MOUNT AIRY — Giving any high school football team extra possessions because of turnovers can be hard to overcome. Giving powerful and defending state 1-A champion Mount Airy extra possessions because of turnovers more than likely will be lethal.
Eastern Randolph lost three fumbles and had four turnovers Friday night in the Western Region semifinals against Mount Airy and the Granite Bears took advantage by scoring twice off those turnovers when the game was still in doubt to end the Wildcats’ season, 42-21.
Eastern, which had won 12 straight games after a season-opening loss, led 21-14 in the third quarter, but much like last year when ER led 17-14 heading into the final quarter against Mount Airy in the state playoffs before the Bears rallied for a 35-17 win, Mount Airy rallied again to remain undefeated at 14-0.
The second-seeded Bears took advantage of two short fields in the third quarter, scoring on a 14-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring run and then on a 39-yard scoring drive, which was capped by a 16-yard TD pass. That turned a 21-14 lead for the Wildcats into a 28-21 lead for the Bears entering the final period.
Mount Airy never looked back, scoring twice more on long runs in the fourth quarter, earning the Bears touchdowns on four straight possessions.
“We knew going up there and playing at Mount Airy, they have a twenty-something game winning streak, we knew we would have to play well,” veteran coach Burton Cates said. “It’s a part of football and something we will get better at and move on from. We still had a heck of a season.”
The second-seeded Granite Bears entered the contest with gaudy numbers. Mount Airy, which was averaging 55 points per game, had outscored opponents 719-51 and had defeated three playoff foes 161-29.
Mount Airy scored in its first series, but the Wildcats answered when Kobe Walker broke free for a 48-yard scoring run with 7:14 to go in the first.
Tyler Mason’s first of three TD runs gave the Bears a 14-7 lead with 10:12 left in the second quarter, but Lucas Smith scored on two drives for the Wildcats, pushing the ball into the end zone from 5 yards and then 1 yard. His second TD came with 28 seconds left in the first half and gave ER a 21-14 halftime lead, the first time Mount Airy trailed at halftime this season.
But the second half belonged to the Granite Bears, who will head to top-seeded Robbinsville Friday night with a berth for the state championship on the line.
“They have two running backs who are very fast,” Cates said of Taeshon Martin and Mason, who combined to rush for more than 300 yards. “They try and get you in space and they do a good job of getting you in space. Sometimes when we were there we made the play and sometimes we didn’t.”
The Wildcats had 150 rushing yards, led by Smith with 83 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Walker had 66 yards on four carries, including his big 48-yard run for a score.
Carter Revelle completed nine passes for 205 yards, with Nicah Taylor hauling in four passes for 98 yards, including a 45-yard pass which set up Smith's 5-yard score. Rayden West caught three passes for 64 yards, including a 33-yarder which set up Smith's second touchdown.
“We’re getting closer,” Cates said. “Anybody would say being in the fourth round two years in a row is a tribute to our kids. The players know how much this senior class put into this program. We feel really good about the future.”