DOBSON — Nine months after ending a season where almost nothing went right, Surry Central flipped the script for the first game of the 2016 football season.
The Golden Eagles spotted county rival East Surry a late first-quarter touchdown on Friday night, responded with one of their own in just 79 seconds, then dominated the rest of the game en route to a 34-14 victory, the first win for Central over the Cardinals since the 2011 season.
“These kids were on a mission tonight,” said Surry Central head coach Monty Southern. “They beat East Surry one time before, but that was in Little League. I told them that Little League doesn’t count, we need to do it in high school. The effort was great, and that’s pretty big.”
Both head coaches had voiced the opinion that the Golden Eagles would be a dangerous opponent this season, and it was demonstrated just how accurate that was after East Surry had taken a 6-0 lead with 2:30 remaining in the opening period on a three-yard touchdown run by junior Joey Ray.
Both teams had displayed first-game jitters in the early going before Cardinal head coach David Diamont had made a gutsy decision to recall his punter moments before and go for the first down on a fourth-and-1 situation from their own 45-yard line. They converted the first down, and then Ray ran 47 yards to a first-and-goal at the Central 7 on the next play. They scored three plays later.
Then the Eagles began to swarm.
On second down from their 47, Central picked up 42 yards on a pass from Chandler Johnson to Jed Kidd, giving the Eagles a first down at the East 11. Noah Wilmoth covered the remainder of the distance on the next play, a power sweep to the right in which he dragged two Cardinal defenders the last few yards into the end zone to tie the game.
The Central defense slammed the door shut on the East Surry offense on its next series. Wilmoth almost immediately ran for another score, but a penalty called it back. The Eagles then hunkered down and marched 58 yards in six plays to score on a seven-yard run by Eric Ramirez with 10:21 left in the first half. Martin Palacios kicked the extra point to make it 13-6.
Surry Central’s defense took center stage for the rest of the first half, forcing East into a three-and-out on the next two possessions. In the meantime, the Eagles misfired once when they turned the ball over inside the Cardinals’ 5-yard line, but there was no stopping the home team’s momentum.
“These guys have played so many varsity games that I knew they would get their heads right back in it (after the fumble),” said Southern. “There are going to be bad moments in every game and you have to respond. I just want to clean that up, because turnovers will hurt you.”
With the Central offense back on the sideline after the miscue encouraging the defense to get them the ball back, the Eagles made quick work of the East Surry offense and forced the Cardinals to punt on fourth-and-21. Central then marched 46 yards to paydirt, with Riley Dockery hauling in a 26-yard strike from Johnson down the home sideline for a touchdown and a 20-6 Eagle advantage with 2:03 left in the first half.
“Our guys are really tight right now, it’s a close-knit group and they are playing with a lot of synergy right now,” Southern said.
The Cardinals, who frequently provided help that Surry Central didn’t need by committing several ill-timed penalties, tried to claw their way back into the game in the second half. After the Eagles turned the ball over a section time in East Surry territory midway through the third quarter, quarterback Connor Sheets hit Garrett Barker for a 53-yard gain and a first down at the Central 10. Sheets then ran for the touchdown and a subsequent two-point conversion to make it 20-14 with 3:35 left in the period.
This was the Eagles’ night, though. On their first play from scrimmage following the East Surry score, Palacios exploded down the East Surry side of the field and ran 58 yards for a score of his own, then kicked the point-after to make it 27-14.
Central salted it away with another scoring drive on its next series, in which Johnson completed a 28-yard pass to Kidd for a first down at the 15 on the opening play of the fourth quarter. A few plays later, Wilmoth completed the scoring on a seven-yard run in which he made a nifty cutback move in the middle of the field, then darted in for the score with 10:57 remaining.
The game ended with a flourish, on an interception in the end zone by senior Hobie Arnder.
“From a coaches’ point of view, you always look at the things you could have done better, but it was exciting,” said Southern, who became Surry Central’s all-time winningest head football coach with the victory.
The Eagles also honored former Central sports standout Dave Wilmoth before the game. Wilmoth, who had served as an assistant football coach and a Dobson Police officer after college, was killed in an accident back in January. His family and friends have started a foundation in his honor — The 508 Foundation, in honor of his service number with the police.
The Eagles will try to make it two for two on the young season this coming Friday at East Wilkes. East Surry will try again for its first victory of the season when it travels to Starmount.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.