Cardinals return to West Regional Final | Yadkin Ripple

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				                                East Surry’s Trey Armstrong (5) pushes a Maiden defender to the side.
                                 JR Willoughby Photography

East Surry’s Trey Armstrong (5) pushes a Maiden defender to the side.

JR Willoughby Photography

PILOT MOUNTAIN — N.C. State wasn’t the only football team that pulled off an incredible comeback Friday night.

East Surry overcame a 14-point deficit against Maiden by scoring two touchdowns in the final 7:25 of play and sealing the victory with a late interception. The fourth-quarter comeback gave the Cardinals a 36-35 win in the fourth round of the 2A State Playoffs, which sends East Surry back to the Final Four for the fourth-straight year.

“I told the guys this might be the best win I’ve ever been a part of,” said East Surry coach Trent Lowman.

The fourth-year Cardinal head coach said the win over Maiden ranked in the same category of importance as East Surry’s 2019 1AA State Championship win over Tarboro and the road win over defending 2A State Champion Reidsville earlier that year.

“But how do you even go about ranking those three,” he said.

Despite being the No. 2 seed in the 2A West, East Surry was named a six-point underdog against Maiden by Simmons Ratings. The Cardinals (13-0) were also picked to lose their third-round game against Monroe by the site, but also won that game by a point.

Lowman said the Cardinal players never even considered that their season would end in November.

“These kids, I’m telling you, they believe they can beat anybody that lines up in front of them…and so far they have,” Lowman said. “We’ve got several guys that have played in two or three football state title games, and some that have also competed for a baseball state championship. They’ve been there and will do anything to get back. Then we’ve got others that don’t have much championship experience that are just so dedicated to the team they will put in the work.”

“The confidence they have in each other and the buy-in to us as a coaching staff is unlike any I’ve ever seen before. It’s a true testament to this community and the great job done by their parents.”

East Surry continued its streak of standout defensive performance against the Blue Devils (13-1) by forcing four turnovers. Maiden quarterback Ben Gibbs only threw four interceptions through the Devils’ first 13 games, but was picked off by East Surry three times: twice by Luke Bowman and once by Folger Boaz.

Bowman also blocked a PAT, and forced a fumble that he recovered himself and returned 48 yards for a touchdown. East Surry now has at least one interception in each of its last eight games and has forced multiple turnovers in 8-of-13 games this season.

Lowman praised defensive coordinator Randy Marion and all the defensive coaches for their work this year after the Cardinals lost most of their defensive starters from last season.

“Our defensive staff does not get the credit they really deserve,” Lowman said. “The defensive success comes from player development and the preparation the coaches do to get guys ready to play. Coach Marion is the best I’ve seen at getting a lot of guys in-game experience early in the season so they have the confidence to come in and make a difference late in the year.”

Kyle Zinn led East Surry with 15 total tackles, including 1.0 tackle for a loss. Brett Clayton added 10 tackles, followed by Hatcher Hamm with nine, Joseph Grezmak with seven and Kole Pruitt with six.

The Cardinal offense finished with 352 total yards and turned the ball over just once. Boaz passed for all 210 of East’s yards in the air on 17-of-24 completions, and also threw the team’s only touchdown pass to Trey Armstrong. Boaz also carried the ball 25 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

Armstrong was the only player other than Boaz to earn positive rushing yards. The senior rushed 11 times for 40 yards and touchdown. Armstrong was also the leading receiver with seven catches for 67 and a TD. Layton Allen added five catches for 57 yards, Luke Brown had one catch for 35 yards, Stephen Brantley had three receptions for 33 yards and Colby Johnson had one catch for 18 yards.

The Cardinals received the opening kickoff and quickly put points on the board. East rushed five times and passed three times as the Cards marched 83 yards in 3:04. Boaz ran the touchdown in, and Brantley hit his first of four PATs to give East a 7-0 advantage.

Maiden’s deadly passing offense was held below 180 yards for the sixth time this season as QB Ethan Rhodes went for 178 yards on 9-of-19 completions. Rhodes was held to single-digit completions for just fourth time this season, but the Devils did manage to extend their streak of passing touchdowns. Rhodes found Alec Hall for a 32-yard TD reception just 92 seconds after East’s touchdown.

The Cardinals punted on their next drive, but got the ball back on Bowman’s first interception. This led directly to Boaz’s second rushing touchdown later in the first quarter.

East Surry held on to its lead until Rhodes punched in a 1-yard TD with 3:46 left in the second quarter. A penalty on East Surry moved Maiden closer to the goal line for the point after, so Rhodes ran it in himself to put the Devils up 15-14.

