BOONVILLE — The Rams are back on top of the football world.
Starmount crushed Alleghany 35-0 Friday night in its regular-season finale in Boonville, clinching a three-way share of the Mountain Valley Conference in the process.
The championship is the fifth in the last six years for the Rams, who share this year’s title with Ashe County and North Wilkes.
“This group has overcome a lot of adversity with the injuries that we’ve had. With Zach Freed being out with mono, having Will Simpson at quarterback, with Dalton being out; we’ve just had a lot of injuries. Every week we’ve had at least three who couldn’t play. Tonight we had two more guys get banged up,” head coach Scott Johnson explained. “They’ve just showed a tremendous amount of character and love and sacrifice for one another to come back. I guess I’m a little too protective of them and I know how much they’ve put into this.
“From them to come from where they were to where they are, I’m very proud of them,” he continued. “In a lot of ways, it makes it more special. To see them pull together like they have and believe in each other. We always talk about being a real team, and this group is a real team — they care about each other. That makes it special.”
Starmount set the tone on the opening kickoff, recovering a fumble at the Trojan 36-yard line on a pooch kick.
Senior Aaron Skeens converted the turnover into points less than two minutes into the game, breaking free down the left sideline for the opening touchdown.
John Johnson then picked off Erik Lyons, returning the ball 60 yards to the 29. Three plays later, senior Will Simpson rumbled in from eight yards out to give the Rams a quick 14-0 lead eight minutes in.
Starmount jumped on a high snap on the Trojans’ ensuing punt attempt, bringing down the punter at the Alleghany 15.
Two plays later, Zach Freed rolled out right and hit Skeens on an 18-yard touchdown strike to extend the lead out to 21-0 with 1:11 left in the first quarter.
Starmount’s defense — highlighted by John Johnson’s second interception of the half — dominated in the second quarter to preserve the 21-point cushion at the break.
In the third, the Rams stuffed Alleghany on a 4th-and-9 play near midfield to end the Trojans’ best drive.
Starmount once again turned the opportunity into points as Trey Bryant capped the drive with a 13-yard run up the gut just before the horn to give the Rams a commanding 28-0 advantage.
Two more forced fumbles set up Starmount’s final score late in the game — John Johnson’s second rushing touchdown of the night, pushing the lead out to 35-0.
The junior iced the game by skying for his third interception of the night on a final heave down the right sideline, sealing the share of the championship for the Rams.
“We’ve been really trying to emphasize that,” Scott Johnson explained. “We’ve had more turnovers on offense than we’re used to. Defensively, we weren’t getting as many as we wanted for a while, so we’ve had a little bit of a competition in practice for a couple weeks in a row now. We’re really focusing on it. It’s helping us take care of the ball and creating more turnovers.”
Following a 13-10 loss to North Wilkes on Nov. 18, the Rams have reeled off three straight victories to close out the season and earn a share of the conference championship.
“They have responded to the disappointment of the turnover, flag-filled game against North Wilkes very, very well. We’ve played three really good games in a row. I’m very, very proud of them,” Scott Johnson added.
Starmount all but secured the No. 1 seed in the West in the upcoming 1A state playoffs with the win.
“From what all the experts say, this should get us the No. 1 seed in the West. That’s going to be wonderful because we’ve been in that Midwest pod in 2A. So at least everyone is going to have to come to us from the mountains, which is a big deal for us to get to play at home,” he added.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.