RONDA — Some things are so nice they need to happen twice.
The East Surry Cardinals and the East Wilkes Cardinals first met this season in week 1. In this match-up, the visitors from Wilkes County took the win by a 36-20 margin.
Three months later, the Second Battle of the Birds took place. Just like the first time, East Wilkes scored 36 points. However, it was the visiting East Surry Cardinals that earned the victory in this second round playoff contest, 49-36.
It was a slugfest on the scoreboard from the opening whistle. Of the nine combined possessions in the first half, seven resulted in a touchdown.
East Surry began the game with runs from their bread and butter, Joey Ray. The duo of Ray and quarterback Andrew Gosnell have dominated the running game for East Surry this season, and wasted little time getting that message across to their opponent.
After establishing a ground game, Gosnell took to the air with back-to-back passes to Stephen Creech and Nick Hicks. The QB’s next pass traveled 30 yards into the hands of Quincy Smith for the first score of the game just three minutes in.
The offensive barrage continued with the East Wilkes Cardinals on their first possession. Deven Couch and Mason Hartley both received a number of carries on Wilkes’ first drive, but it was a run from QB Bryce Vestal that put the team in the red zone.
With 5:50 remaining in the first quarter, Jayveon Ross ran the ball into the end zone for the home team’s first score. A pass from Vestal added two points and put East Wilkes ahead 8-7.
It only took East Surry two plays to get back on top. Gosnell connected with Ray on a short pass on the first. The second saw Gosnell carry the ball 52 yards for a TD just 60 seconds after East Wilkes’ first score.
The only turnover of the half took place on East Wilkes’ ensuing drive. Everything was going the way of Vestal, who moved the chains on the ground and connected with Couch for a 30-plus yard gain on third-and-20.
Vestal’s luck came to an end when his next pass was intercepted by AJ Bruton.
East Surry quickly moved down the field, thanks to a pass interference call on East Wilkes. On the next play, Ray took the ball 43 yards before being dragged down by three opposing players on the two-yard line. Before East Wilkes had time to set up a goal-line defense, Gosnell crept into the end zone to put East Surry up 21-8 at the end of the first quarter.
Quarter number two saw Ross take control. The junior fullback carried on four straight plays, and East Surry couldn’t find an answer.
A potential fumble wasn’t even enough to slow Ross down. Ross had the ball knocked from his hands, but recovered it off his own helmet and took it to the end zone. A failed two-point conversion left the score at 21-14 in favor of East Surry.
Two penalties on East Surry’s next drive left it with first-and-22. Two runs by Ray cut it to third-and-3, with a QB keeper from Gosnell keeping the drive alive. With a new set of downs, Ray ran 37 yards for another touchdown. East Surry led 28-14 with 3:52 until halftime.
The home team wasn’t ready to be counted out just yet. Consecutive passes from Vestal to Couch put East Wilkes in East Surry territory. A face mask on East Surry and a run by Vestal meant the Wilkes squad was now in the red zone.
Vestal refused to go down on a touchdown run with 1:22 remaining. After a timeout from each team, Ross waltzed into the end zone for the two-point conversion, cutting the lead to 28-22.
East Surry tried to score in the remaining 82 seconds, but time expired just as the visiting Cardinals made it to the red zone. This was East Surry’s only possession in the first half that did not result in a touchdown.
East Wilkes began the half with its first three-and-out of the night. Vestal was sacked by Dylan Sawyers and failed to complete his next two passes.
East Surry began on the opposing 40-yard line. Two passes to Smith moved the chains for the visitors.
Ray finished the drive with a 25-yard touchdown run to increase the East Surry lead to 35-22 with 7:47 left in the third.
East Wilkes wasn’t able to break free on the next drive at first. Ross settled for shorter bursts that moved the chains nonetheless.
Couch finally exploded on a 54-yard touchdown run to cut into the East Surry lead. A two-point conversion by Ross brought his team to within five, 35-30. East Wilkes now looked to regain the lead for the first time since 8-7.
However, East Surry’s offensive barrage continued with another short-but-effective drive. Gosnell’s pass was broken up on first down. On second down, the QB kept the ball and ran for a 69-yard touchdown to put East Surry further ahead, 42-30.
Ross continued to dominate for the home team, but at the cost of time. Ross, who led East Wilkes with 17 carries for 112 yards, was most threatening due to his yards after contact.
Eventually, the East Surry defense contained Ross enough to force fourth-and-4. A run by Ross was halted by Conner Sheets and Jefferson Boaz for a turnover-on-downs.
Instead of making short runs to run time off the clock, Ray ran 68 yards on the first play to score his third touchdown of the day. A kick from Ryan Sutterby made it 49-30 going into the fourth quarter.
Desperate for a touchdown, Couch nabbed his second rushing TD of the night on a 52-yard play. Austin Pardue forced a fumble on the two-point conversion to keep the 13-point margin alive.
An onside kick attempt by East Wilkes was recovered by Mitchell Edwards of East Surry. The duo of Ray and Gosnell ran shorter routes to keep the clock running.
A fumble from Gosnell gave the ball to East Wilkes with hopes of a quick TD. Vestal targeted receivers downfield to little success. Ross was still able to move the chains, but did so at the expense of the clock running down.
Vestal took another deep shot at Couch, but was intercepted by Smith.
Even though East Surry had a three-and-out on the next drive, its first of the evening, they took time off the clock.
Gosnell nearly got the ball back for East Surry with an interception, but couldn’t hang on the ball.
A pass interference call on East Surry put East Wilkes past midfield. Vestal continued to pass, but couldn’t connect with receivers. This led to a turnover-on-downs for the home team with 4:28 remaining.
East Wilkes tried its best to get the ball back, but Ray kept the chains moving until time expired. Ray finished with 247 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
East Surry will travel to Murphy on Friday. The winner will advance to the final four the following week against the winner of Mount Airy and Bessemer City.