MOUNT AIRY — Mount Airy’s football team did its best to hide just how badly last year’s 20-0 drubbing at the hands of county rival Surry Central had rankled them for the past 365 days.
Until they avenged it, at least.
“We were just happy to get this game over with, because we wanted to get this off our chest,” said Granite Bear head coach Kelly Holder following his team’s 42-7 victory Friday night at Wallace Shelton Stadium. “We’ve been holding onto it for a year.”
The Granite Bears, ranked No. 3 in the state’s 1A ranks according to MaxPreps.com, scored on their first possession of the game and never trailed, leading by as much as 21-0 in the first half and then scoring three unanswered touchdowns after intermission to put the game away.
Surry Central, the state’s 13th-ranked 2A team coming into the contest, struggled mightily to get anything going offensively in suffering its first loss of the season. The Golden Eagles (4-1) were unable to handle the pressure of the Mount Airy defensive front, led by senior Gabriel King, who spent much of the night in the Central backfield. At the end of the game, many of the Eagles stopped to congratulate the 6’1”, 240-pound senior on his performance.
“We definitely had a hard time getting their front blocked, to say the least,” said Surry Central coach Monty Southern. “It was frustrating because we came into the game with some ideas on what we wanted to do, but we just got beat so badly up front that none of it would work.
“We did not put the quality of play on the field that we thought we would. Mount Airy outcoached us, they out-worked us, they out-gameplanned us, they out-hearted us, and they definitely out-executed us. They were clearly the better team tonight.”
The visitors, who hadn’t started a season 4-0 in 13 years or been ranked in any statewide polls in at least that long, actually started off well. Chandler Johnson hooked up with Martin Palacios on a 30-yard completion that the latter wrestled away from a defender, then Central picked up nine more on a jet sweep to Noah Wilmoth. However, the Eagles’ second-and-1 at the Mount Airy 28-yard line quickly turned into second-and-6 because of a penalty. Two more plays left them in a fourth-down situation, and King sacked Johnson for a seven-yard loss.
The Bears responded by going 63 yards in 10 plays, most of it on the ground. Malik Frost carried the ball on seven of those plays, finally hitting paydirt from two yards out with 5:54 left in the first quarter.
Surry Central got another taste of King on its next series, as he leveled an Eagle ball-carrier for a five-yard loss on first down. They couldn’t overcome this, and went three plays and a punt. But Central’s defense was up to the challenge this time, with Chase Boone and Wilmoth both making tackles for losses and forcing a Mount Airy punt.
The ensuing series, which bridged the first and second quarters, was the Eagles’ best chance to get into the game. Eric Ramirez motored for 16 yards to near midfield, and then on a third-and-7 play, Palacios beat his man deep down the field. Johnson hit him in stride, and on the first play of the second quarter, the visitors had a first down at the Mount Airy 11.
Enter King again. On second down, he and teammate Ryan Edwards met at the quarterback. Johnson tried to step up out of danger, but was thrown for a loss. The next play saw Palacios get free in the end zone, but he and Johnson couldn’t quite hook up, and Robert Brown’s 30-yard field goal try from a difficult hash sailed wide right.
It only took the Bears three plays to respond. Quarterback Jackson Smith hit Frost over the middle for 17 yards and a first down at the 37. Frost picked up 10 on a carry, and then Grayson Corbin hauled in a short pass and broke three tackles, the last one at the Central 12-yard line, to earn a 53-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 8:39 left in the first half.
Mount Airy stopped Central again on its next series, but a roughing the punter penalty gave the Eagles a second life, and they moved the ball into Bear territory. However, they still had no answer for number 78 in navy blue. King stripped Johnson near midfield, and Trey Simmons recovered for the home team.
An exchange of punts followed, but even that went bad for Surry Central. A shank set Mount Airy up in business on the Eagles’ 43 with 2:28 left in the first half.
The Bears gained nine yards in the next three plays and faced fourth down at the 34. Holder decided to go for it and Smith dropped back to pass under a heavy rush. A split-second before an onrushing Central defender leveled him, the senior quarterback threw a perfect strike to a wide-open Tanner Jackson at the goal line. He stepped into the end zone and it was 21-0 with 1:38 left in the period.
“We played well and we have a chance to do some really good things, but they’re a solid football team,” said Holder. “We just caught them in some bad match-ups. What they were giving us in trips, we really liked. We didn’t use a tight end all night long.”
The Eagles caught a break when Mount Airy was flagged for catch interference on the ensuing kickoff, starting their next drive from the Bears’ 45. Johnson picked up 16 on a keeper, then, after a holding penalty, completed a pass to Jed Kidd for 33 yards down to the Mount Airy 8. A late hit moved the ball to the 4, and from there, Ramirez took the ball on a draw play, cut back through the middle of the Bear defense, and got his team on the board with 50 seconds remaining in the first half. Palacios’ point-after made it 21-7, which was the score at the break.
Central still had a chance to get back in the game, but the Eagles’ gamble on an onside kick to begin the second half backfired when the Bears’ Chase Hiatt pounced on it at his 48. Four plays later, Frost took it to the house from 40 yards out.
Down 28-7, Surry Central swept from its 33 to the Bears’ 22, but lost the ball on downs.
This time, Mount Airy scored in just two plays. Frost got around right end and took the ball 60 yards to the Central 18 before Palacios ran him down. That was just a reprieve for the Eagles, though. Smith got the rest of the yardage on the next play, and with exactly seven minutes left in the third quarter, the rout was on.
Ian Holder completed the scoring when he dashed 55 yards for a score out of the Wildcat formation with 1:10 left in the quarter. The Bears were facing a third-and-16 and brought out the Wildcat package for the first time in the game.
Surry Central will look to get back on track next week with a home game against Salisbury (1-3). The Granite Bears, now 5-0 on the year, will try to make it 6-for-6 when they start Northwest Conference play at North Stokes.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.