PILOT MOUNTAIN — As great as playoff football is, it has one major drawback for all but one team in each division: someone has to lose.
When East Surry and Monroe met in the third round of the 2021 2A State Playoffs, it was the Cardinals of Pilot Mountain that pulled out a one-possession victory to advance. The inverse was true in the rematch one year later.
Monroe topped East Surry 28-23 to advance to the 2022 2A West Regional Semifinals.
“That was a great high school football game with a lot of great players, it just stinks to be on this end of it,” said East Surry coach Trent Lowman. “Our guys did everything we asked and more. They’ve battled every day, they’ve worked hard every day, they battled every single play tonight and they never thought they were out of the game. You can’t ask for more than that.”
After playing from behind all game, Monroe (12-1) took its first lead with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. East Surry went all the way to the Redhawk 6-yard line as the clock went below one minute, converting twice on fourth down to keep the drive alive.
The Cardinals faced fourth down once again in the red zone after two runs were stopped short and an end zone pass fell incomplete. East Surry quarterback Folger Boaz got a pass off to Stephen Brantley before being swarmed by Redhawk defenders, but the pair failed to make a connection.
“We had the ball and got it down the field where we wanted it,” Lowman said. “I thought we had some good stuff, thought we had the right play call. We had the opportunities and we did what we needed to do other than those last 6 yards on that possession.
“People talk about sometimes the way the ball bounces…the ball was just bouncing their way tonight.”
Even with the turnover-on-downs with 40 seconds left in the game, East Surry continued to fight. Monroe’s Zion Lindsey ran for a first down, but East used one of its three timeouts to stop the clock. The Cardinals stopped the clock after kneel downs on first and second down, then the Redhawks were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after kneeling on third down.
The penalty gave East Surry one final chance. Monroe’s punter ran out of the back of the end zone for a safety to chew five seconds off the clock and push East’s starting field position back. After the kickoff return to midfield the Cardinals had just 18 seconds to score.
Boaz had two incomplete passes before connecting with Brantley. The tight end made it all the way to the 25-yard line before being pushed out of bounds to formally end the game.
Even though a lot would’ve had to go the Cardinals’ way for East to score in the final seconds, Lowman was proud that his team kept fighting despite the odds.
“They always believe they can win. Always have,” Lowman said. “I think they’ve always been a little bit of the underdog because everybody always talks about how great the other teams were. They’ve had a little chip on their shoulders.
“We’ve challenged them several times to be willing to win the game on the last play. Couple times this year we won on the last play, and this time we didn’t quite do that.”
East Surry was actually listed as a 9-point underdog by Simmons Ratings. The spread was likely influenced by the Cardinals’ tightly contested second-round win over Hendersonville.
The Cards couldn’t afford another slow start like the one against Hendersonville, and instead came out swinging against the Redhawks. East Surry scored on its first two offensive possessions, with Boaz finding Luke Brown for one score and Kyle Zinn running in the other, while stopping Monroe on its first possession.
“It’s funny how it works,” Lowman said. “In the locker room before the game tonight, we talked about how we needed to be mentally prepared to go down by 14 and we needed to mentally prepared to go up by 14. We needed to be able to do what we needed to do in either situation. Daggum if we don’t jump up 14-0.”
While East Surry did well to contain Monroe’s rushing offense – which averaged 214.2 yards per game coming into Friday’s playoff showdown – in the first half, the Redhawks used their passing to advance down a shortened field. Monroe struck back with 1:24 left in the first quarter, then neither side scored in the second.
East had 217 total yards by halftime (129 pass, 88 rush) but had numerous drives stall out due to penalties or momentary lapses.
“We killed our own drives a couple of times, and had we not we could’ve and probably should have had 28 points at halftime,” Lowman said. “We lost two possession because of own mistakes, and you can’t do that against good football teams and you can’t do that deep in the playoffs. It about bit us last week and it did bite us tonight a little bit.”
Will Jones picked off Monroe quarterback Khamoni Robinson to start the third quarter. This was just Robinson’s third interception of the season. The Cardinals tried keeping the ball on the ground, but ended up getting held up and having to punt. The snap sailed over Brantley’s head and the punter dove on the ball on the East Surry 31. The very next play, Monroe’s Nate Crosby Jr. scored on a 31-yard touchdown run, nearly doubling the team’s yards rushing to that point.
