North Surry head football coach Danny Lyons probably spent the wee hours of Saturday morning wishing his team could have just a few plays back.
His counterpart on the Mount Airy side probably spent those same hours wishing he had a few more sons on his roster.
While he was far form the only standout for the state’s fourth-ranked 1A team, junior Ian Holder turned Friday night’s rivalry game into his own showcase, scoring three touchdowns and grabbing two interceptions in his team’s 35-14 victory over the Greyhounds.
“I thought Ian played really well, he really did,” said his father, Bears head coach Kelly Holder. “He can make big plays for us, at slot receiver, quarterback, or defensive back, and he did tonight.”
North Surry played better football than it had at any time this season despite the loss, and could make a strong argument that it deserved a better fate.
With three minutes left in the third quarter, North Surry (1-3) appeared set to go in and tie the game within a few plays, completing a comeback from two touchdowns behind and setting the stage for a second straight fourth-quarter barnburner between the two rivals. But a few minutes later, the barnburner was threatening to become a blowout for the visiting Granite Bears (4-0).
“It seems like that it is the story of our season right now,” said Lyons. “We’re down there at the 4 or 5, we get that block in the back. That doesn’t happen, we’re 21-21 with all of the momentum against the No. 4 team in 1A, and they’re better than they’ve been in six years.”
The Hounds had outplayed their guests after trailing 21-7 at intermission, and had marched from their own 25-yard line to a second-and-3 at the Mount Airy 10. Down 21-14 with 15 minutes left to play, Lyons and his team liked their chances of stunning the heavily favored Bears.
Then disaster struck, and it didn’t seem to want to let the Greyhounds out of its grasp.
Things started on a running play that appeared to have put North Surry inside Mount Airy 5-yard line. However, an illegal block was called, and set the Hounds back to their 19. The mistake proved costly when neither of the next two plays gained any yardage. On fourth down, quarterback Avery Smith found Darius Duncan inside the Bears’ 5, but the pass was high and hard, and although Duncan got two hands on the ball, he couldn’t pull it in.
Two plays later, Ian Holder turned a short pass from Jackson Smith into a 77-yard catch-and-run play for a touchdown, extending the Bears’ lead to 28-14 with 58 seconds left in the third quarter after Robert Brown made the extra point.
Still, this isn’t the end of the world if you’re North Surry. The Greyhounds have an explosive offense and a quarterback who can make a lot happen in 13 minutes.
But the fates weren’t done vexing the Hounds. To be fair, the Granite Bears weren’t letting up, either.
Moments after the score, Avery Smith threw a pass into the middle of the field that one of his receivers and the Bears’ Donovan Green went for at the same time. Both players got their hands on the ball, and there was some doubt as to who it belonged to — if Green got there first and then was tied up, it was an interception. If they got there at the same time, or it was Green who tied it up after the catch, then possession belonged to the Hounds.
The officials, after conferring, awarded the ball to Mount Airy on North Surry’s 29.
“I fought for (a tie call), but I’ll have to look at the film,” said Lyons. “I’m not so sure their guy didn’t get there a little earlier, and then our guy got his hands on it. But I have no complaints about the officiating tonight.”
From there, the Bears launched the clinching drive on a short field, with Jackson Smith bootlegging to his right from two yards out for a score with 10:31 to play.
Neither side mounted a serious threat after that, as the fatal sequence of plays seemed to deflate the Greyhounds’ fans. North Surry got inside the Mount Airy 40 in the final minute of the game, but lost the ball on downs.
The Bears started off the game strong, and perhaps no one more than Ian Holder. Both teams were forced to punt on their opening possession, but Mount Airy’s Grayson Corbin put his team in business on the Hounds’ 32 when he intercepted Avery Smith following a Bear punt.
On the first play of the second quarter, Holder entered the game at quarterback, called his own number on an end-around and dashed 25 yards for a touchdown on a third-and-13 play to draw first blood for the visitors.
Things went from bad to worse for the Hounds after the score, as Avery Smith had to fall on a bad shotgun snap at his 5. The series ended with a strong punt by Izzy Garcia, but the Bears were still in business on the North 40.
Green made a big play for Mount Airy, making a leaping catch at the Hounds’ 18 on fourth-and-12. From there, a Tanner Jackson pass reception and two runs by Malik Frost set up Ian Holder’s second touchdown, a seven-yard inside slant off play action from Jackson Smith with 6:05 left in the first half.
North Surry finally got untracked and marched 59 yards in eight plays after the score, culminating in back-to-back runs by Avery Smith, the first one for 19 yards and a first-and-goal at the 2, and then the score on the next play. With 3:10 left in the half, it was 14-7.
“We hurt ourselves quite a bit in that first half, really made some bad decisions that cost us,” said Holder, who was disappointed that his team allowed a drive-extending fake punt on that drive. “The special teams cost us a couple of times, caused our defense to be on the field too long.”
Unfortunately, the Hounds kicked the ball to Ian Holder, and he brought it out to the Bears’ 49. On the next play, Jackson Smith connected with Frost on a 51-yard touchdown pass.
However, Avery Smith was on a roll of his own, and he ran his way down to the Mount Airy 20 with the clock running down on the first half and his team out of timeouts. Corbin Welch sacked him for a 10-yard loss, and with one second left in the second quarter, Smith threw one into the end zone — where the Hounds nemesis, Ian Holder, caught it.
North Surry deked out the Bears to open the second half, executing a successful pooch kick that Duncan streaked down the sideline and recovered for his team at the Mount Airy 28. On third down after the recovery, Avery Smith hooked up with Chase Chandler for a 25-yard touchdown to pull the Hounds within 21-14 with 10:03 left in the third quarter.
“We had a surprise thing for them in practice, and when it didn’t work out (the Hounds attempted a conventional onside kick first, but were offsides), I noticed they were really tight around the hash, so I asked Izzy to drop one near the sideline,” Lyons said. “I asked Darius Duncan if he could get to it, and he said ‘yes I can.’ He made an amazing play, actually dragged his foot inbounds as he caught it.”
Thanks to a sack of Jackson Smith by North’s Chase Chandler on the next series, the Hounds got the ball back with a chance to tie, but couldn’t do it.
The Bears’ victory sets the stage for the biggest game of the season to date. Next Friday, the Bears will come home to Wallace Shelton Stadium for a showdown with fellow unbeaten Surry Central (4-0), a 42-0 winner over Elkin on Friday night. Last year, Central stunned Mount Airy 20-0 for their first win over the Bears in 18 years. North Surry will begin Western Piedmont Athletic Conference play with a trip to Winston-Salem and a game with winless Atkins (0-4), a 55-6 loser to West Wilkes on Friday.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.