MORAVIAN FALLS - Starmount’s four-year reign atop the Mountain Valley Conference came to an abrupt end Friday night in Moravian Falls.
The Rams failed to capitalize on opportunities and dropped a 14-7 decision to Wilkes Central in the conference championship game.
“This was a tough loss,” head coach Scott Johnson said. “They played really well. They made plays when they needed to make plays, and we didn’t. The first drive we didn’t score. The fake punt was big. The timeout before the half when we expected them to kick it. It was just a game where they made plays and we didn’t.”
Starmount was held to a season-low 186 yards of total offense, while turning the ball over twice in the game.
The Rams rushing attack gained all but 17 of the total yards, led by Chaston Martin’s 55 yards on 13 carries. Hunter Myers added 43 yards on nine carries, while Will Simpson scored the only touchdown of the game on a one-yard run.
Starmount’s top-ranked defense surrendered the only two offensive touchdowns of conference play against Central while allowing 265 yards of offense.
The Rams D came up big on the opening drive of the game, stopping the Eagles on fourth down with a Michael Wood tackle for loss on a screen pass.
Starmount responded and drove the ball down the field to the one-yard line. On fourth-and-one, quarterback Samuel Stone was stuffed on a keeper at the goal line.
After taking over in Central territory on their next possession, the Rams were once again stopped on fourth down, giving the Eagles the ball at their own 37-yard line.
Central capitalized on the good field position and a Starmount timeout as Victor Williams broke free on a 65-yard touchdown burst down the left sideline with 43 seconds left to play in the half.
After both quarterbacks threw interceptions on their opening possessions of the second half, the Rams were once again faced with a crucial fourth down near midfield.
Lining up in punt formation, the direct snap went straight to up-back Trey Money. Money was unable to hook up with a wide-open Simpson streaking down the field in another play Johnson pointed to as a “missed opportunity.”
Two possessions later, Central drove down the field - aided by back-to-back unsportsmanlike conduct penalties - and punched it in from three yards out to grab a 14-0 advantage with just over 11 minutes to play.
James Watson ignited the Starmount sideline with a huge 70-yard kickoff return to the Eagle 31-yard line. After picking up two first downs, Simpson found paydirt to get the Rams on the board at 14-7 with eight minutes to play.
Searching desperately for a stop on defense, Watson once again answered the call.
After Central picked up two first downs to the 44-yard line, James Watson and Zach Worley made what would have been the play of the season when Watson stripped Cameron Williams - the MVAC’s leading rusher - of the ball as Worley pounced on it. The Rams took over at their own 31 with 4:13 left to play.
On the strength of the running game, Starmount moved the chains twice - once on a 4th-and-three pick-up by Simpson - moving down to the 35-yard line.
But on the following play, Money’s pass intended for Brady Lamm was intercepted, sealing the upset win for the Eagles.
Cameron Williams picked up a final first down as Central exacted revenge and celebrated the conference crown.
“We don’t want to feel like this again,” Johnson explained. “We have to work hard so we don’t. Because the next the time if we feel like this again, then it’s over. We’re proud of them, they played their hearts out, we just missed some opportunities and they made some plays.”
The loss ended Starmount’s unprecedented streak of 40-straight MVAC victories, dating back to 2007, and a 38-game regular-season win streak, dating back to 2009. The Rams’ four-year reign as conference champs came to a halt as well.
Johnson said he’s not worried about the streaks or the past, but rather the Rams next opponent.
“It’s the next game we want to win and that’s all I’m focused on. All that stuff in the past I can’t change. We’ll just start a new streak,” he explained.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.