As the final minute ticked off the clock in Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday night with the East Surry Cardinals holding a commanding 56-28 lead over the Tarboro Vikings, Cardinal Head Coach Trent Lowman sent in a substitute for quarterback Jefferson Boaz. As Boaz neared the sidelines, Lowman greeted him and the two hugged each other in a heartfelt embrace. It was a fitting end to an unforgettable season for East Surry because these two men were the key parts in the Cardinals reaching the goal they established following last year’s dismantling by Tarboro in the state championship game 50-10. Lowman designed an offense that befuddled the hapless Tarboro defense, and Boaz executed the game plan with precision rarely seen in a high school game. When the game ended, Boaz had thrown for 7 touchdowns, run for an 8th touchdown, and recorded an astounding 478 yards through the air, all against an undefeated Tarboro team.
The rematch from last year’s 1-AA State Championship game started as a shootout as neither teams’ defense could contain the opponents’ offense. The first four possessions of the game resulted in touchdowns. East Surry received the opening kickoff and took a mere 1:11 to score on a 39-yard pass from Boaz to Landon Stevens. Tarboro answered by scoring on a 63-yard dash by Khalil Staton to tie the score. Not intimidated in the least, East Surry moved quickly to score on another Boaz completion, this time a 41-yard strike to his fellow UNC commit, Stephen Gosnell. The Tarboro offense cranked it back into high gear and was back in the end zone following a 21-yard gallop by Kimani McDaniels. With 1:21 still to be played in the opening quarter, the score was tied at 14.
The Cardinals’ next drive stalled at the Tarboro 20, and Derek Sutterby’s 37-yard field goal attempt was wide left allowing the Vikings their first chance to take the lead. However, the East Surry defense stepped up at this point and a hit on Tarboro’s Staton by Austin Evans caused a fumble that was recovered by Cardinal linebacker Hoyt Bullington at the Tarboro 14-yard line. East Surry had trouble moving against the Viking defense, but finally was able to get into the end zone on a 1-yard sneak by Boaz. The lead was short-lived though as Tarboro covered 86 yards in two plays to tie the game. The touchdown came on a 59-yard scoring run by Travis Johnson.
With the score tied at 21, the Cardinals owned the final 7 minutes of the second period. They traveled 63 yards in eight plays after receiving the kickoff to take a 28-21 lead. The East Surry score came on a 20-yard connection between Boaz and Gosnell. A key play in the game occurred on the following kickoff. Tarboro’s Kimani McDaniels fielded the East Surry kick at his own 4-yard line, and coughed the ball up at the 30 after being hit by the Cardinal kicker, Derek Sutterby. Evan McCreary jumped on the loose football, and East Surry was back in business at the Tarboro 30-yard line. After a pass interference call against Tarboro gave the Cardinals a 1st-and-goal at the 10-yard line, Boaz found Kyler Jessup for the score. Sutterby’s PAT put the Cardinals up 35-21 with 3:25 remaining in the half.
The final minutes of the half were scoreless allowing East Surry to take a 35-21 lead into the halftime intermission.
Tarboro received the 2nd half kickoff and advanced to the East 25-yard line after a 46-yard pass play from McDaniels to Ke’nazius Black. However, the Cardinals’ defense stiffened and forced the Vikings to turn the ball over on downs at the Cardinals’ 17-yard line. East advanced the ball across midfield, but the drive stalled, and Boaz was forced to punt from the Tarboro 44. Again the special teams came up with a big play for the Cardinals as Black fumbled on the punt return, and Tye Needham came up with the ball at the Tarboro 27. Boaz connected with Gosnell on two completions to move the ball to the 1-yard line from where Boaz connected with Dillon Mosley for the touchdown expanding the Cardinal lead to 42-21.
With the third quarter coming to a close, East Surry kicked off, and disaster struck Tarboro again. Jalen Razor fielded the pooch kick at his 30-yard line and was immediately hit by Needham forcing him to fumble the ball. The Cardinals again recovered the loose football; this time it was on the Tarboro 36. It took two passes from Boaz to extend East Surry’s lead to 49-21 as he threw to Landon Stevens on consecutive plays for 13 yards and then 23 yards for the score. With 11:55 remaining in the game, East held a commanding 49-21 lead.
Tarboro showed its heart at this point, and the Vikings took only five plays to narrow the margin to 49-28. The key play in the drive was a 57-yard pass from McDaniels to Black, and Cameron Powell carried the ball into the end zone on a 3-yard run.
Not to be deterred, the Cardinals stormed back to score in four plays. Starting at its own 24, East’s first play lost 3 yards before Boaz connected with Stevens, Gosnell, and Mosley on three consecutive plays to score. The final pass to Mosley covered 11 yards and after Sutterby’s successful PAT, the Cardinal lead was 56-28 with 7:07 remaining in the contest.
The final seven minutes were scoreless as both squads substituted freely allowing many of their players the opportunity to play in a state championship game.
Following the game, several Cardinals were recognized for their performances. Tristan Harless was voted as East Surry’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player while Stephen Gosnell took home the Most Outstanding Offensive Player. In no surprise, Jefferson Boaz was selected as the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Although these players received no awards, the performance of East Surry’s offensive line was outstanding. These players—Austin Evans, Evan Morris, Sam Whitt, Victor Flores, and Mackenzie Baker—allowed only one sack all night as the Cardinals attempted 42 passes. The “Fat Cowboys”, as they have nicknamed themselves, provided the time for Boaz to find his receivers and were the unsung heroes of East Surry’s victory.
The talented receiving core of the Cardinals put up fantastic numbers. Dillon Mosley, who will be a preferred walk-on at N. C. State next season, had 6 receptions for 42 yards and 2 touchdowns. Landon Stevens, a preferred walk-on at UNC next fall, caught 10 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns while Stephen Gosnell, a UNC commit, had 13 receptions for 206 yards and two touchdowns.
Boaz set a new state championship game record for passing yards and his eight touchdowns tied a championship game record. However, Boaz was quick to recognize that his performance was a team effort. He remarked after the game, “ I couldn’t have done it without others. I had time and my receivers were getting open. So when you have that stuff going on, all you can do is excel.” He continued, “This is probably the best feeling I’ve ever had. I appreciate these people. God has blessed me in so many ways.”
Coach Lowman has now brought East Surry its first state championship in football and guided this team to the mission it set a year ago. In explaining his feelings, Coach Lowman said. “It is a great feeling to be with this amazing group of kids. And it’s a blessing to see them get this win and enjoy this.” Lowman continued his post-game comments by praising his defense and special teams and their coaches. “It was a phenomenal performance. Football is played in three phases—offense, defense, and special teams. Without the momentum from the turnovers that our defense and special teams forced, I don’t know if we are in the same situation. I do feel like we could have scored, but I think it would have come down to a one touchdown ballgame. Our defensive staff had a great game plan and worked really hard on it. Once we got used to the speed that they had and the speed they were executing, we were able to stop them some. Coach Johnson has done a great job here on special teams for years, and it really paid off tonight.” Lowman was not surprised by Boaz’s performance as he has seen him perform similarly in previous games this year. “When our guys are focused and executing, that’s what they’ve been able to do all year.”
Hats off to the undefeated (15-0) East Surry Cardinals who are your 2019 1-AA State Football Champions.