RONDA — All eyes were focused on the second-round 1AA playoff match-up in Ronda as East Wilkes hosted East Surry. It was a game that has been hyped up since the brackets were released, and rightfully so. In the first two quarters, the game was back and forth. East Surry was able to get the upper hand late in the game to take a 49-36 win over East Wilkes to move on to the third round of the NCHSAA 1AA Playoffs.
Injuries have been plaguing East Wilkes for the past three weeks, and on Friday night, the Wilkes Cardinals were once again faced with that burden. Damien Reid was on the sideline with an injury which had the Wilkes Cardinals relying on a freshman running back. Another factor that played into the game was the offensive presence of East Surry. The Surry Cardinals are known for their passing game, while the Wilkes Cardinals are known for their struggles in pass coverage.
East Surry was able to put that theory to the test early in the game as the Surry Cardinals made themselves comfortable in Ronda. It took less than three minutes, and only seven plays for East Surry to score its first touchdown of the night. With the score sitting at 7-0, East Wilkes was looking to answer back on its next possession.
The drive started on the 33-yard line, and ended in the end zone. Bryce Vestal found the hands of Deven Couch and Jayveon Ross to advance the drive across the 50-yard line. On third and seven, Vestal put the ball in Mason Hartley’s hands to pick up the first down and move the chains. Vestal then found Ross for a 13-yard touchdown run. East Wilkes went for the two-point conversion, and came up successful with a pass to Jared Wood. With 5:50 left in the first quarter, East Wilkes took an 8-7 lead over East Surry.
East Wilkes’ lead only lasted one minute, as East Surry’s Stephen Gosnell ran the ball in for a 53-yard touchdown to make the score 14-8.
Things seemed to go off kilter for East Wilkes, as Vestal threw only his third interception of the year on the next drive. The interception eventually lead to an East Surry touchdown by Gosnell, which made the score 21-8.
East Wilkes was able to answer back as it started to rely on the run game once again. When East Wilkes has kept the ball on the ground, things have worked out in its favor. Ross was the main running back for Vestal on a drive that took up half of the second quarter. Vestal put the ball in Ross’ hands eight times, before Vestal took the ball into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion was no good, and the Cardinals were knocking on the door of East Surry’s 21-14 lead.
Before the second quarter was over, both teams put up a touchdown to make it a six-point game. East Surry’s Joey Ray ran the ball in for a 38-yard touchdown run to make the score 28-14. East Wilkes put a spin on its next drive to score a touchdown. Vestal decided to keep the ball once again to score a one-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion was good to Ross, and the score was 28-22 at halftime.
East Wilkes was able to stick with East Surry in the second half, but it could never get over the final hump to take a lead. The Surry Cardinals scored on their first drive of the third quarter, and the Wilkes Cardinals answered back. Couch took the ball in for a 54-yard run, which Ross followed up with a two-point conversion to make the score 35-30.
East Surry decided the back-and-forth game was over, and the Cardinals started to turn up the pressure. Gosnell gave East Surry a 12-point lead with a 69-yard touchdown run. Before the third quarter was over, East Surry put another touchdown on the board as Ray ran the ball in for a 68-yard run.
East Wilkes was able to put up one final touchdown of the night, as Couch ran in for a 52-yard touchdown. Unfortunately for the Wilkes Cardinals, there wasn’t enough time on the clock for a comeback. East Surry was able to hang on to take a 49-36 win to move on to the sweet 16.
East Wilkes ends its 2017 season with an overall record of 9-3, and a Mountain Valley Athletic Conference record of 5-2. The Cardinals placed second in the MVAC, scored 555 points, and allowed only 259 points.