DOBSON—On Beach Night at Surry Central, it was East Wilkes that had fun, fun, fun.
No California dreamin’ required.
The Cardinals rode the wave of their quarterback’s second career-best performance in as many weeks, a wave that crested with the offense’s second straight 400-yard output in a 52-14 nonconference win over the Golden Eagles Friday.
East Wilkes won for the second straight week and is 2-0 for the second time in three seasons and only the fourth time since 2007.
The 52 points are the most the Cardinals have ever scored in 30 meetings against the Eagles.
Surry Central, which lost its season opener to Elkin, fell to 0-2 for the sixth time in the past 11 seasons.
One week after career highs with 189 yards and three touchdowns running the ball, Bryce Vestal passed for a career-high 242 yards and threw five touchdown passes. He also ran for a touchdown.
The senior now has 2,490 career passing yards, passing Bradley Hayes for second place on East Wilkes’ career passing list. Hayes, who played from 1995-96, is now an assistant coach.
Vestal trails only Luke Samples, who threw for 7,480 yards and 69 touchdowns from 1997-99 and whose No. 12 was retired in 2005.
Vestal’s five touchdown passes are the most since Samples, who did it only once, threw for five touchdowns in 1998 against North Stokes.
“We rode the momentum from last week,” Vestal said. “After (Surry Central) lost to Elkin, a bunch of people were putting them down, but we stayed focused and had a good week of practice and we came out on all cylinders again.
“We’re playing well, but we still have room for improvement.”
Where the Cardinals’ Week 1 win over East Surry was about Vestal being the primary option in the triple option, the offense’s diversity was on display against the defending Western Piedmont Conference champion Eagles.
Senior halfback Deven Couch ran for 106 yards and a touchdown and caught two touchdown passes. Mason Hartley, in his first full season as a fullback, also ran for 106 yards. Jared Wood, a four-year starter, caught two touchdown passes. Senior Damien Reid also caught a touchdown pass.
Vestal completed 11 of 13 passes to five different receivers.
“Our offense is built where we have a solid inside game, we can get it on the perimeter and we can put the ball in the air too,” said J.K. Adkins, the East Wilkes coach. “Hopefully, the more we can show that, the harder we are to defend.
“The thing that makes the offense unique is that we’re not dependent upon one back. Nobody can say, ‘We’ve got to stop so-and-so to win the game.’ The way we share the ball makes us better.”
The Cardinals scored on all four of their first-half possessions—including a two-play, 54-yard drive that needed only 15 seconds of the half’s final minute—and led 28-7 at halftime. Vestal threw two touchdown passes to Couch and one to Reid and scored on a 1-yard run.
East Wilkes opened the second half by driving to the Surry Central 1-yard line. But Vestal fumbled when hit by Gabe Matthews on third down and Eli Williams recovered the ball for the Eagles.
Four plays later, quarterback Martin Palacios broke free up the right sideline on a 74-yard touchdown run that cut the lead to 28-14.
“He’s just so fast,” Monty Southern, the Surry Central coach, said of Palacios. “For our area, there’s not too many kids as fast as he is. When we block it right, he hits it pretty quick.”
Palacios, who scored two touchdowns in the Eagles’ 21-20 win in Ronda last season, scored both of his team’s touchdowns.
Also the kicker, Palacios executed an onside kick recovered by Forest Antwine, one of only two returning starters on defense for the Eagles.
Surry Central drove to the East Wilkes 17, converting fourth-and-five on Palacios’ pass to Matthew White off a fake punt. But Jayveon Ross sacked Palacios on third-and-five, and fellow linebacker Jared Smith sacked him again on fourth down.
On the next play—the last of the third quarter—Vestal threw to Wood on a post route for 57 yards. Two plays later, Vestal and Wood teamed up for the first of their two fourth-quarter touchdown connections, making it 34-14.
“A big play was the long pass to (Wood) coming off the change of possession,” Adkins said. “They kind of had momentum right there. We got a stop, and I felt like we needed to try to stamp out any hope that they had…. We pushed it back to three scores. I thought that was critical.”
Southern said, “We executed a good onside kick and got it back and then moved the ball. We had gotten a little momentum and didn’t want to give it back trying to throw a long ball, but they got good pressure and (Smith) came free and got a sack.
“That was a big momentum shift back to them,” Southern added. “We tried to put a little pressure on them, but they stayed calm and collected…. From that point, I think we lost a little bit of air, and their offense just started clicking again.”
A possession later, Ross had another sack, then hit Palacios in the end zone two plays later. Palacios was called for intentional grounding, giving East Wilkes a safety and a 36-14 lead.
“We realized that we’re breathing life back into them, and we had to take it back out of them,” said Ross, a junior. “We did what we had to do and stepped up.”
For the second week, the Cardinals played better defensively in the second half. “I think it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Ross said. “Of course we’d like to have that same intensity, that same effort, in the first half. That’s another thing we really need to work on…. Once we realize that they’re scoring and we have to step back into the game, we get motivated.
“We’ve got to have that motivation and be mentally prepared before we start the game.”
After the safety, Vestal threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Wood, who tiptoed just inside the sideline, to make it 44-14.
Reid had the best run of the game that didn’t count, a 62-yarder on which he broke to the sideline and then cut back to the middle of the field. That run was wiped out by a penalty, but Couch got the score back on a 60-yard run up the opposite sideline to set the final margin.
A three-year starter, Couch is averaging over 18 yards per carry.
“We’ve played together for so long, and when everybody does their job, it’s easy,” Couch said. “When they take away the pitch on the option, we’ve got the dive. We’re ready for everything they throw at us.”
But is it a fun offense to play in, Couch was asked. “It is,” he said. “I love it.”
Notes: Other than Samples, Vestal’s five touchdown passes were the most since Chris Ward threw four, also against Surry Central, in 2015…. In fact, Dobson has been a good place for East Wilkes quarterbacks. Ward’s four touchdown passes were a career high, and in 2009, Micah Bryan ran for a career-high 295 yards and six touchdowns in a 50-28 win…. Adkins said he had never had a quarterback throw for five touchdowns…. It was only East Wilkes’ second win in the last seven meetings in the series…. It’s the sixth time the Cardinals have scored at least 50 points during Adkins’ tenure as coach.