DOBSON — A second-half surge from East Wilkes lifted the Cardinals to 2-0 with a 40-22 win over Surry Central.
The Cardinals’ ground game rushed for 228 yards and four touchdowns in the second half, turning a 14-12 halftime deficit into a 40-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Junior Anthony Graham led the team with 243 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
The Golden Eagles fought back with a late touchdown and 2-point conversion, but it was too late to spark a comeback.
““It feels great to be 2-0” said East Wilkes coach Jonathan Wilmoth, who has the Cardinals at 2-0 for the first time since 2017.
“It’s good for our kids and for our community to start 2-0, especially coming off that COVID season. I was telling our kids that we need to show up, and that it took us too long to get going in the first half. We challenged them at halftime and they stepped up to the plate and played well.”
Central had a chance to start 2-0 having defeated Alleghany 31-7 in week one, but coach Monty Southern knew he was in for a battle in the Eagles’ home opener.
“I knew going in that East Wilkes was really good,” Southern said. “I was really impressed with what I’d seen from them on film and knew they had a lot of talent. I think they’ve got a good group of kids. We were ready for the challenge when the game started and played well the first half, but things got out of hand a little in the second.”
Leaving meat on the bone
Surry Central’s operated like a well-oiled machine for most of the first half. Karson Crouse, Logan Priddy, Avery Wilmoth and Memphis Bolatto combined for 24 carries for 187 yards rushing, and the Eagles scored on its first two possessions.
“We did a better job of spreading the work around in the first half,” Southern said. “They weren’t really able to key in on anybody.”
The Cardinals received the opening kickoff, but had to punt before recording a first down. Penalties for illegal procedure and an ineligible receiver hurt East Wilkes on the drive.
The Eagles methodically moved the chains with an 11-play drive that chewed up 5:22 of game time. Priddy capped off the drive with short touchdown run that was followed by a successful PAT from Jacob Edmonds.
East Wilkes only needed four plays and 2:05 of game time to retaliate. After a short run from Brody Martin, quarterback Briggs Gentry made an option pitch to Graham for a 44-yard gain. A Gentry run put the Cards inside the 10, and Graham scored on a 9-yard TD run. Central’s Dante Watson blocked the PAT to keep the score at 7-6.
Central looked to be in trouble on its second drive after East’s Brennan Arnder sacked Avery Wilmoth at the end of the first quarter, but then the QB responded by breaking free for a 66-yard run on third down to start the second quarter. Crouse punched in a three-yard TD run and Edmonds made his second PAT to make it 14-6.
Wilmoth finished the game with 16 carries for 131 yards rushing.
Friday’s game wasn’t filled with turnovers. In fact, the two teams only combined for two: East Wilkes turned the ball over on downs when the ball was snapped over the punters head and he scrambled for a few yards, then Surry Central lost a fumble in the second half.
What really hurt the Eagles, Southern said, was not taking advantage of good field position.
“It happened a few times, and those are things people may not remember after game but it makes a big difference,” he said. “We left some meat on the bone and it cost us in the long run.”
The bad snap happened on East Wilkes’ next drive and allowed Central to take over at the Cardinals’ 40. The Eagles failed to get a first down and had to punt away.
East faced a three-and-out of its own and punted from the end zone. Surry Central again started in Cardinal territory, but punted after moving the chains just once.
East Wilkes moved the ball more efficiently in its final drive of the half. Graham, Martin and Gentry each picked up decent gains before an Avery Wilmoth sack set up fourth-and-5. It was then that Gentry made his only completion of the first half, a 16-yard pass to Graham. Graham followed with a 30-yard TD run with 1:42 left in the half. A failed 2-point conversion left the score at 14-12.
The Golden Eagles moved quickly up the field and into Cardinal territory. Priddy ran 19 yards before being tackled with 4.2 seconds on the clock, and Southern called a timeout to send out the field goal unit. Edmonds was set to attempt a 40-yard field goal before a false start on Central made it a 45-yard attempt. Edmonds’ attempt came up about a yard short of the crossbar.
Jonathan Wilmoth’s halftime speech didn’t feature the unveiling of brand new, never-before-seen plays, nor did he radically change up the Cardinals’ strategy.
“We did not make a single adjustment at halftime,” he said. “We told the kids to do what they were supposed to do and challenged them to actually do it. We just weren’t executing early in the game…it was sloppy. But we didn’t change a thing.”