Zinn blocked the PAT to keep East Surry ahead.
East Surry overcame multiple false start penalties to score on its next drive. Boaz found Colby Johnson for a 25-yard pass on fourth-and-11, and Brantley’s PAT made it an 8-point game at 21-13.
East had a chance to take control of the game early in the fourth quarter. Monroe was just outside the red zone but faced third-and-9. Cardinal senior Brett Clayton sacked Robinson for a loss of 6 yards to force fourth-and-15.
All seemed to be going favorably for East until the Cards were flagged for pass interference on fourth down. The chains moved for Monroe, and Robinson threw a touchdown pass to Reddie Dubose on the next snap. The Redhawk QB completed a pass to Crosby for the 2-point conversion to tie things up.
East’s offense stalled on the next drive, and Monroe used the opening to score quickly and take the lead it would hold through the final whistle.
“I told Coach [Johnny] Sowell after the game that our only losses the last four seasons have come against teams that went on to win the state championship, so they need to go win the state championship,” Lowman said. “I hope for them they go on and do it. Their coach is a class act, his team is a class act, and they’re very good and very talented.”
East Surry finishes 12-1 on the season. This season was the sixth time in school history the Cardinals won at least 12 games and is the third time in the past four seasons. The 2022 team’s 43.92 points per game ranks No. 3 all-time in school history.
The Cards will graduate 20 seniors from this year’s team.
“It’s a big group of seniors, and a big group of guys that play multiple sports,” Lowman said. “I hope they go on to win the conference in their next sport or their next two sports. I’m just proud of them.
“There’s a lot of very good future husbands and dads on that football team. A lot of good young men that will grow up to be even better men, and that’s what I love the most about them.”
(7) Monroe – 7, 0, 6, 15 = 28
(2) East Surry – 14, 0, 7, 2 = 23
10:28 ESHS 7-0 – Luke Brown 21-yard TD reception on Folger Boaz pass, Stephen Brantley PAT
5:29 ESHS 14-0 – Kyle Zinn 5-yard rush TD, Stephen Brantley PAT
1:24 MHS 14-7 – Nate Crosby Jr. 2-yard rush TD, Junior Araujo PAT
5:45 MHS 14-13 – Nate Crosby Jr. 31-yard rush TD, PAT blocked by Kyle Zinn
1:49 ESHS 21-13 – Colby Johnson 25-yard TD reception on Folger Boaz pass, Stephen Brantley PAT
9:52 MHS 21-21 – Reddie Dubose 19-yard TD reception on Khamoni Robinson pass, Nate Crosby Jr. 2-point conversion reception on Khamoni Robinson pass
5:26 MHS 21-28 – Zion Lindsey 32-yard rush TD, Junior Araujo PAT
0:40 ESHS 23-28 – Safety for running out the back of the end zone
294 yards passing and two touchdown on 15 completions
145 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 38 carries
439 total yards
Passing: Folger Boaz 15-of-26 for 282 yards, two touchdowns
Receiving: Colby Johnson four receptions for 136 yards, one touchdown; Luke Brown three receptions for 49 yards, one touchdown; Matthew Keener four receptions for 45 yards; Kyle Zinn one reception for 32 yards; Stephen Brantley two receptions for 26 yards; Brett Clayton one reception for 6 yards
Rushing: Folger Boaz 18 carries for 59 yards; Kyle Zinn 10 carries for 51 yards, one touchdown; Colby Johnson nine carries for 36 yards; Brett Clayton one carry for -1 yard
Kicking: Stephen Brantley 3-of-3 PATs, two punts for 72 yards (36 yard average)
163 yards passing and one touchdown on 14 completions, one interception, one 2-point conversion completion
133 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 28 carries
296 total yards
Passing: Khamoni Robinson 14-of-20 for 163 yards and one touchdown, one interception, one 2-point conversion completion
Receiving: Reddie Dubose four receptions for 69 yards, one touchdown; Jordan Young three receptions for 52 yards; Bryce Davis four receptions for 38 yards; Zach Melton three receptions for 4 yards; Nate Crosby Jr. one 2-point conversion reception
Rushing: Nate Crosby Jr. 13 carries for 75 yards, two touchdowns; Zion Lindsey two carries for 42 yards, one touchdown; Zach Melton one carry for 15 yards; Jayden Olden one carry for 10 yards; Khamoni Robinson 11 carries for -9 yards