Brayson Church color

BRAYSON CHURCH gets blocks from East Wilkes teammates Micah Mathis (75) and Damien Spiva on a run in the first quarter. Church had a season-high 119 rushing yards and scored a touchdown, but injured a knee late in the first half and did not return.

With 1,145 yards and 90 points in its first two games, Winston-Salem Prep is the football equivalent of hot.

And after winning a shootout Friday night in Ronda, the Phoenix are off to their best start ever.

Junior Tresean Stewart scored seven touchdowns and had 286 all-purpose yards, and the Phoenix improved to 3-0 for the first time in their brief history with a 54-40 nonconference victory over East Wilkes at Ebb Tharpe Field.

The 94 combined points are the second highest total in East Wilkes history, trailing only the 101 combined points in South Stokes’ 51-50 win in 2013.

East Wilkes lost its second straight game and fell to 1-3.

Stewart was the most prominent of the Phoenix—his scoring, all-purpose yards and his six catches for 191 yards were all career highs. But the architect—the ringmaster of the show—was sophomore quarterback Timothy Davis.

With 305 yards passing, Davis has thrown for at least 300 yards in all three games and used his scrambling ability to extend plays. His four touchdown passes gave him 12 for the season, and he also scored a rushing touchdown to go along with three 2-point conversions, two rushing and one passing.

“Tim Davis… is the smartest kid I’ve ever coached,” said DeRon Middleton, in his third season as Winston-Salem Prep’s coach. “He can do anything he needs to do. He also plays safety. With him running the plays, with his skill set, who knows how far we can go.”

And Stewart, Middleton added, is a “dynamic running back. He’s been with me since he was a freshman…. Him and Tim, with our offense, we’re going to go.”

Shut out a week ago in a home-opening loss to Forbush, the Cardinals responded with their best offensive game since 2017, putting up 518 yards, 378 in the first half.

Senior quarterback Caeden Howell had career highs with 218 yards passing and three touchdowns. Fellow senior Trey Lambert had career highs with 117 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Garrett Vernon, also a senior, ran for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass and has already scored six touchdowns for the season.

Junior running back Brayson Church had his best game of the season, rushing for a game-high 119 yards and a touchdown.

The Cardinals forced a punt on the Phoenix’s first possession, but from there, the lead changed hands 10 times in the next 18-plus minutes.

East Wilkes took a 6-0 lead on Howell’s 41-yard pass to Vernon on a slant.

Winston-Salem Prep took an 8-6 lead on Stewart’s 4-yard run and Davis’ 2-point conversion.

The Cardinals went ahead 12-8 on Vernon’s 69-yard run on a jet sweep.

The Phoenix went ahead 16-12 on Davis’ 24-yard pass to Stewart.

Howell’s 26-yard pass to Lambert on a fly pattern gave East Wilkes an 18-16 lead.

Davis’ 3-yard run gave Winston-Salem Prep a 24-18 lead.

Church’s 3-yard run and his 2-point conversion put the Cardinals ahead 26-24.

Davis’ 55-yard swing pass to Stewart put the Phoenix ahead 30-26.

East Wilkes took its last lead on Howell’s second deep ball to Lambert, good for 62 yards and a 32-30 lead.

And Winston-Salem Prep took a 36-32 lead—and the lead for good—with 2:27 before halftime on Stewart’s 25-yard leaping catch at the goal line.

Only two of those possessions lasted longer than three minutes, and only two used more than seven plays.

Church cut outside toward the home sideline on the Cardinals’ next possession, but injured his knee when he was tackled at the Phoenix 36 with 1:42 to play. He would not return.

The possession ended when Davis intercepted Howell’s pass at the 23.

“I’ve said for the last three weeks that we’ve been waiting for the offensive linemen to kind of grow into knowing what they’re doing and Brayson to get comfortable,” said Jonathan Wilmoth, the East Wilkes coach, “and unfortunately, that all came to fruition and an end tonight.

“We don’t know the extent of his knee injury,” Wilmoth said immediately after the game, “but (when) he got hurt, that definitely took some wind out of our sails.”

East Wilkes had to punt on its opening possession of the second half, and one play later Stewart’s 49-yard touchdown run made it a two-score game and swung the momentum to the Phoenix.

Howell’s 16-yard run capped a 65-yard drive and cut the lead to 42-38 with 5:22 to play in the third quarter, but the Cardinals otherwise struggled to move the ball in the second half.

Stewart’s 1-yard run built the lead back to 10 points, and he put the game out of reach with a 78-yard touchdown reception with 10:16 remaining in the game.

In fact, the only thing that slowed the Phoenix was the weather. A light drizzle became a steady rain in the fourth quarter, and Davis lost a pair of fumbles.

Despite a daunting three-game streak looming against South Stokes, East Surry and Mount Airy when Northwest Conference play starts in early October, a smiling Middleton was pleased with the Phoenix’s start.

“It feels good,” he said. “These kids have put in the work all summer and all spring, and they’re reaping the benefits. I can’t be more happy for them.”

The Cardinals will now have a week off to heal and prepare for the start of Mountain Valley Conference play.

“I told the kids, we’ve just got to keep playing,” Wilmoth said. “We’ll try to get healthy in this bye week.

“We just keep working on the little things, and hopefully the big things will take care of themselves.”

Notes: After injuring his knee in the season opener, Blaine Wagoner was back in uniform and was the punter…. Chandler Luffman, Damien Spiva and freshman Hayden Durham had fumble recoveries for East Wilkes…. Winston-Salem Prep started its varsity football program in 2014…. Middleton is a product of Forsyth County football. He played in high school at Parkland and in college at Winston-Salem State…. Stewart’s performance brought back memories—or perhaps nightmares—of South Stokes’ Jacquan Martin. In the 2013 season opener in Ronda, Martin had 343 all-purpose yards and scored six touchdowns, returning two kickoffs for scores. Martin’s 2-point conversion with 27 seconds to play capped the Sauras’ 38-point second half in their 51-50 comeback win.

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