In the battle between two football teams desperate for wins, it was Elkin who came out on top Monday night.
Tension was in the air and in the hearts of every Buckin’ Elks fan, as Elkin’s defense delivered some key plays late for a 28-14 win over the North Wilkes Vikings. The Vikings battled back despite being down 21-0 at one point to make it a one possession game late.
With just over five minutes left in regulation, sophomore Jaylen Mayes came up with an interception with just over five minutes remaining. Fans’ heart rates seemed to calm down, but their sigh of relief did not last long. On the very next play, Elkin gave the ball back to the Vikings on a fumble. The craziness continued yet again as McKinnley Cheek deflected a ball and Kendall Freeman made a diving attempt for the interception on the next play. Three-straight plays and three-straight turnovers is a rarity even for high school football, but it’s the reason the Buckin’ Elks (1-5, 1-1 MVAC) won their first game of the season.
“I was lucky enough to be in the area, and I got up to get the interception. I’m ecstatic right now. I love being part of this team,” Freeman said.
“It was crazy, our defense stepped up,” senior Jonah Christian said. “We’ve got some underclassmen out there on defense, our whole secondary, they stepped up big tonight and made plays when we needed it.”
Mayes came up big on both sides of the ball Monday night, and if not for the turnovers late, made what could have been called the play of the game. After North Wilkes fumbled trying to punt the ball away, the Buckin’ Elks could not gain any yards, but were just out of field goal range. Going for it on fourth down, Beau Burgess found Mayes who battled for a 17-yard completion. On the next play, senior Will Altemueller punched it in for the score. Mayes also came up with one of three interceptions in the final five minutes.
“We’re not little kids no more,” Mayes said. “‘Age don’t matter,’ [Assistant Coach Tomlin] said, ‘step up and play,’ there’s a reason we’re here.”
Christian got things started for the Buckin’ Elks on offense on a play that he said he told coach to run. His confidence paid off for a 30-yard touchdown reception on a go-route on the sideline to put Elkin on the board. Senior Will Altemueller came up big for the final three touchdowns of the game, all rushing. As a senior, there’s no doubt that there’s some added pressure to go out and fight for wins.
“It’s the last one, so you got to make it count, not just for me, but for everybody out here. We’ve got to keep up like we did last year,” Altemueller said.
Last year did not start as Head Coach Scott Wood would have planned, an eerily similar 0-4 start, but then they followed it up by winning their next six games. While there hasn’t been a formal announcement, it seems clear that this upcoming Friday’s game will be their homecoming game, and it appears it will be against their toughest opponent yet. East Wilkes (6-0, 2-0 MVAC) is the last remaining undefeated team in the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference.
“We want to get better every day,” Wood said. “East Wilkes is only three days away. We’ve got to come in tomorrow and get ready for them. There’s no secret formula.”
Much like Starmount and Elkin’s rivalry, East Wilkes and Elkin’s history has some bad blood. Rivalries can bring the best out of players, just ask Starmount’s Brandon Prescott, who scored five touchdowns in the Battle of the Bridge in week five. With East Wilkes’ quarterback Chris Ward done for the season with a torn ACL, it puts sophomore Bryce Vestal starting in only his second-career game. His first one came last weekend in a 49-0 win over Alleghany, the team’s first win against the Trojans since 2011. Despite the win, Vestal struggled at times on the snap, and if that continues, it could keep Elkin within reach.
Ryan DeCosta can be reached at 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.