RONDA — The East Wilkes Cardinals weren’t perfect Friday night, but when the team needed it most, it was two sophomores who connected for the deciding play.
Sophomore quarterback Bryce Vestal found Jared Wood for a go-ahead 46-yard touchdown pass with a little more than two minutes remaining in regulation. The touchdown was one of three for the Cardinals in the second half and capped off a thrilling comeback against the Ashe County Huskies (4-4, 2-2 MVAC).
“Wow, what a great feeling,” Vestal said. “Jared and I have chemistry. … I just threw it up and let him do his thing. It feels great coming back and getting this win for my brothers; couldn’t have done it without every one of them.”
Vestal has been doing well so far in his first three weeks as starting quarterback for the Cardinals (8-0, 4-0 MVAC). Since senior Chris Ward went down against North Wilkes, Vestal has been strong in a 49-0 win over Alleghany and a 55-0 win over Elkin.
However, not only were the Huskies on the board Friday night, the visitors had a 22-7 lead at halftime. Despite the slow start for the Cardinals, the home team knew it wasn’t over.
“We looked adversity in the face and smiled,” senior defensive tackle Quincy Lineberger said. “We scrapped and made it happen.”
East Wilkes entered the game as the only undefeated team in the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference, and wanted to keep the status. The Cardinals got to work on offense and pulled to within two points. That’s when senior Alec Anderson came up with an interception to shift the momentum. On the ensuing possession, Carlos Aquino kicked a field goal to give East Wilkes its first lead since the opening quarter. However, Ashe responded to get the lead right back with a little more than five minutes remaining.
After Wood’s touchdown put the Cardinals ahead by one, they were successful on a two-point conversion attempt. It gave them a 31-28 lead with 2:21 left.
Last week, it was Coach Adkins’ decision to go for it on fourth down, and subsequent events, that turned out to be a huge factor in the win against Elkin. This time around, the team took another big risk with an onside kick, then it was recovered by Weston Miller, essentially icing it for the Cardinals.
“It took some guts to call that onside/pooch kick,” Vestal said.
Next up for East Wilkes is a road trip to Starmount (5-3, 3-1 MVAC). After starting the season off with two straight losses, the Rams looks like they’ve hit their stride. If both teams can stay healthy, it’s clear that Friday night’s game will be the game of the week. Starmount’s young offensive line has grown, and it showed in a 54-13 win over North Wilkes, where all seven offensive touchdowns were on the run. Both teams have the mentality that they refuse to lose, but someone’s got to do it.
Ryan DeCosta can be reached at 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.