On a night when the century-long legacy of Mount Airy High School football was celebrated, the current Granite Bears played a half of football that stands alongside any that the program has ever played.
When the final buzzer sounded, they had their first addition to that legacy.
The state’s third-ranked 1A team scored on its first four possessions of the second half Friday night, turning a tightly-contested battle with Walkertown for the Northwest Conference crown into a blowout. Mount Airy’s 42-14 victory secures no worse than a conference co-championship and No. 1 seed in the upcoming state playoffs.
The Bears (10-0, 5-0 NW1A) can win the title outright next week with a win over arch-rival East Surry (7-3, 3-2).
“We’ve been talking about finishing games all year,” said Mount Airy coach Kelly Holder. “Winning pretty and not winning ugly. We really did a good job.”
Mount Airy had plenty of potential distractions in Friday night’s game. Prior to kickoff, the school held a ceremony honoring the program for achieving its 700th all-time victory, which research by Doug McDaniel discovered actually occurred on Oct. 6 when the Bears beat Winston-Salem Prep. Last week, head coach Kelly Holder achieved his personal 200th career win and his 177th at Mount Airy when the Bears beat Atkins, and he was seeking to pass Jerry Hollingsworth and become the school’s all-time winningest coach on Friday. Several former players and coaches were honored before the game, including Hollingsworth (1969-90) and somewhat ironically, current East Surry coach David Diamont (1991-95).
Holder has deflected attention away from himself throughout discussion of these milestones, and following the game, said that he never would have won any games at MAHS if not for Hollingsworth himself.
“Jerry Hollingsworth is why I’m here,” said Holder, who was the coach at Surry Central from 1996-98 before taking over the Bears. “He called me one night and asked me if I would be interesting in applying. I said ‘if you’re calling me,’ with the respect I had for him, then I said I would apply. I’ll never be the coach that Wallace Shelton was or that Jerry Hollingsworth was, but I sure would hope that when I’m done, I’ll have just a snippet of the respect they have in this community.”
On top of all that, the game was Mount Airy’s Homecoming, because the school moved the game with Prep to a Thursday night to avoid Hurricane Matthew and didn’t want to have a celebration then. At halftime, senior Jessica Bevard was crowned as the 2016 Homecoming Queen.
To that point in the game, the Bears hadn’t actually played poorly, but they hadn’t performed as well as they could have. Mount Airy led 14-7 at intermission after allowing a 28-yard touchdown pass from Kendrick Campbell to Denzel Hayes on a fourth-and-15 with 89 seconds left in the first half.
Up to that point, the Bears had played solid defense against the Wolfpack, but hadn’t done a great job of capitalizing on Walkertown’s three first-half turnovers. They had finally taken a 7-0 lead with 8:44 left in the second quarter on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Jackson Smith to Ian Holder, then extended it to 14-0 on an 11-yard connection between the same two players with 3:34 left. That one was set up by Cole Shelton’s interception of Campbell and subsequent 44-yard return to the Wolfpack’s 28-yard line.
However, surrendering the late score to the Wolfpack got the Bears mad. And dealing with mad Bears is bad.
“Our defense…,” said Holder. “We’re kind of young in the secondary, two sophomores and two juniors at one point, but Cole stepped up and made a interception, and (Grayson Corbin) played hurt in the second half and sucked it up.”
Mount Airy had to wait almost 20 minutes to get out and hit some Walkertown players again. When they did, the Wolfpack was doomed.
“That score kind of got our attention, including us as coaches too,” said Holder.
The Bears started their opening drive of the second half at their 14 and methodically marched the length of the field with textbook execution. At one point, Malik Frost was caught in the backfield for a four-yard loss, broke the tackle and sprinted for a gain of 16 to the Walkertown 28. The Wolfpack held again and forced a fourth down, but Frost ran through another tackle and moved the chains. Three plays later, Smith faked a handoff to Frost and ran through the middle of the defense to paydirt, reaching the ball over the goal line to make it 21-7. Mount Airy had eaten up exactly half of the third quarter on the 86-yard scoring march.
Walkertown (5-5, 4-1) never gave up — the NW1A title was on the line for it too, and they could care less about Holder’s milestone — and the visitors quickly crossed midfield on their first series of the second half. The Bears held them there and the Wolfpack lined up to punt on fourth-and-9, but changed their minds after the Bears jumped offsides. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise when the defense stopped them, giving Mount Airy the ball at its own 47-yard line.
Time for the big, bad Bears on the offensive line to go to work. Three straight runs by Frost moved the ball to the Walkertown 29. Then Ian Holder got a carry and picked up six. Back to Frost for two more carries and a third-and-2 at the 15. Smith got five to move the chains.
On first-and-goal at the 10, Frost got the call again, and this time the Wolfpack keyed on him and overwhelmed the blocking. By the time the 5’10”, 170-pound senior had reached the 7, he literally had half of the Walkertown defense trying to drag him down. But he kept his legs moving and dragged them all into the end zone with him, giving the Bears a 28-7 lead with 68 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Our offensive line really did a great job in the second half,” said Holder. “They did great, and Malik starting hitting his holes. Malik hasn’t been a running back but a little over a year, and he really kicked it up in the second half.”
Mount Airy’s next possession started at its own 43 after another turnover on downs in the final period. They scored in just three plays and 78 seconds, with the second one being a Jackson keeper for 35 yards to the Wolfpack 16, and the next one a nifty cutback run by Frost for the rest. This made it 35-7 with 8:27 remaining.
Campbell hooked up with Hayes a second time at the 6:10 mark, this time for 47 yards and a score to pull the visitors back within 21, but Corbin Welch fell on Walkertown’s onside kick attempt, and the Bears drove 54 yards for another touchdown, this one on a 10-yard run by Smith with 3:30 remaining to complete the scoring.
Mount Airy’s Clayton Cogdell recovered a Wolfpack fumble on that team’s first play from scrimmage, and Corbin later intercepted an Campbell pass in the first half as well.
The Bears will go for their first perfect regular season since the 2009 state runners-up next Friday, when Diamont will return to Wallace Shelton Stadium with his Cardinals, looking to spoil the Bears’ Senior Night.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.