BOONVILLE — The philosophy was simple for Starmount head coach Scott Johnson Friday night against Cherryville: hand the ball off to Will Simpson.
The senior turned in his second, three-touchdown performance in as many weeks to power the Rams to a convincing 21-0 victory in the second round of the 1AA state playoffs.
“The score doesn’t indicate how much we dominated this game. They limited our big play potential, but we grinded out I don’t know how many yards tonight,” Johnson explained. “I am disappointed in the number of penalties and turnovers we had — we had been doing really well with that, but it’s something that we can correct.
“We felt like we could score every time we got it,” he continued. “I’m disappointed that we punted — and I don’t mean that in any ugly way — because it was stuff where we made mistakes that made us punt. But they played hard and got after it;’ I’m proud of them. Winning 10 games again is big. We’ll just get ready for Swain.”
Starmount (10-3) advances to the third round of the bracket, where powerhouse Swain County (11-2) waits. The Maroon Devils, who have reached the state title game the past two seasons, winning it all in 2011, knocked off Avery County 31-10 Friday night to reach the third round.
The Rams marched down the field with ease on their opening drive of the game, but fumbled the ball away at the 11. After forcing a three-and-out on defense, Starmount took advantage of ideal field position.
Simpson broke off a 30-yard run to the 13 before converting a fourth-and-4 near the goal-line. The senior capped the drive with a one-yard plunge to put the Rams up 7-0 late in the first.
After another three-and-out by the Ironmen, Starmount picked up first-down runs by John Johnson and Joe Walker before Zach Freed connected with Austin Holcomb to move the chains down inside the redzone.
On fourth-and-goal, Simpson scored his second touchdown of the night from two yards out to extend the lead out to 14-0.
Cherryville finally managed a first down nearly eight minutes into the second quarter, driving the ball to the 22. But the Ironmen missed a 39-yard field goal attempt to head into the locker room down 14.
Starmount made the most out of its first possession of the second half, moving the ball down the field, helped by a roughing the passer penalty.
Simpson found paydirt for the third time on the night from 12 yards out to give the Rams a commanding 21-0 edge with 3:39 remaining in the frame.
Starmount’s defense then took over, recovering a fumble at its own 7-yard line to keep the shutout intact before Trey Bryant knocked down a fourth-down pass to force a turnover on downs.
After the Rams coughed off the ball trying to run out the clock, safety Gunner Cass sealed the game with a interception near midfield as Starmount ran out the clock to preserve the 21-0 victory.
“This is probably the last time we’ll get to play at home this year because the way things are shaking out,” Johnson said. “But to win their last home game, win a conference championship and be in the third round — they’ve done some really good things, but we’re not satisfied.”
The Rams racked up 341 yards of total offense with 19 first downs, out-gaining Cherryville by nearly 200 yards (341-143) and dominating the number of first downs (19-8).
Simpson tallied a game-high 98 yards on the ground, while Ken Kelly added 51. Johnson tacked on 50 more yards with Kyle Matthews (35), Bryant (29) and Aaron Skeens (23) recording over 20 yards in the game.
Freed completed 5-of-7 passes on the night for 37 yards.
Starmount now turns its attention Swain County, winners of its last eight games.
“I haven’t played Swain County since 1999 or 2000, but I know they’ve been in the state championship game two years in a row, so I’m sure they’ll be well-coached. We’ll just have to look at them and see what we can do,” Johnson added.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.