As the final seconds ticked off the clock at Shelton Stadium on Friday night, East Surry’s players began to celebrate a 20-10 Class 1AA West playoff victory over rival Mount Airy.
No one can blame them.
For the Cardinals, who earned payback for a regular-season loss to the Bears, it’s on to the third round.
“Second chances don’t come often,” East Surry center Josh Fregia said. “When you get them, you’ve got to seize the opportunity.”
A powerful running game led by Lucas Koons and a physical, hard-hitting Cards defense proved to be too much for the Bears to overcome. East led 20-3 going into the fourth quarter and held off Mount Airy’s final charge.
“We have no college prospects,” Coach David Diamont said. “We just have good hard-working students that want to win. You have a guy like Lucas, who runs hard like that, you give him the football, he just makes you look good.”
Koons ran wild against the Bears — rushing for all three of the Cards’ touchdowns behind a strong offensive line. Following the game, his white East Surry jersey was covered with grass stains.
All in a day’s work.
“I’m real excited. We did what we had to do. The offensive line did real well,” Koons said. “Especially after we got beat (by Mount Airy earlier this season), it means a lot to come back and get redemption.”
Koons finished with more than 200 yards rushing on the night.
His teammates certainly don’t mind paving the way for the junior workhorse.
“Lucas is a tough guy,” center Josh Fregia said. “He’d stay in there with a broken leg. We love that about him.”
“Lucas is unreal. If we didn’t have him the offense wouldn’t be much,” fullback Casey Marion said. “Our offensive linemen did a heck of a job.”
East pounded Mount Airy for roughly 300 yards on the ground, more than twice the number of yards it posted in the first matchup this season.
“I think (our players) were embarrassed by (offensive linemen) No. 54 (Sihem Smith) and No. 78 (Isaiah King) the last time we played them. This is a tough group of kids. They were just determined to block them.”
Lineman Christian Shinault confirmed Diamont’s assessment. “We talked about being physical and bringing the wood to them,” he said.
When East wasn’t punishing the Bears’ defense with the running game, the defense was making life tough for a Bears’ offense that scored 34 points the last time the two teams met.
After Mount Airy’s Devontae Dobson recovered a first quarter fumble, the Bears were set up deep in Cards’ territory. But the East defense was too strong and the Bears had to settle for a Mitchell Brown field goal and a 3-0 lead.
“When we held them there, I knew tonight was going to be special,” Diamont said.
Shay Wilson broke free for a big first-quarter run, but the Bears fumbled later on the drive, and East capitalized. Koons took a handoff from quarterback John Dickenson straight up the middle and dashed 80 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. Andrew Kozlow’s extra point made it 7-3 Cards with 11:48 left in the second quarter.
Koons scored again to make it 13-3 with 7:01 to go in the quarter. Mount Airy blocked the extra point. On the ensuing kickoff, the Bears had a big return, but it was called back on a holding penalty. Neither team would score until the second half. Koons scored on a 20-yard run to stretch the lead to 20-3 with 4:07 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bears got their only touchdown when Wilson scored on a 55-yard TD run with 8:13 left. Mount Airy forced a 3-and-out and had a golden opportunity to make it a one-score game down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Logan Holder took a shot at the end zone, but defensive back Chase Brewster broke up the pass intended for Caleb Horton.
“I was worried. I thought I was beat,” Brewster said. “But I saw the ball hit his hands and I just made a play on it and knocked it out.”
On the next play, Holder was pressured by East’s defense and his fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
Defensive coordinator Randy Marion was confident in Brewster’s ability to make a defensive play. “We wanted to put him on their best receiver. He rose to the occasion,” Marion said.
East was able to pick up a first down and run the clock all the way down to 32 seconds.
Up next for the Cardinals (11-2) is a third-round game against West Montgomery, a 56-34 winner over North Stanly on Friday night.
“We are going on. We get to practice on Thanksgiving Day,” Diamont said.
After the game, the players raised their helmets toward the visiting stands, and the East Surry fans roared.
“It’s just surreal,” Brewster said. “We are ready to play next week. It feels good. We get to practice another week.”