In Blue Ridge Youth Football League conference play, the East Wilkes Middle School Scorpions overcame five turnovers to defeat the Central Wilkes Middle School Falcons 22-0 last Saturday at Ebb Tharpe Field in Ronda.
The Scorpions used a dominant defensive performance, limiting Central Wilkes to just 86 yards of total offense in the shutout victory, while managing to scamper for 153 yards on the ground with Kaden Royal accounting for all three scores.
With the victory East Wilkes improves to 4-1 and clings to a share of first place (with Alleghany and Ashe County), while the Falcons dropped to 2-3 on the year.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the defense. I told the kids in the locker room that if I had a game ball to give that it would go to the defense because the offense put us in bad situations time after time,” stated East Wilkes Head Coach Travis Walker. “Offensively, we had some big plays, but we couldn’t sustain drives due to the fumbles, so the defense was the key component to this win.
East Wilkes got off to a stellar start by scoring on the opening drive of the game with Royal’s first score of the evening, a 42-yard run on a toss to the left. Royal raced around the corner, broke a tackle, and raced to the end zone to give the Scorpions the early lead. Phoenix Blackburn then connected with Royal to complete the 2-point conversion to go ahead 8-0 early in the first quarter.
After a Central Wilkes Fumble on the ensuing series, the Scorpions moved into scoring position, looking to add to their lead and attempted to catch the Falcons sleeping by going to the air. Blackburn dropped back and threw a pass intended for Royal, but the Falcons’ Jayden Joyner made a great beat on the ball as he picked off the throw just before the end of the first quarter.
The Falcons took over and drove the ball into East Wilkes territory before stalling at the 35-yard line. Facing fourth-and-10, Central Wilkes elected to punt, but the snap sailed high over Noah McNeil’s head who was back to kick. McNeil managed to pick it up and get the kick off; however, a gang of Scorpions was already at the ball and blocked the kick.
East Wilkes took advantage of great field position and Blackburn took a quarterback keeper on the first play of the drive 18 yards up to the 1-yard line. The long run set up Royal’s second score of the game as he took the counter handoff untouched into the end zone. Tristan Alkire punched it in for the 2-point conversion to put the Scorpions ahead 16-0 midway through the second quarter and into halftime.
After a relatively clean first half, both teams giving up only one turnover apiece, the second half was very sloppy as the two teams combined for five turnovers with East Wilkes fumbling four times.
The Scorpions fumbled on their first three possessions of the second half, but continued their dominant defense holding Central Wilkes into three-and-outs.
Early in the fourth quarter, East Wilkes’ Zac Helms intercepted the Falcons pass and returned it for the would-be score, but a block in the back penalty negated the return.
Three plays later, Royal took a toss 22-yards for his third score of the day, extending their lead to 22-0 with only six minutes left to play.
With only four minutes remaining, Central Wilkes managed its best drive of the night moving the ball the length of the field with an air assault.
McNeil completed five passes for 77 yards on the final possession with a first-and-goal from the Scorpions’ 5-yard line with only 18 seconds remaining.
The Falcons elected to run as John Tate Mastin gained two yards, but was short of the end zone. With time expiring Central Wilkes lined back up for one final play. McNeil took the snap and almost immediately a gang of Scorpions made it into the backfield for the sack as East Wilkes sealed the shutout victory.
“All week we talked about 11 hats to the ball and for the most part we did that. I felt like we were physical and the defense saved us tonight,” explained Walker. “We’ve got to work on ball security and watching the ball on defense. The thing is we just have to fix ourselves and get better going into the last game of the season and into the playoff stretch.”
Going into the final week of the BRYFL season East Wilkes hopes to stay in contention of the number one seed as it travels to Elkin (0-6), while Central Wilkes battles for the fourth seed with a matchup with Ashe County. The Falcons are currently tied with West Wilkes for fourth place.
“It’s a matchup I’m eager to go into. It’s a place going into the final game of the season (chance for first seed in the playoffs) that only people inside our tight group envisioned going in,” said Walker. “Nobody outside of us thought we had a chance. I know they’re well coached (Elkin), but we just go up there Saturday and put our best on the field and let the chips fall where they may.”
Notes: Since it was the final home game of the regular season it was eighth grade night as East Wilkes recognized the eighth graders on the football team and cheerleading squad. Central Wilkes took a 22-0 win in third-and-fourth grade play, while East Wilkes won 16-0 in the fifth-and-sixth grade matchup. East Wilkes took the first-and-second grade matchup 22-12.