One well-worn football maxim states that if one team can stop the run, that team will have success.
Friday night in Hays, neither Wilkes Central nor North Wilkes was able to stop the run.
So Wilkes Central’s thrilling 41-38 victory over the Vikings at Raner Wiles Stadium came down to another gridiron truism instead — if one team can win the turnover battle, that team will have success.
The Mountain Valley Athletic Conference win belonged to the Eagles (4-2, 2-0) then, in part, because of Central’s ability to force four turnovers and commit only two.
And, of course, because of the monstrous night of junior running back Jo-Raye Morrison.
Morrison scored five touchdowns — all at least ten yards long with the longest a vital 59-yard scamper in the fourth quarter — and rushed for 274 yards, carrying the Eagles’ offense by producing 84 percent of the team’s total yardage.
Morrison’s counterpart, North back Dylan Church, was nearly as good. Church rumbled for two scores and 251 yards, grinding out hard-earned yards against the Eagles’ defense.
The game also swung quickly back-and-forth, as teams traded momentum and the lead. North (4-2, 1-1) scored first, and then Central blasted the Vikings for 27 unanswered points.
Then, just when it looked like the visitors might run away with the game, North Wilkes scored three straight touchdowns (and converted three straight two-point tries) to roar back ahead 32-27 by the end of the third quarter.
“I think we thought it was over before it was over,” smiled Eagles’ Head Coach Ron Turner. “But they came out and punched us in the mouth after we went ahead. That’s a credit to (North Wilkes) Coach (Monty) Chipman — those kids could have given up, but they refused.”
“Once we got down 27-8, we finally figured out we could stop them, and that sort of gave us a boost of energy,” said Chipman. “I’m not sure what happened at the start. We struggled mentally, especially on the defensive end. But once we got a couple of scores late in the first half and had cut the deficit to three, we were able to challenge our kids at halftime to get one more stop, and that helped us get the lead.”
But Morrison was too much to handle in the fourth. With his squad down five — and after his defense had made a stop that kept the home team from going ahead even more — it took Morrison only two plays to put his squad back up, this time for good.
On first down, Morrison dove inside right for nine yards. Then on the next play he found a hole up the gut and blasted through it. Once he hit the second level it was too late — Morrison easily sprinted past the back of the North defense for a 59-yard touchdown.
North Wilkes momentarily had the lead after their first possession of the night. Church had six straight carries to get the Vikings to the Central 13. Then, on first down, the Vikings lined up to feed Church again. But Adam Winebarger on the left side was left unchecked, and once quarterback Cole Chipman saw it, he floated a pass to the receiver for six.
With Vikings’ kicker Alex Ruvalcaba out with an injury North was forced to go for two, and were successful four times. Chipman found Michael Bell for the first one, and the lead was 8-0.
After Morrison’s first score of the night — a 10-yard jaunt that cut the deficit to 8-7 — the wheels came off for the Vikings’ offense. Chipman threw an interception three plays after Morrison’s initial touchdown, and that pick was returned to the house by Alex Nichols for the 13-8 advantage.
“Alex is such a competitor,” said Turner of the defensive back who added another pick to close the first half. “He’s not the biggest kid out there, but he plays with a lot of heart. Everything he does he does 100 percent.”
The Eagles weren’t done. Four plays from scrimmage later it was Terry Hayes snagging a Chipman pass intended for Winebarger. Hayes zipped 17 yards down the field, and Morrison scored on a 25-yard run that capped a total of three Eagles’ touchdowns in a span of four minutes and 12 seconds.
One more Central touchdown — after defensively forcing a Vikings’ three-and-out – came at the start of the second quarter. It was then the Vikings woke up offensively, aided by a pick from cornerback Seth Johnson.
Johnson’s interception and subsequent return gave the Vikings first down at the Central 22. Three plays later Church hit pay dirt, and helped the home cut into the Eagles’ lead for the 27-16 tally.
North Wilkes added one more second quarter score to make it 27-24, setting up the back-and-forth second half. But Morrison’s heroics proved too much to ultimately overcome.
“We just weren’t crisp at the start,” said Monty Chipman. “Too many penalties, too many missed opportunities. Once we relaxed, we played better. I can’t argue with the effort, though. This was a tough one, especially for our seniors. They really wanted to get this one.”
“They are a tough, physical team, and it took a team effort to beat them,” said Turner. “Because of our numbers, we have a lot of kids having to play both sides, so we came out of this exhausted. But it feels good to leave a tough place like North with a win.”
The league slate resumes this Friday as North travels to Ashe County and Central hosts Elkin.
Notes: Johnson had another interception of Eagles’ quarterback Josh Pack. Both Johnson and Central’s Nichols have three picks in two conference games…Morrison averaged 11.4 yards-per-carry, while Church had 5.2. Those numbers highlight the different running styles of the two — Morrison’s big play ability and Church’s refusal to go down on first contact…North had 19 first downs, while the Eagles only had eight…Cole Chipman had three touchdown passes, two to Winebarger and one to Kaleb Buck on the final play of the night. Central’s JV team improved to 2-0 in MVAC play (and 3-2 overall) with a 26-6 win over the Vikings on Thursday night in Moravian Falls. North Wilkes dropped to 0-2 in MVAC play and 2-3 overall.