PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry coach Trent Lowman said it best when walking off the field Thursday night.
“Hey. It’s survive and advance, right?”
East Surry went deep into its bag of tricks to overcome Hendersonville 21-16 in the second round of the 2A State Playoffs.
The Cardinals found themselves trailing in the second half for the first time all season after the Bearcats converted a 32-yard field goal in the third quarter. East Surry (12-0) had forced a three-and-out on Hendersonville’s first drive of the third quarter, but the Cards came up empty on the ensuing 12-play drive that lasted 5:11 of game time.
East made it into the red zone, but lost a fumble just outside the 10-yard line. This allowed the Bearcats (9-3) to march down the field, split the uprights and take the lead for the first time during Thursday’s game at 16-13.
Coming into the Nov. 10 playoff game, East Surry had only rushed for more yards than it passed once all season: versus Starmount on August 18. After attempting 18 passes in the first half to limited success, East Surry began to run the ball more and only attempted six second-half passes.
“They had a really good pass rush, and we didn’t have a lot of time to get passes off,” Lowman said. “We found one spot, one little honey hole we could run at, and we just tried to wear that spot out as much as we could.”
The Cardinal coach added that Hendersonville was “no doubt” the most athletic team they played all season, which caused East Surry to change its game plan up on the fly.
Folger Boaz, Brett Clayton, Colby Johnson and Kyle Zinn alternated carries to close the third quarter and open the fourth. Boaz, who led East Surry with 23 carries for 175 yards, capped off the drive with his second rushing touchdown of the game. Boaz also plugged in the 2-point conversion to make it 21-16 in favor of the home team.
This was just the second time all season that the Cardinal starters played through the second half.
“It was the first time in a long time we had to do that and we were down [Stephen] Brantley tonight, so we had to have more guys fill in for him,” Lowman said. “I’m just proud of these guys. It’s a testament to their work ethic in the weight room and how hard they practiced during the week. I might jinx myself, but we didn’t have guys cramping or asking to come out. They’re warriors, and I love ‘em.”
East Surry finished the game with 352 yards rushing behind career-highs from Boaz (175), Johnson (93) and Zinn (81). This is the school’s most yards rushing in a single game since Lowman took over as head coach in 2018.
“We don’t really run until the playoffs, because I don’t want guys taking a lot of tackles and taking a beating throughout the year,” Lowman said. “I want their legs fresh for the playoffs. When it’s time to play big boy football I hope they’re ready, and so far they have been.”
Now playing from behind, Hendersonville did the opposite of East Surry and tried to pass more in the second half. Senior quarterback Lennard Benniefield did have season highs in completions and attempts, completing 16-of-28 passes, but this wasn’t enough to help the Bearcats on their next drive.
Hendersonville made it to the Cardinal 24-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. East Surry chewed more than 3:30 off the clock before punting back to Hendersonville.
The Bearcats began their final drive on their own 18 with 3:09 to play. Hendersonville stalled trying to escape its own territory, but made it to the Cardinal 48 before burning its second timeout with 56 seconds on the clock. Benniefield’s next attempt was incomplete after Hatcher Hamm applied pressure and Will Jones provided coverage.
Benniefield connected with Alijah Ferguson over the middle on second-and-10 with 49 seconds to play. Ferguson made the catch and ran inside the Cardinal 30 before being hit by a host of defenders. The ball popped out and was recovered by Jones, and after some discussion by the officials the change in possession stood.
East Surry entered victory formation to run the remaining time off the clock.
“That’s a dang good football team right there,” Lowman said of Hendersonville.
All three of Hendersonville’s losses in 2022 came against teams that are undefeated as of November 11. This season’s Bearcats lost: 34-20 to West Henderson (11-0), the No. 2 seed in the 3A West; 35-16 to Chase (12-0), the No. 8 seed in the 2A West; and now 21-16 to East Surry, the No. 2 seed in the 2A West.