East Wilkes’ execution improved in all three phases. Central received the second-half kickoff and, except for an 11-yard run by Crouse on the first play from scrimmage, failed to get more than eight yards on a single play until late in the fourth quarter. The Eagles kept the ball for 4:35 but had to punt from midfield.
The Cards followed with their longest play from scrimmage all game. Graham took a handoff in the backfield and weaved through 95 yards of traffic for the touchdown. Gentry passed to Kole Lambert for the 2-point conversion.
Central received the ensuing kickoff but fumbled on the return. East Wilkes’ Titus Miller recovered the fumble on the Central 22. The Cardinals scored two plays later on a Martin 3-yard run, and Hank Porter nailed the PAT to make it 27-14 in favor of the Cardinals.
With 6:38 left in the third quarter, Central gave up two quick scores, lost a fumble and had two of its starting players ruled out for the remainder of the game.
“The personnel they have with scheme they run is pretty tough to stop,” Southern said. “When they put two scores on us back-to-back that really hurt us, and it really didn’t help losing two of our big weapons.”
The Eagles were overwhelmed on their next possession and had to punt on a three-and-out. East Wilkes followed with nine-play drive that started with 4:20 left in the third quarter and ended with 11:14 remaining in the fourth. When faced with fourth-and-1, Graham ran for 34 yards to put the Cards on the 6-yard line. The drive ended with a 3-yard TD run by Weston Brown and PAT from Porter.
Including his 53 yards receiving, Graham finished the night with 296 total yards.
“I think that Anthony is a very explosive player,” Coach Wilmoth said. “We play him both ways, so we try to use him when we need him. He just fits well with the other players that we have on the team. I’ve been really pleased with his execution and level of play over these last two games.”
Coach Wilmoth praised all the team’s running backs as well as the offensive line. East Wilkes finished the night with 415 total yards, comprising of 32 carries for 362 yards rushing and six rushing touchdowns as well as three completions for 53 yards passing.
East added its final points of the night with 5:06 left in the fourth quarter. Easton Martin scored on an 18-yard TD run, but the PAT was no good to make it 40-14.
“The offensive line has done such a great job of this year of coming together,” Coach Wilmoth said. “Coach Tyler Conlon is new to our program. He’s doing our OL and he’s doing a great job.”
Surry Central kept fighting back, and managed to score one final time with 1:08 left in the game. The 11-play, 4:00 drive ended with Ayden Wilmoth scoring a 26-yard rushing TD and Crouse running in the 2-point conversion.
The Golden Eagles finished with 301 total yards. This came from 279 yards rushing and three rushing TDs on 43 carries, as well as four completions for 22 yards passing.
“I told the guys after the game and we’ll reinforce it Monday: we want to play the good teams and learn how to beat the good teams,” Southern said. “Moving forward, we have to just focus on us. We have to be more consistent while keeping our energy level up the whole game, no matter what happens.
Surry Central (1-1) continues its non-conference schedule next week when the Eagles host Mount Airy (1-0). East Wilkes goes on the road next week to face West Caldwell (0-1).
East Wilkes – 6, 6, 15, 13 = 40
Surry Central – 14, 0, 0, 8 = 22
4:40 SCHS 7-0 – Logan Priddy 1-yard rush TD, Jacob Edmonds PAT
2:35 EWHS 7-6 – Anthony Graham 9-yard rush TD, PAT blocked by Surry Central’s Dante Watson
11:35 SCHS 14-6 – Karson Crouse 3-yard rush TD, Jacob Edmonds PAT
1:42 EWHS 14-12 – Anthony Graham 30-yard rush TD, 2-point conversion no good
7:05 EWHS 14-20 – Anthony Graham 95-yard rush TD, Briggs Gentry pass to Kole Lambert good for 2-point conversion
6:38 EWHS 14-27 – Brody Martin 3-yard rush TD, Hank Porter PAT
11:14 EWHS 14-34 – Weston Brown 3-yard rush TD, Hank Porter PAT
5:06 EWHS 14-40 – Easton Martin 18-yard rush TD, PAT no good
11:35 SCHS 14-6 – Ayden Wilmoth 26-yard rush TD, Karson Crouse carries for the 2-point conversion