RONDA — East Surry and East Wilkes began their season with a showdown of the area’s “East Cardinals” back on Aug. 18. On Friday, one of them will see their 2017 season end in the rematch.
When the two teams met three months ago, both had high hopes for a successful season, and for the most part, those hopes were realized.
When the teams played in the season opener, East Surry led 12-8 early, but then began to struggle on offense as East Wilkes (9-2) scored twice before halftime to lead 22-12. It was 30-12 in the fourth quarter when Stephen Gosnell had an 80-yard run for a touchdown, but Wilkes drove for the clinching score after that.
East Wilkes went on from its season-opening 36-20 win over the Surry Cardinals to appear nearly unstoppable for several weeks. These Cardinals beat the next eight opponents on their schedule by 26 points or more, and on the evening of Oct. 27, were 9-0 and ranked No. 3 in the state.
In the last two weeks of the regular season, things came off the rails for East Wilkes. Against Elkin, it looked like business as usual for the high-powered Wilkes team, which led 38-21 at halftime. However, an East Wilkes defense which had already been decimated by injuries couldn’t stop the Buckin’ Elks after the break. Elkin scored touchdowns on four straight possessions and took the lead. The Cardinals scored to get the lead back at 52-50, but then lost by a point when the Elks nailed a field goal at the buzzer.
In the regular-season finale on Nov. 3, East Wilkes faced county rival Wilkes Central in a battle for the Mountain Valley 1A/2A title, and lost 37-13. They were still the top 1A team in the league and were seeded as a conference champion in the 1AA bracket, but will come in off a two-game losing streak and not having played well for six quarters. The Wilkes Cardinals will hope to get some banged-up players back to full strength and regain the momentum from earlier this season.
Despite the two losses, East Wilkes still is ranked sixth in the state among 1A teams.
East Wilkes runs a spread offense triggered by senior quarterback Bryce Vestal, who ran for three scores and passes for another one in the first meeting. Vestal was considered one of the most dynamic offensive players in the 1A West coming into the season and has not disappointed.
Vestal is joined on the field by offensive powerhouse players like Deven Couch, Damien Reid, and Mason Hartley. When these players are at their healthiest, things tend to run smoothly for East Wilkes. On defense, the Cardinals have struggled over the past two weeks. On Friday night, East Wilkes will have to let all of the pieces fall into place in order to advance to the next round of playoffs.
The last time East Wilkes made it past the second round was 2015, when the Cardinals made it to the third round of playoffs.
East Surry, which played one of the toughest schedules of any 1A team in the state, comes into Friday night’s game at 8-4 and ranked No. 8 in MaxPreps’ 1A rankings. East Surry’s four losses came at the hands of the Wilkes Cardinals, Western Piedmont 2A champion North Surry, 4A Jamestown Ragsdale (by one point) and to undefeated Mount Airy.
The winner of this game will take on either North Stanly or Murphy next week in the state quarterfinals. East Wilkes would host against either team, but East Surry would be on the road against either.
Kristian Russell contributed to this article.