In its first contest since being manhandled in the regular-season finale, Mount Airy’s defense not only redeemed itself, it came close to delivering the perfect game.
The Granite Bears overcame some sluggish early offense with outstanding play in the other phases of the game, and the top seed in its half of the West Regional advanced to the second round of the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs with a 46-0 shutout of South Stanly on Friday night at Wallace Shelton Stadium.
Mount Airy (11-1) had held the Rowdy Rebel Bulls to minus-41 yards of total offense and two first downs (one by penalty) before South Stanly (4-8) picked up enough positive yardage on its last drive against the Mount Airy reserves to finish with minus-16. It was a massive turnaround from the Bears’ last game, in which they allowed 235 yards rushing to East Surry and had to settle for a three-way tie for the Northwest 1A Conference title.
The win earns Mount Airy a chance to avenge that defeat next week, when the four-seeded Cardinals (9-3) return to town. East Surry defeated Pine Lake Prep 42-0 in its first-round contest.
The final score belied just how close this game was for a while. The Bears struck quickly on their first series, going 50 yards in three plays to score on a one-yard sneak by Jackson Smith three minutes into the contest, but then started shooting themselves in the foot.
Mount Airy appeared to score on its next series, but a touchdown pass to Corbin Welch was called back for a penalty, and then the Bulls stuffed a run on fourth down to take over at their 5-yard line. The Bear defense got another stop and gave the offense a short field, but Smith threw an interception on second-and-goal from the 11 early in the second quarter.
The defense gave Mount Airy another chance on the ensuing series, when they stripped Bulls quarterback Maxton Horton and Clayton Cogdill recovered for the Bears, returning the bobble to the South Stanly 16 midway through the second quarter. However, the offense misfired again, and Robert Brown had to come on for a 26-yard field goal and a 9-0 lead with 5:21 left in the first half.
At this point, the Bears had enjoyed four possessions in the Bulls’ red zone and had just nine points to show for it.
“We just gave away so many points in the first half,” said Mount Airy head coach Kelly Holder. “We’ve got to do a much better job. I can’t put my finger on what is wrong, but we’re not doing the things on offense that we did earlier in the year, and we’ve got to get better at that.”
It wouldn’t matter on this night. The defense did a lot of the work for them.
On South Stanly’s next possession, Smith stripped Horton of the ball and had appeared to run it in for a touchdown, but the officials ruled that Horton’s forward progress was stopped before the fumble and gave the ball back to the Bulls. On the next play, Smith rectified that controversial call by picking off a pass and returning it 23 yards for a touchdown that counted. Brown nailed the point-after and the lead was 16-0 with 3:57 left in the period.
Mount Airy wasn’t done, though.
The next series saw the Bulls travel backwards 19 yards in three plays before punting, most of it on a sack of Horton by Gabriel King. With 2:39 left in the half, the Bears were back in business on the South Stanly 34, and covered the distance in five plays, the last one a 3-yard run by Malik Frost with 54 seconds before intermission.
However, the Bulls weren’t content to go to the locker room with no more damage. Grayson Corbin grabbed a pick on their first play from scrimmage, and Smith went deep on first down, hitting Jeremiah Rosser with a 35-yard touchdown pass with 26.5 seconds to go in the first half. In three and a half minutes, the game had gone from a 9-0 nail-biter to a 30-0 blowout.
The second half was no different. The Bears actually chose to punt the ball on fourth-and-1 from the Bulls’ 46 after driving 44 yards on their first series, certain that their defense would get them the ball back in even better field position. This they did. After three plays went for minus-5, South Stanly punted and Ian Holder returned it 41 yards for a touchdown with 6:17 left in the third quarter.
The Bulls’ next series lost 11 yards in three plays, and a short punt left Mount Airy just 33 yards for another score. Frost carried it in on a sweep to the right with 3:20 left in the quarter for a 43-0 lead and a running clock for the rest of the night.
“The defense played lights-out tonight,” said Holder. “They were hitting, they were physical, they were creating turnovers. We were determined that we were going to be more physical than them, and we were.”
The Bears scored one more time in the final quarter, on a 27-yard field goal by Brown with 5:41 to play.
The game ended, fittingly, on a South Stanly turnover, with the Bears’ Justin Moore falling on the ball as time expired.
The game was played on what would have been the 53rd birthday for former MAHS athletic director and assistant football coach Donald Price, and a moment of silence was held in his honor before the game. Price died on June 17 of pancreatic cancer.
Even before the game was over, there was already a lot of buzz in the stadium about the Bears’ getting a chance to avenge their only defeat, but Holder admonished his team not to focus on that.
“We haven’t talked about (East Surry), but they’re next on the schedule, so that’s who we’ll play,” said Holder.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.