Forcing a late turnover helped bring justice to the Cardinals after the team lost two turnovers earlier in the game. The first was a Boaz interception that was caught in the end zone in the first quarter after being tipped by a Bearcat defender, and the second was a fumble lost in the red zone after a 5:00+ drive in the third quarter.
Despite the close score, East Surry outpaced Hendersonville in total offense 462 yards to 257. East turned the ball over on downs three times in the first half when they normally would’ve attempted a field goal, but couldn’t with Brantley missing the game.
The Cardinal defense held an offense that averaged more than 163 yards rushing to just 68 yards on 22 carries. This was a season-low for the Bearcats and just the third time all year rushing for less than 100 yards.
Hendersonville had 10 carries of either no gain or a loss of yards. Matthew Keener, Jones, Zinn and Brett Clayton all recorded sacks for East Surry, with Johnson and Hamm adding tackles for a loss. Zinn also had one interception.
Lowman said that finding a way to win is this team’s M.O., even if it isn’t always pretty. He added that surviving and advancing is all that matters, saying he believes the team will continue leaving everything on the field each time they play.
”It is a big group of seniors, and I think they want everyone to remember them as the best East Surry team ever,” Lowman said. “So far they’ve done everything to live up to that.
“We’re not loaded down with Division-I players like we were a few years ago, so they’ve got to battle a little harder. So far they’ve done it. They had a great, great winter and spring in the weight room, and it was one of the best offseasons I’ve ever had with a group of kids. They got in there and just killed it, and so far it’s showed.”
No. 2 East Surry will host No. 7 Monroe (11-1) in the Sweet 16 on Nov. 18. This is a rematch of a 2021 third-round playoff game between the two schools, which East Surry won 10-9.
Like 2021, East Surry is the No. 2 seed and is hosting the No. 7-seeded Monroe who has only lost once all season. Monroe scored 117 points through its first two playoff games in 2021, and has scored 111 through the first two rounds this season. The Redhawks defeated No. 26 North Stanly (6-5) 56-6 in the opening round of the playoffs, then beat No. 23 Lincolnton (6-6) 55-7 in the second round.
(15) Hendersonville – 6, 7, 3, 0 = 16
(2) East Surry – 7, 6, 0, 8 = 21
1:14 ESHS 7-0 – Kyle Zinn 6-yard rush TD, Joshua Parker PAT
0:55 HHS 7-6 – Alijah Ferguson 85-yard kickoff return, 2-point conversion no good
0:49 ESHS 13-6 – Folger Boaz 7-yard rush TD, PAT no good
0:00 HHS 13-13 – Eric Rasheed 10-yard TD reception on Lennard Benniefield pass, Cooper King PAT
1:23 HHS 13-16 – Cooper King 32-yard field goal
6:49 ESHS 21-16 – Folger Boaz 19-yard rush TD, Folger Boaz 2-point conversion rush
110 yards passing on 11 completions
352 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 49 carries
462 total yards
Passing: Folger Boaz 11-of-24 for 110 yards, one interception
Receiving: Colby Johnson four receptions for 46 yards, one fumble; Kyle Zinn four receptions for 27 yards; Matthew Keener two receptions for 24 yards; Brett Clayton one reception for 11 yards
Rushing: Folger Boaz 23 carries for 175 yards, two touchdowns, one 2-point conversion; Colby Johnson 11 carries for 93 yards; Kyle Zinn 14 carries for 81 yards, one touchdown; Brett Clayton one carry for 3 yards
Kicking: Joshua Parker 1-of-2 PATs
189 yards passing on 16 completions
68 yards rushing on 22 carries
257 total yards
Passing: Lennard Benniefield 16-of-28 for 189 yards, one touchdown, one interception
Receiving: Alijah Ferguson five receptions for 83 yards, one fumble; Eric Rasheed eight receptions for 70 yards, one touchdown; Hezzie Rudisill two receptions for 25 yards; C.J. Landrum one reception for 11 yards; Tayshawn Collins one reception for 4 yards
Rushing: Hezzie Rudisill 10 carries for 55 yards; 10 carries for 12 yards; Eric Rasheed two carries for 1 yard