Starmount recovered it. The second quarter went on, but time ran out for the Rams and the half ended 20-8 in East Wilkes’ favor.
“We had two turnovers right there near the end zone, that was some air out of our balloon. We’ve had a bad rep for that this season,” said Wilmoth. “I’m going to take that, it was on me, because I could have put the kids in a better situation.”
East Wilkes came out of the half and made the most of their drive, as Howell passed the ball down field to Lambert, who ran for a 40-yard gain. On second-and-16, Howell handed the ball off to Church, who put in his third touchdown of the night. The point after was no good, but East Wilkes had a 26-8 lead with just under 11 minutes left in the third quarter.
“We had a lot of players do a lot of good things,” said Wilmoth. “Trey Lambert catching that pass out of the half, Jayveon Ross kept clicking off big runs, Brayson Church and Caeden Howell both made good decisions. Those are skilled guys, but I said it at the start of the year, the reason we were going to be good was because of our offensive line and they have absolutely been playing well. I contribute all of our success to them and our defensive line, they are the heartbeat of our team.”
As the third quarter continued on, Starmount was able to put in a touchdown to cut East Wilkes’ lead to just 10 points. Eric Wiles returned the kick0ff to the 45-yard line, which gave Starmount the momentum it needed to roll down the field. Barnes had four runs for the Rams during the seven-play drive. On the 12-yard line on third-and-2, Armstrong gave the ball to J. Max Swaim, who was able to evade two tackles and put himself into the end zone for a touchdown. Starmount went for the two-point conversion and completed, which cut East Wilkes’ lead 26-16.
Both teams were able to continue the third quarter with an upbeat tempo. On first-and-10 from the 3-yard line, East Wilkes’ Church ran for 46 yards to set up the Cardinals for their fourth touchdown of the night. The Ross had two runs back-to-back for a total of 27 yards. On second-and-8 from the 22, Church found himself with the ball once again and was able to put his third touchdown on the board, the fourth for East Wilkes. Church had a 27-yard run, and while the two-point conversion was no good, East Wilkes had a 32-16 lead over Starmount.
Just as the third quarter hit the two-minute mark, Starmount answered back to East Wilkes with another touchdown. The Rams’ drive lasted six plays, 61 yards and just under two minutes. The touchdown was scored by Thomas Cole, who made his way past the Cardinals’ defense and ran for a 29-yard scoring play. The two-point conversion was good to Swaim and Starmount had once again cut East Wilkes’ lead to just 12 points.
The upbeat tempo on the visitors’ side didn’t last long, as East Wilkes showed why it was on a five-game win streak. With 2:14 left in the third, Starmount kicked off to the Cardinals. Jesse Aquilar returned the ball to the 29-yard line and the East Wilkes offense took the field.
On first-and-10 from the 29, Howell handed the ball off to Ross, who put on a show for his home crowd. Ross evaded three tackles, stiff armed a defender and made a spin move while making his way down the field. Ross was able to break away from the pack and turn up his pace to put himself between the pylons. It was a 71-yard touchdown, which put the nail in the coffin. The Cardinals completed the two-point conversion, and East Wilkes took a 38-24 lead heading into the final quarter.
Starmount’s luck didn’t change in the fourth, as they fumbled the ball twice, had two penalty calls and threw an interception. East Wilkes’ Ben Longbottom recovered one fumble, while Lambert came away with the interception.
Neither team added to its total, and the Cardinals were able to kneel the game out to take a 38-24 win over Starmount.
With the win, East Wilkes moves to 3-0 in the MVAC and 6-1 overall. The Cardinals will travel to Alleghany (3-4, 1-2) on Friday night.
“Another big and physical team. Which means we can’t take them lightly,” said Wilmoth on how he feels about Friday night’s game against Alleghany. “We are going up to their place, so we have to have our ducks in a row and be ready to play hard.”
Starmount is now 2-5 overall and 2-1 in the MVAC. The Rams will host West Wilkes (3-4, 0-3) in Boonville on Friday.