BOONVILLE — Starmount football coach Scott Johnson never wavered in his belief that this could be another special season in Boonville, even after his Rams limped out of the starting gates 0-2.
Turns out, Johnson had good reason to be confident. Since falling to Mount Airy and East Surry back in August, Starmount has reeled off nine straight wins, completed the program’s second straight undefeated conference championship run and nabbed a No. 1 seed for the upcoming state playoffs.
Friday night’s 41-17 victory over Wilkes Central was the exclamation mark on such a fine regular season and a victory lap for the team’s seniors, many of whom were freshmen in the program in 2006 when the varsity Rams went 1-10.
“If you remember, (after the East Surry game) I said that if people will just let us grow up, before it’s over we’re going to be a pretty good football team,” Johnson said Friday night. “I think it’s worked out that way. We’ve still got the playoffs to prove ourselves some more as to how good we are. But I am real pleased with how this thing has developed.”
Starmount’s final game was much like the season as a whole. The Rams started a little slow, falling behind 3-0 in the opening period and not getting on the board until the second quarter. But by the second half, Johnson’s group was in complete control, scoring three times in the fourth quarter to win going away.
Credit junior M.J. Bryan for jump-starting the Rams on what was the chilliest night of the season thus far. Starmount had just scored on a 21-yard Jake Barr-to-Fondae McDaniel touchdown pass to take a 7-3 lead. The Rams defense then forced Wilkes Central in a fourth-and-23 situation from its own 28.
Bryant tore through the middle of the line on the Eagles’ punt attempt, muffed the kick, then chased down the loose ball as it spun toward the Starmount sidelines. Bryant scooped it up and rumbled five yards into the end zone, diving over for the score. That put the Rams ahead 14-3 with 5:59 left in the half. And broke Wilkes Central’s back in a lot of ways.
Bryant then chugged though a hole in the Wilkes Central defense for a 58-yard touchdown midway through the third period to make the score 21-3.
“He made a great play on that blocked punt and then he ran the ball like a moose as always (finishing with 147 yards on seven carries).
Wilkes Central made things interesting early in the fourth period, turning a 55-yard drive into seven points. Quarterback Austin McConnell plunged in from the 1-yard-line for the score with 10:56 left.
But Starmount had a quick response, answering with a touchdown in less than two minutes.
Jake Barr scrambled 15 yards, then Bryant took off through the middle for 28 more yards. Bryant and Israel Murphy continued grinding the Rams toward the goal line, with Murphy eventually going in from the 1 to make it a 28-10 contest.
Barr intercepted a pass on the Eagles’ next possession, carrying it back to the 1. Blaine Nicholson finished the job with a 1-yard scoring run on the next play. With 1:26 left, Bobby Gray added an icing touchdown on a 2-yard run.
The Eagles’ final TD with just 59 ticks remaining was a well-executed play — a 42-yard McConnell to Scottie Johnson pass — but came too little, too late to factor into the outcome.
“We fought in the first half, but the first half was a story of two big plays (McDaniel‘s TD catch and Bryant’s blocked punt),” Wilkes Central coach Jeremy Funderburk said. “They made some adjustments. We made some adjustments, but we couldn’t stop them. They are a good football team but I think we should be a little closer to them than we were tonight.”
Murphy finished with 85 yards rushing. He now needs just 18 more yards to reach 1,000 for the season. Bryant’s 147 rushing yards Friday was a season high. He’s up to 803 for the season.
Friday’s win was Starmount’s 16th in a row against conference competition, dating back to October 2007. Johnson credited this year’s senior class for being a big part of the current streak.
“I thought our seniors played well tonight,” the coach said. “They made some big plays. Bobby and Blaine scored. I’m just real tickled for my seniors and how hard they’ve worked.”
Wilkes Central 17
Friday • at Boonville
Wilkes Central 3 0 0 14 — 17
Starmount 0 14 7 20 — 41
WC — Devin Williams 32 field goal, 2:16
ST — Fondae McDaniel 21 pass from Jake Barr (Steven Hemric kick), 8:35
ST — M.J. Bryant 5-yd blocked punt return (Hemric kick), 6:59
ST — Bryant 58 run (Hemric kick), 4:35
WC — Austin McConnell 1 run (Williams kick), 10:56
ST — Israel Murphy 3 run (Hemric kick), 9:12
ST — Blaine Nicholson 1 run (Hemrick kick), 7:01
ST — Bobby Gray 2 run (pass failed), 1:26
WC — Scottie Johnson 42 pass from McConnell (Williams kick), 0:59
RUSHING: Starmount — Bryant 7-147; Murphy 9-85; Gray 4-29; J. McCracken 4-15; Nicholson 4-7; Barr 5-5; McDaniel 2-(-6); TOTALS: 35-282. Wilkes Central leader — Alexander 14-58; TOTALS: 38-122.
PASSING: Starmount — Barr 3 of 5 for 49 yards - 1 TD. Wilkes Central — McConnell 2 of 11 for 55 yards - 1TD - 2 INTS; Alexander 1 of 1 for 44 yards; TOTALS: 3 of 12 for 99 yards - 1 TD - 2 INTS.
RECEIVING: Starmount — Murphy 2-28; McDaniel 1-21.
TOTAL YARDS: Starmount 331. Wilkes Central 221.