ELKIN—A week after pulling off the biggest upset of its season, East Wilkes’ second chance to be a spoiler got spoiled.
Boone Beaver scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:43 to play, and Elkin held off the Cardinals’ upset bid with a 21-14 win Friday at Grissom Stadium to remain in a tie for first place in the Mountain Valley Conference.
Playing on its senior night, Elkin won its fourth straight game and improved to 8-2, 5-1 in the conference. The Buckin’ Elks are tied for first with Ashe County, which beat West Wilkes at home.
East Wilkes had a two-game winning streak snapped and fell to 4-6, 3-3 in the conference. The Cardinals drop into a fourth-place tie with North Wilkes, which beat Alleghany at home.
Seven days after stunning Ashe County in West Jefferson to get back into the conference race, the Cardinals had the opportunity to do the same thing against the Elks, tying the game 14-14 on Caeden Howell’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Trey Lambert with 5:57 to play.
But the Elks—who have rushed for 1,250 yards during their winning streak—answered with a 64-yard drive in which all eight plays were on the ground.
Tyler Mayes led all rushers with 119 yards, but the Cardinals’ Noah Parks stopped him short on third down from the East Wilkes 31. On fourth-and-three, junior quarterback Brett Beaver cut outside to the right for 20 yards and a first down at the 10-yard line.
Boone Beaver scored on the next play, and Thomas McComb added the extra point.
“They responded,” said Scott Wood, the Elkin coach, of the game-winning drive.
“We’ve got some good kids. They play really hard, and when the chips are down, most of the time they come out on top.”
Facing fourth-and-nine from their 21 on their final possession, Howell threw to fellow senior Lambert at the left sideline. Elkin defensive back Brennen Robinson deflected the pass, but the left-handed Lambert corralled the ball with his right hand and cut upfield with enough yardage for a first down. But the play was called back because of an illegal block penalty.
Now facing fourth-and-13, Lambert ran an out-and-up pattern and made contact with Robinson on his cut upfield. No penalty was called, and the pass was too deep.
The Elks took over at the 17 with 1:42 remaining and ran out the clock.
Elkin won in part by holding the Cardinals some 25 points below their scoring average of the past six games and 230 yards below their 475-yard average.
“Our defense has played well all year,” Wood said. “Coach (Josh) Pardue had a great game plan coming into it to stop them.
“They score a lot of points, and I would say most people… would think it would be a high-scoring affair.
“It’s a win any way you look at it.”
Jonathan Wilmoth, the East Wilkes coach, said, “(Elkin) did a really good job, contained Garrett Vernon and slowed our running game way down.”
Conversely, the Cardinals held the Elks over a touchdown below their season scoring average.
“Our kids played their hearts out tonight on defense,” Wilmoth said, “and put us offensively in some good situations. We just couldn’t cash in.”
The defenses dominated the first quarter. A blocked punt gave the Elks the ball at the East Wilkes 34, but Blake Dowell stopped Brody Wabel for a loss on fourth down from the 13.
A possession later, Howell’s 36-yard pass to Lambert got the Cardinals to midfield, but Maston Renegar stopped Vernon for a 2-yard loss on fourth down from the Elkin 43.
From there, Elkin used 15 plays and nearly seven minutes to open the scoring. The Elks converted third-and-nine on Brett Beaver’s 12-yard pass to Luke Bellia and fourth-and-two on Boone Beaver’s 6-yard run. Mayes capped the drive with a 1-yard run.
The Cardinals never led, but answered each Elkin score—save the last one—with a touchdown of their own. One play after a fumbled snap lost 4 yards, Howell threw to Vernon in the middle of the field. Vernon had inside position and a step on Wabel. He cut toward the far sideline and got a block from Lambert on Wabel to complete a 59-yard play. Jorge Lopez’s extra point tied the game 7-7.
The Elks had first-and-goal from the 10 on their final possession of the half. A holding penalty moved the ball back to the 21, and two plays later Howell intercepted Brett Beaver’s pass to end the threat.
East Wilkes had a chance to take the lead as the fourth quarter opened after moving from its 20 to the Elkin 21. But 6-foot-4 Austin Longworth batted down Howell’s fourth down pass.
Two plays later, Brett Beaver threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Ty Parsons down the left sideline to give Elkin a 14-7 lead.
The Cardinals followed with their game-tying drive, using over five minutes to go 80 yards.
Vernon gained 16 yards on a run out of the Wildcat, and Howell threw to Lambert—who had 85 yards on a career-high six catches—for 19 yards.
Bryson Sidden’s 7-yard reception gave the Cardinals a first down at the 20. Three plays later, Lambert scored on a slant pattern to make it 14-14.
“It’s terrible sometimes to put your heart out on the line and not win,” Wilmoth said. “But we’re still playing our best football right now. That’s a good football team—they’ve pounded a lot of teams in our conference this year—and I thought we went toe-to-toe with them.”
If the Elks win at Alleghany Friday, they will have no worse than a share of their first conference championship since 2014, their second in the MVAC and their 13th since becoming a 1A school in 1985.
“You go up to Alleghany, it’s always a tough place to play,” Wood said. “We expect a dogfight up there too.”
Notes: Vernon recovered a fumble to stop an Elkin drive early in the third quarter…. It was only the seventh game in 45 meetings decided by fewer than 14 points and the closest game since Elkin’s 13-12 overtime win in 2008…. The Elks’ eight wins are their most since 2009 and the most in Wood’s tenure as coach…. Vernon’s touchdown catch was his 10th scoring play this season of 50 or more yards…. Howell needs 211 yards passing to reach 2,000 for the season…. Vernon has 1,399 yards combined rushing and receiving, and he and Lambert have combined for 1,171 yards receiving…. In JV action, the Cardinals held off Elkin for a 14-13 win to improve to 5-3 overall and 4-2 in the MVAC.