PILOT MOUNTAIN — Rivalries tend to bring out the best in both Mount Airy and East Surry for a number of reasons.
Whether their motivation was the pursuit of perfection, the chase for a conference championship, or flat-out dislike for their opponent, Mount Airy and East Surry gave it all they had. Following a number of lead changes, it was the Granite Bears that walked away the victors by a 31-21 margin on Friday night.
The Bears’ victory completes a perfect 11-0 regular season. The last time Mount Airy finished the regular season undefeated was 2009. The boys in blue made it all the way to the state championship game in both 2008 and 2009 with a perfect record, winning in 2008.
Despite being underdogs at home to the third-ranked 1A team in the state (Maxpreps poll), No. 10 East Surry came out swinging. The Cardinals kept the ball on the ground with both Joey Ray and Stephen Gosnell moving the chains.
In a span of three consecutive plays, Joey Ray ran for a first down, proceeded by a Gosnell 10-yard keeper for a first down, and yet another first down from Joey Ray to put East Surry in the red zone.
Gosnell’s next run put East on the 1-yard line. Joey Ray barrelled into a sea of red and white, emerging in the end zone to put East Surry up 7-0 with 8:11 left in the first.
Nearing 1,000 rushing yards on the season, Johnathon Smith slowly moved the Bears down the field. Presented with a second-and-1 situation, quarterback Ian Holder threw to Donavon Greene for the first.
Jefferson Boaz did well to prevent Smith from breaking through the Cardinals’ defense for a long run. Holder elected to throw once again and completed a pass to Greene. However, Greene fumbled the ball after the catch and it was recovered by East Surry’s Gunnar Jones.
Gosnell took the ball 20 yards on the Cardinals’ first play following the fumble. Now at midfield, an illegal procedure penalty was called on East. A stopped run and incomplete pass to Stephen Creech led to East punting the ball back to the Bears.
Mount Airy took over with 3:38 remaining in the first quarter looking to get on the board. The worst-case scenario happened for the Bears when Holder’s first pass was intercepted by Austin Pardue.
Starting from their own 40-yard line, the Cardinals stuck with Gosnell on the ground. Three straight runs by the sophomore and the next by Joey Ray landed East Surry in the red zone for the second time in the quarter. Joey Ray tallied his second rushing touchdown of the night on a 7-yard run with just seconds remaining in the opening period.
Mount Airy ended its nightmare first quarter down 14-0 after Holder was sacked by East’s Conner Sheets. With nowhere to go but up, Mount Airy began the second quarter with a 25-yard pass to Cole Shelton. Shelton had an open field, but was dragged down by Cardinal Quincy Smith.
Holder went to the air again with a pass to Greene for another first down. East Surry forced a second-and-15, but a pass to Shelton moved the chains for the visitors. Holder proceeded to throw a touchdown pass to Greene only 65 seconds into the quarter.
East Surry took over up 14-7, but failed to advance the ball 10 yards. Three rushes by Joey Ray only moved the Cardinals a yard before they had to punt.
Mount Airy also struggled to move the chains. Holder lost the ball when scrambling but recovered it himself. With two turnovers and a touchdown drive, Mount Airy punted for the first time with six minutes left in the first half.
Starting from its own 15, Gosnell and the East offense were once again held up by the Bears’ defense. Three plays, three stops by Mount Airy.
With its fifth possession of the game, Mount Airy began to mix its passing and rushing game even more. Using Greene in the air and Smith on the ground, the Bears inched closer and closer to Cardinal territory.
A pass intended for Greene was nearly intercepted by East’s Gosnell. Now faced with fourth-and-4 on the East Surry 24, Mount Airy elected to go for it instead of bringing out the sharpshooting Robert Brown for a field goal. Holder kept the ball and came up just short of the first, held up by East Surry’s Dylan Sawyers.
