Week four of the high school football season finds two local teams trying to maintain their unblemished slates this season, a second trying to keep up the momentum after two straight wins, and a fourth looking to get back on track after a tough loss, albeit against a very strong opponent.
Mount Airy, the state’s fourth-ranked 1A team according to NCPreps.com, visits county rival North Surry in the only game of the week pitting two local teams. The Granite Bears were tabbed as the preseason favorites to win the Northwest Conference title this season, and they have looked the part so far, handily winning their first three games of the season. Meanwhile, the Greyhounds have been unable to get their entire projected starting lineup onto the field in any of their first three games. They earned a win over Elkin two weeks ago, but were beaten 31-21 by East Surry last week, and will need to step things up to have a shot at beating the Bears.
As for the Cardinals, they appear to have overcome a lot of growing pains in the first three weeks of the season, but will face a stern test this Friday night. East Surry (2-1) plays host to West Stokes, which is 2-1 this season with its only loss coming to Mount Airy. The Wildcats, like the Cardinals, lost quite a bit to graduation after winning its conference in 2015, but West Stokes is still a formidable foe that will test East Surry, as well as provide a litmus test as to how they compare to Mount Airy at this point in the season.
Last but not least, Surry Central is off to its best start to a season since 2003, and they’ll look to keep it that way on their road trip to winless Elkin (0-3). The Buckin’ Elks have struggled this season, dropping their first three games by an average of 36.7 points, but the Golden Eagles will want to stay focused on the task at hand and not look ahead to next week’s rivalry game with Mount Airy.
MOUNT AIRY AT NORTH SURRY
This game is always very competitive, and no one expects anything different this season. Last year, the Bears used a strong defensive effort in the second half to rally from a 15-6 halftime deficit and pull out a 16-15 victory. All of the games since 2012 have been highly competitive and not decided until the fourth quarter, but the Greyhounds last beat Mount Airy in 2006, when they prevailed 27-26.
To end that skid, Coach Danny Lyons will look to get his team completely healthy, as two key starters were not in the lineup during last week’s loss to East Surry. In addition, the team got starting quarterback Avery Smith back, and Smith had a very effective first half running the ball, but was clearly rusty in the passing game and not in top form, as he suffered serious cramps during the second half that kept him off the field. With a game and a full week of practice under his belt, the Hounds hope their defending Western Piedmont Player of the Year will be back in 2015 form.
He’ll need to be, because the Bears’ defense has been a wrecking crew so far. Led by senior Gabriel King, who already has a team-high six tackles for losses this season, Mount Airy has made it difficult for opponents to get anything going offensively. Senior linebacker Clayton Cogdill leads the team with 29 total tackles, followed closely by junior Greyson Tucker (28), senior Corbin Welch (25), and King with 20. The Bears have been solid in all phases of the game so far, and even an injury to quarterback Jackson Smith didn’t slow them down, as sometime 2015 starter Ian Holder has stepped in and played the position better than he ever had before.
However, another key matchup may involve the Mount Airy rushing attack against the Hounds’ defense. East Surry controlled the line of scrimmage and ran for 364 yards last week. With the Bears another team that can run the ball effectively, North Surry will have to do a better job of stopping the run to claim a victory this week.
WEST STOKES AT EAST SURRY
This was a shootout down in King last year, with the Cardinals pulling out a 42-28 victory and handing the Wildcats their only regular-season defeat. However, neither team is anything like what it was a year ago, and the teams that will take the field on Friday will be completely different except for the helmets they’re wearing.
East Surry looked extremely impressive in its ground attack against North Surry last week, but will be stepping up to take on a West Stokes team that is known for playing physical football in its own right. The Wildcats are noted for their ability to wear down opponents, and being a 2A school, they have more depth than the Cardinals.
West Stokes opened the season with a 35-13 victory against a Central Davidson team that hasn’t won in two years, and then played respectably but fell 21-7 at home to Mount Airy on Aug. 26. Last week, they down North Iredell 26-9 to edge back over the .500 mark.
MaxPreps.com rates East Surry as a solid favorite in this game, with a much higher rating (178 vs. 216), but the power ratings are notoriously volatile this early in the season, and the best advantage the Cardinals might have in this contest is having their hometown crowd behind them.
SURRY CENTRAL AT ELKIN
The Golden Eagles will likely enter this game as bigger favorites than they have been in any game for many years. With Central off to a 3-0 start that includes back-to-back one-point wins over quality opponents, the team has risen to No. 19 among 2A teams in the MaxPreps.com power ratings. In the meantime, Elkin is coming off a 62-7 wipeout at the hands of Mount Airy, right on the heels of a 40-6 loss to North Surry.
It’s likely that the Elks aren’t as weak as those scores suggest, and the team has done several things well in those games, but not enough to avoid being decisively beaten. However, they’ll be once again facing a huge chasm in depth and experience — Surry Central has almost as many senior football players (20) as Elkin has players (30).
The main focus for the Golden Eagles, as it has been all season, will be to play mistake-free football and to hopefully avoid the kind of injuries that derailed their 2015 season. Central has been solid in all phases of the game this season, and much of the adversity they have faced in their first three games was self-inflicted, due to penalties or turnovers at inopportune times. However, the team has responded to each challenge, giving the young East Surry team a hard lesson in varsity football in their opener, then downing both East Wilkes and Wilkes Central with poised play down the stretch in the fourth quarter.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.