Smith from Surry, Cox heads to NJCAA golf championships
PILOT MOUNTAIN – East Surry is heading to the 1AA Football State Championship for the third consecutive season after winning the 2021 Western Regional Final.
On April 30, the second-seeded Cardinals hosted the regional final for the second time in school history. East Surry showed dominance in all three phases to defeat the No. 8 seeded Polk County Wolverines, 41-7.
Inspired by the 1977 Jerry Reed and Dick Feller hit song, the Cardinals will travel “east” to Kenan Stadium at UNC-Chapel Hill on Saturday, May 8, in a bid to “do what ‘they say it can’t be done’ and repeat as 1AA State Champions.
“It’s unreal,” East Surry coach Trent Lowman said as he reached the state championship with this group of student-athletes.
“I felt like if we had played in the fall… with a normal spring and summer, everyone was saying we had a good shot. Then it was all pushed, the momentum kinda died, Isaac [Washington] graduated early and everyone kind of wrote us off a bit. We knew we could be good, but we also knew we had a lot of work to do to get there. These guys did the job and here we are.
The approach to this year’s regional final was different from that of previous years. The journeys of the East Surry 2018, 2019 and spring 2021 football teams have been very different. Various obstacles, on and off the field, have shaped each team into a unique entity that has left its mark in the history books with a variety of “first-time” accolades.
“We felt like arriving, being our third year in a row, would help us, and we also have a team that is a little older than them. So we felt we had some advantages, ”Lowman said. “We put it in the hands of our players. If they wanted to win, we would win. And they did.
“Luke [Bullington], Benji [Gosnell] and a lot of those older guys who’ve been in this game a few times have led us and made things happen.
The Cardinals (9-1) played another full game in which the attacking, defending and special teams units all shone. Despite sometimes volatile play in the first half, East came out in the second half and beat the Wolverines 27-0.
Polk County only moved the chains three times in the second half, which is the same amount of revenue East Surry has imposed that half.
East Surry’s defense have held nine of their 10 opponents this season, including every Class 1A opponent, to 10 points or less. Polk County entered Friday’s game after scoring at least 20 points in every game in 2021.
The bend-don’t-break style defense the Cardinals used against Pine Lake Prep in the regional semifinals once again paid off. Polk County, which has averaged over 309 offensive yards this season, was limited to 225 yards against the East. That included just 94 rushing yards on 30 attempts.
“Our defense has been strong all year,” said Lowman. “We knew that was going to be the strongest point for us, and they had to be strong to allow our young guys to grow up in attack.
Similar to the 2019 Western Regional Final, the defense spent a lot of time on the pitch in the first half. East Surry’s opening practice, in which the Cardinals delivered 95 yards in 14 games, the last 4:44 of game time. It was over 50% of East’s first-half possession time (8:48), compared to Polk County’s 15:12.
The practice ended with a one-yard touchdown led by senior Luke Bullington. Bullington scored three touchdowns on the night and is now tied for the state’s third fastest (20) touchdowns among all public school classifications. Bullington also carried the ball 140 times without fumbling.
After forcing a practice roll after a 12-game practice at 6:55 am in Polk County, East capped his second practice with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Folger Boaz to Layton Allen. Derek Sutterby knocked down his second PAT of the night to take it to 14-0.
The Cards’ Kaleb Tilley picked up a Wolverine fumble in the next practice, but East was pushed back due to penalties and ended up punting.
Polk County’s only scoring practice of the night was 89 yards in 11 games. After 3:13 of possession, quarterback Casey Beiler completed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Barnes to make it 14-7 at halftime.
Polk County apparently got some momentum after they finished the first half with a touchdown and kicked off the second half. The Wolverines started on the 20th after Stephen Brantley threw his third touchdown of the game. Angus Weaver ran for 1 meter on the first try, then Beiler looked to pass on the second try.
Beiler was taken out by Allen at Wolverine’s 30-yard line. Allen took the home interception for his second TD of the night. Sutterby added the PAT to increase the lead to 21-7.
Polk established a season high in passing attempts when the running play was contained by East Surry. Weaver entered the regional final after recording four straight games of at least 194 rushing yards with at least two touchdowns in each game. Weaver rushed 21 times against East Surry for just 42 yards.
The Wolverines went three points in their next practice, and East only needed four games to score after Tye Needham set the Cardinals in a great field position on a punt return. . Bullington hit in an 11-yard TD run, but PAT’s attempt was not good.
An interception by East’s Trey Armstrong derailed Wolverine’s next practice, although Polk regains possession after intercepting Boaz on a late-run target in the fourth and long. Polk County then moved the chains twice before a Sutterby sack forced the Wolverines to clear.
A game later, Bullington bulldozed defenders to score a 41-yard touchdown. Sutterby PAT split the amounts to increase the lead to 41-7.
East Surry scored his last touchdown after a three and a withdrawal from Polk County. Allen scored his third touchdown of the game on a 22-yard pass from Boaz.
Until the fourth quarter, East Surry had not given up on a run of more than 7 yards. Gage McSwain came in and ran 10 yards on one play, then 25 on the next. The 25-yard run, however, ended with Trey Armstrong forcing a fumble to be retrieved by teammate Cardinal Tristan Harless.
East cut the clock to 0:08 seconds before a fumble gave Polk County the last play of their season.
East Surry finished with 403 yards of total offense. Boaz completed 14 of 17 passes for 134 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Allen led the Cardinals with three receptions for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Gosnell and Harless each had three receptions, with Gosnell racking up 26 yards and Harless 13.
Carson Hawks, Colby Johnson, Jacob Lowe and Needham combined for the remaining five catches for 26 yards.
Bullington himself rushed more than the entire Polk County team, finishing with 162 yards and three touchdowns in 16 carries. The Cardinals ran 34 times as a team for 269 yards in the victory.
Polk Beiler’s quarterback completed 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Beiler was held to 1 of 9 passes for 13 yards in the second half.
The Polk County running backs combined 30 carries for 94 rushing yards.
East Surry will face Tarboro (8-0) in the 1AA State Championship for the third consecutive season. Much like the first two championship meetings between the Cardinals and the Vikings, Tarboro enters the state championship with an unbeaten record after steaming his competition.
Getting back to the state championship was East Surry’s ultimate goal, and the Cardinals know they’re going to fight on May 8, but Lowman has said he wants to take the time to celebrate first.
“You know, I’ll take advantage of it,” he said. “One thing we’ve preached through all this COVID mess is you never know – you never know when you’re going to get shot and you’re not going to play. So I’m going to take advantage of that for now, and then we’ll get ready to go to work.
The 1AA State Championship kicks off at noon at Kenan Stadium at UNC-Chapel Hill on Saturday, May 8.
Polk County – 0, 7, 0, 0 = 7
East Surry – 7, 7, 20, 7 = 41
7:16 ESHS 7-0 – Luke Bullington 1-yard rush TD, Derek Sutterby PAT
4:42 ESHS 14-0 – Folger Boaz passes to Layton Allen 39 receiving yards from TD, Derek Sutterby PAT
0:24 POLK 14-7 – Casey Beiler passes to receiving 4-yard TD from Elijah Barnes, Matias Akers PAT
11:11 ESHS 21-7 – Layton Allen pick 6 returned 30 yards for a touchdown, Derek Sutterby PAT
8:44 ESHS 27-7 – Luke Bullington 11-yard rush TD, PAT no good
0:45 ESHS 34-7 – Luke Bullington 39 TD rush yards, Derek Sutterby PAT
9:47 ESHS 41-7 – Folger Boaz passes to Layton Allen, receiving 22-yard TD, Derek Sutterby PAT