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PILOT MOUNTAIN – A defensive showdown took place on Friday night as two teams averaged over 44 points per game for under 20.
Both defenses shone under the bright lights of David H. Diamont Stadium as the Monroe Redhawks looked to take out the East Surry Cardinals, and vice versa. The teams faced each other for 48 minutes in the third round playoff game. In the end, it was the boys from the small town of Pilot Mountain who celebrated the victory with a score of 10-9.
“You know, we sat in the coaching office all week talking about this game,” East Surry coach Trent Lowman said. “We sat there before the game and each of us said, ‘It’s going to be tight, and it’s going to be a lot less marked than we think,’ and it certainly was.”
East (12-0) and Monroe are both very familiar with the deep playoffs and have both won state championships in the past five years. The Cardinals won the 1AA West regional championship in 2018, 2019 and spring 2021, and also won the 1AA state title in 2019.
Monroe (8-2) has competed in the Western Regional Championship four times since 2013. The Redhawks finished second in Regional 3A in Spring 2021, Regional 2AA finalist in 2016 and Regional Champions 2AA in 2013 and 2015. Monroe won the 2AA State Championship in 2015.
Friday’s game marks Monroe’s first loss to a Division 2A team since December 9, 2016, when the Redhawks lost the 2AA West Regional Championship to eventual champion Shelby. Friday’s nine-point performance was also the fewest points scored by the Redhawks against a 2A team since 2016.
“Coach [Randy] Marion and our supporters have come to the defense, ”Lowman said. “They (Monroe) were scoring points all year round on people, and our defense stopped them. They really did. They are talked about a lot as being the best 2A team in the state, and we just stood up to them. I’m really proud of our guys.
East Surry forced three turnovers from Monroe after the Redhawks committed just four in their first nine games this season. Trey Armstrong and Luke Brown each had an interception, and Armstrong forced a fumble which was recovered by teammate Joseph Grezmak. Monroe was held to just 1 in 5 on conversions in fourth.
Both East Surry scores were established by take-out defense.
The Cardinals’ offense worked effectively throughout the first half, but stagnated as it came to scoring points on the board. The team started with a 12-game, 4:12 practice that ended in a missed field goal, then forced an interception that went to the Redhawks four games later.
Monroe used that turnover to kick off a 5-game practice that ended with Khamoni Robinson completing a 41-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Davis. Luke Bowman blocked PAT to leave the score 6-0.
The Cardinals kicked off their next possession, then returned the ball to the downs in their first series of the second quarter. Following the leadership changes, Brown knocked out Robinson in the first game of the Redhawks’ push. Brown returned the 30-yard interception to the Redhawk 25.
Armstrong ran twice to put the cards in the red zone, then Boaz had two big completions to put East Surry on the board. Stephen Brantley’s PAT made it 7-6 for East before half-time.
After trading possessions to start the second half, Monroe had his longest workout of the night. The 11-game 5:04 game saw the Redhawks go as far as Cardinal’s 13-yard line. Robinson threw an incomplete pass on the second down before being sacked for the first time. Brett Clayton, who led East Surry with nine tackles, clinched the sack.
After blocking the PAT earlier, Monroe’s Angel Valenzuela converted a 35-yard field goal to give the Redhawks a 9-7 lead.
Monroe started the fourth quarter in Cardinal territory with the chance to increase by two points. Kyle Zinn covered a third attempt to set up the fourth and fifth and, with star running back Nate Crosby sidelined, Monroe opted to pitch again.
Robinson completed a pass to Shaleak Knotts who failed the first try. When Knotts, a four-star rookie who had 21 Division I offerings before enlisting in Maryland in August, turned to running, he was knocked out by Armstrong. The ball landed on the grass and was picked up by Grezmak.
Monroe’s defense continued to cause problems for the Cardinals’ passing offense in the second half, so East adjusted. Boaz and Armstrong led East Surry in a rushed play-off in which the Cards attempted just four assists in the second half. The duo alternated carries for more than five minutes of playing time to reach the red zone.
East quickly found himself in a similar situation to the first quarter when he was fourth and -2 on the 15-yard line. After calling for a time out, Lowman sent Brantley to hit a 32-yard field goal. The junior kicker missed his first attempt of the game for 31 yards; his power was more than enough, but the kick was wide in the first quarter.
Brantley got his redemption by kicking the studs with 5:50 to go.
Deciding to hit the basket instead of going fourth and second, Lowman said, “You have to trust your players. We stopped them and we had two more timeouts. I felt like even if we missed we were going to get the ball back with a chance. I trusted our guys, and trusted both our defense and our offense in case we missed it. You have to let the players play.
Brantley made another life saving play in the ensuing kickoff. Knotts dodged Cardinal after Cardinal to go deep into the territory of East Surry. Brantley was the last man to return as a kicker and ultimately knocked Knotts down on Cardinal 17.
Zion Lindsey ran twice for the Redhawks but only gained three yards. Robinson fell back to fourth, but his pass was incomplete. Valenzuela entered the field to attempt a field goal from 31 yards, but he failed to score.
East Surry only needed to move the chains a few times to get the time going. Behind a fiery offensive line, Boaz and Armstrong took the Cardinals from their own 20 yards to the Redhawks’ 12-yard line to run out of time.
Monroe was limited to 208 total yards, the lowest of the season, just seven days after recording 612 total yards in a 60-29 victory. The Redhawks rushed 20 times for 101 yards and Robinson completed 10 of 22 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.
East Surry finished with 292 total yards. Boaz completed 13 of 22 passes for 93 yards and Armstrong was the main receiver with five catches for 31 yards. Layton Allen added four catches for 21 yards, followed by Colby Johnson with two catches for 21 yards, Brown with a receive for 13 yards and Grezmak with a receive for four yards.
Boaz led all rushers with 22 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown. Armstrong was next with 14 carries for 68 yards, Zinn added two carries for 8 yards, Johnson had one for 4 yards, and Allen had one for a four yard loss.
East Surry’s victory puts the Cardinals in the fourth round of the 2A State Playoffs. Since 1972, which dates back as far as the NC High School Athletic Association posted parentheses on their website, only two Surry County football teams have won three games in the Division 2A playoffs in one season. The first was Mount Airy in 1987, and the second is this year’s East Surry team.
“These guys are pretty tough and they have a lot of heart,” Lowman said.
The No.2 East Surry will host the No.3 Maiden in the Western Regional Semi-Final on November 26. Maiden (13-0) is the champion of the Catawba Valley Athletic Conference. The Blue Devils beat No.30 Mount Pleasant 37-7 in the first round, No.14 West Lincoln 47-0 in the second round and No.6 Salisbury 32-20 in the third round.
The winner of East Surry-Maiden will face winner of No.1 Shelby (12-1) and No.4 Reidsville (12-0) in the 2A West Regional Championship.
Forbush – 6, 0, 3, 0 = 9
Surry East – 0, 7, 0, 3 = 10
4:07 MHS 0-6 – Khamoni Robinson passes to Bryce Davis receiving 43 touchdown yards, PAT blocked by Luke Bowman
2:52 ESHS 7-6 – Folger Boaz TD from 2 yards rushing, Stephen Brantley PAT
4:28 MHS 7-9 – Angel Valenzuela 35-yard field goal
5:46 ESHS 10-9 – Stephen Brantley’s 32-yard field goal