RONDA - For the fourth-straight game, East Wilkes started slow. For the fourth-straight game, East Wilkes flipped the switch and mounted a furious second-half comeback. But, for the fourth-straight game, East Wilkes was on the losing end of a heart-breaking defeat.
The Cardinals remained win-less after dropping its fourth-straight tough loss to open the season Friday night as Forbush hung on for the hard-fought 31-20 victory in Ronda.
“We just made too many mistakes,” head coach JK Adkins explained. “Penalties and fumbles - the same things that have plagued us. They plagued us throughout last year and they plagued us tonight. We just didn’t take care of the football. We stopped ourselves. If you don’t play clean, you don’t have a chance to win.
“Hats off to Forbush, but I feel like we beat ourselves.”
The Cardinals stormed out of the gates Friday and couldn’t have asked for a better start.
East forced a fumble on the first play of scrimmage, getting the ball at the Falcons’ 40. The Cards then rode senior tailback Jathan Sales down the field, capping the drive with a six-yard score on the option pitch, giving East a quick 6-0 advantage at home.
But then the proverbial wheels came off.
The Falcons scored 24 unanswered points - including a pair of one-yard rushing touchdowns by quarterback Carson Fulp - to grab a commanding 24-6 lead with 1:43 remaining in the third quarter.
Not to be outdone, Forbush’s defense forced two fumbles in the span - recovered by Cody Shrewsbury and Jordan Sawyers - while forcing two more turnovers on downs to keep East off the board.
Needing an answer to keep the game from getting out of hand, Sales stepped up. The senior ripped off a 37-yard touchdown scamper down the left sideline after the Cardinals just beat the third-quarter clock to trim the deficit down to 24-12 heading to the fourth.
East’s defense then forced a punt on the Falcons’ ensuing drive to give the ball back to the offense.
West, Sales and Levi Ray rushed for back-to-back-to-back first downs, driving deep into Forbush territory. Ray capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown run on the option pitch to bring the Cardinals within four at 24-20 after Sales raced in for the tw0-point conversion.
The Falcons continued to self-destruct on offense on their next drive, recording five straight penalties near midfield to be forced to punt the ball away in the final minutes of the game.
Fulp booted a masterful punt that dropped inside the one-yard line, giving the Cardinals a 99-yard field to work with for the game-winning score with 2:43 to play.
But two plays into the drive, East fumbled the ball away for the fourth time on the night as Tyler Holden jumped on the loose ball at the 5 - a theme that has doomed the Cards this season.
“We’re just not finishing - we have to learn how to finish,” Adkins said “It’s like midway through the third quarter, we decide to play. I wish I had an answer, if I had answer, I’d be able to fix it. We’ve been in every game up to this point, we’re just not finishing.
“I wish I had an answer. I know next week we’re going to finish drills, finish sprints and finish practice strong…we’ll learn to finish and learn to close it out and make plays when it counts,” he continued.
On the next play, Sawyers galloped in for the game-sealing touchdown, pushing Forbush’s lead to 31-20. Zack Ragsdale then recorded another fumble on the Cardinals’ final drive to ice the game for the Falcons.
For the win-less Cardinals, the slate gets wiped clean when the Mountain Valley Conference schedule gets underway this week after a tough non-conference campaign.
“We’re kind of pushing the reset button,” Adkins explained. “There’s four parts to the season - preseason, non-conference, conference and playoffs - the last two far outweigh the first two. I made the schedule the way it was to get us ready for conference play, so we’ll find out if it pays off.”
East’s four non-conference opponents are a combined 10-8 on the year - South Stokes (2-3), Surry Central (2-3), North Iredell (3-1), Forbush (3-1) - which Adkins believes will pay off down the road for his program.
“We didn’t schedule teams in non-conference that weren’t going to be good for us to play,” he explained. “We wanted to schedule guys that we felt would give us a good look at what the top-end of our conference is like. Therefore we scheduled teams with good records. That’s only going to make us better.
“Honestly,” Adkins continued. “I would rather play stiff competition in non-conference and have losses on my record than to play teams that you walk over. There’s going to be some teams in our conference that are feeling good about themselves going in, but they probably haven’t played the type of competition that some of the other teams have played. I think that’s going to play out for us in the long run.
The Cardinals will get their first look at the top-end of the conference in their league opener when they travel to front-runner and county rival North Wilkes (3-1) Friday.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.