Maiden built its lead up two minutes later when Ben Gibbs, who rushed 30 times for 150 yards, scored his first of two rushing touchdowns. The PAT was blocked by Bowman to leave the score at 21-14. This was East Surry’s first halftime deficit of the season.

Things went from bad to worse for the home team when Maiden scored to open the second half. The Cardinals charged down to the Blue Devil 33, but turned the ball over on downs.

Bowman helped get the Cardinals back on track when he stripped a Maiden receiver and returned the fumble 48 yards to the end zone. The Cards kicked off to the Blue Devils only for Bowman to pick Rhodes off again. Rhodes was held to a completion percentage of .474 on 9-of-19 passing. Prior to Friday’s game, Rhodes only had two games of multiple interceptions in three seasons.

East Surry had a chance to tie things up, but turned the ball over with 2:24 left in the third quarter. Maiden held the ball for close to five minutes of game time before Rhodes threw his second passing touchdown of the game.

East Surry desperately needed to put points on the board on its next drive. The Cards marched into Blue Devil territory but faced fourth-and-9 from the 39. Boaz connected with Brown for a 35-yard gain. Boaz scored his second rushing touchdown two plays later.

The Cards originally attempted to kick the PAT for one point, but a flag called on Maiden moved East closer and changed the game plan. Boaz plugged the 2-point conversion in to make it a 35-29 game.

The Blue Devils looked to run out the clock, but only made it 10 total yards before having to punt back to East with 3:49 left to play. The Cards alternated between running and passing to reach the red zone in only five plays. Boaz ran 7 yards on first-and-goal from the 10, then Armstrong barreled through for the game-tying touchdown. Brantley nailed the PAT to give East its first lead since the second quarter.

Maiden had 2:10 left on the clock, was down 7 points and started on its own 20. Rhodes dropped back to pass on the first play of the drive and was picked off by Boaz. East started at the Blue Devil 45-yard line and moved the chains just enough to exhaust Maiden’s remaining timeouts. The Cardinals went into victory formation to run out the clock and advance to the 2A West Regional Championship.

“One of my lifetime rivals has been Maiden,” said Lowman, who formerly coached and played football at Bandys High School. “That was one of the best Maiden teams I’ve ever seen. They’re extremely well coached. They have several coaches on that staff that have been head coaches at the high school level or coached at Power 5 schools.”

East Surry now holds the Surry County record for single-season playoff wins in the 2A division since 1972, which is as far back as the N.C. High School Athletic Association has brackets available. Mount Airy is the only other county team to reach the 2A Regional Final, doing so in 1987 by winning three playoff games.

East Surry now has to walk into the Lion’s den of Shelby High School. Shelby (13-1) is the No. 1 ranked team in the 2A West and defeated Reidsville 31-14 in the fourth round.

“Not many people go into Shelby and win, but we’ve got a group that, like I said, they believe they can beat anyone,” Lowman said. “We’ve got the attitude; we just have to execute our game plan and be willing to adjust if the situation calls for it. That’s something I think we’ve done a really good job of, especially here in the playoffs.”

The West Regional Championship will take place at Shelby High School on Friday, Dec. 3.

Scoring

Maiden – 7, 14, 7, 7 = 35

East Surry – 14, 0, 7, 15 = 36

1Q

8:56 ESHS 7-0 – Folger Boaz pass to Trey Armstrong 16-yard TD reception, Stephen Brantley PAT

7:24 MHS 7-7 – Ethan Rhodes pass to Alec Hall 32-yard TD reception, Carson Foard PAT

1:04 ESHS 14-7 – Folger Boaz 1-yard rush TD, Stephen Brantley PAT

2Q

3:46 MHS 14-15 – Ethan Rhodes 1-yard rush TD, Ethan Rhodes 2-point conversion rush

1:36 MHS 14-21 – Ben Gibbs 3-yard rush TD, PAT blocked by Luke Bowman

3Q

10:30 MHS 14-28 – Ben Gibbs 1-yard rush TD, Carson Foard PAT

5:48 ESHS 21-28 – Luke Bowman forces fumble, recovers and takes 48 yards for a TD, Stephen Brantley PAT

4Q

9:44 MHS 21-35 – Ethan Rhodes pass to Jacob Sigmon 30-yard TD reception, Carson Foard PAT

7:25 ESHS 29-35 – Folger Boaz 1-yard rush TD, Folger Boaz 2-point conversion rush

2:10 ESHS 36-35 – Trey Armstrong 3-yard rush TD, Stephen Brantley PAT

Reach Cory on Twitter @MaNewsSports

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