Gosnell was shaken up on a run out of bounds, letting Boaz take over QB duties for a play. Gosnell returned and was faced with third-and-15, keeping the ball but coming up five yards short of a first down when he was stopped by Mount Airy’s Grayson Corbin.
Holder took the Bears from their own 37 to the East Surry 37 with a series of passes, finishing the game 12 for 18 for 130 yards throwing the ball. The Cardinals managed to contain Holder on third-and-10 as halftime approached, but gave the Bears another opportunity with a penalty. Brown nailed a 41-yard field goal as time expired to cut the East Surry lead to 14-10.
The Bears continued their momentum into the second half when they received the opening kickoff. Smith had a near 50-yard run to start the half. Smith finished the game with 120 rushing yards, propelling him past the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
An offsides call on East Surry put the Bears in the red zone. Smith racked up another first down, followed by a Holder run inside the 10-yard line. Now threatening to score, Smith was tackled by Sheets. An incomplete pass and scramble by Holder led to fourth-and-1 for the Bears.
Smith continued to impress with a touchdown run on fourth down to give Mount Airy its first lead of the night, 17-14.
A miscommunication by the Cardinals led to an East Surry timeout before the first play of the drive. Gosnell and Logan Ray got it together and earned a first down with their combined efforts.
A rare pass from East Surry moved the ball 40 yards, inside the Bears’ 10-yard line. Pardue’s reception nearly led to a touchdown, but he was chased down by Greene.
Gosnell tried to punch the ball in to regain the lead, but failed on three occasions. On fourth-and-1, Joey Ray recorded his third touchdown of the evening to put East Surry back on top, 21-17.
The third quarter moved quickly with no turnovers and both teams scoring on their lone drives. Mount Airy’s second drive started in the third quarter and lasted into the first minute of the fourth.
Smith showed no signs of fatigue and continued to plow through defenders. As the quarter came to a close, Gosnell was injured while playing defense and had to be helped off the field.
Holder connected with Jeremiah Rosser for a touchdown only 50 seconds into the quarter. Mount Airy regained the lead, 24-21.
The ensuing Cardinal possession took five minutes off the clock and brought the home team onto the Bears’ half of the field, but not much further. Sheets took over Gosnell’s rushing duties with the latter still on the bench, while Boaz took over at quarterback. Sheets and Joey Ray moved the chains slowly but surely, even converting on fourth-and-1.
The second fourth down the Cardinals faced on the drive didn’t go as well for them. Boaz pitched the ball to Joey Ray, who passed to Smith in the end zone. The pass was incomplete and the first non-scoring possession of the second half gave the Bears the ball once again.
Looking to run the clock down and put the game out of reach, the Bears looked to Smith. Short carries by Smith kept the drive alive before he exploded for a 50-yard TD run to extend the Mount Airy lead to 31-21 with 3:52 remaining.
East still had a chance and brought Gosnell back into the game. Looking to score quickly, Gosnell targeted Smith down field but was picked off.
Mount Airy faced a three-and-out on the next drive but ran the clock to 1:21 before giving the ball back to East Surry.
With little time to score twice, Boaz targeted Gosnell, but Gosnell was called for offensive pass interference. Boaz continued making quick passes to Gosnell, Pardue, and Joey Ray to put the ball on the Bears’ 7-yard line with about 30 seconds left.
East Surry failed to get the ball in the end zone before time expired, giving Mount Airy the win and the conference title. This is conference title number 32 for the Granite Bears.
East Surry ran the ball 49 times for 257 yards, with Gosnell leading all players with 136 yards. Joey Ray recorded 95 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Led by Smith, Mount Airy ran 33 times for 241 yards. In addition to his 130 passing yards, Holder ran for 115 yards.
As a team, the Cardinals (7-4) outgained the Bears 393-371, but about half of East’s yards were in the first quarter.
Both teams will advance to the 1A state playoffs and are expected to open at home, with Mount Airy earning a first-round bye and playing again on Nov. 17, and East hosting a to-be-determined opponent next Friday.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith