WEST JEFFERSON — North Surry picked off six Ashe County passes, but the resilient Huskies found away to lock down a 22-19 victory in the season opener on Friday night.
Both teams played without key players. Ashe had to play without leading receiver Judd Price and starting running back Skye Sullivan while North Surry quarterback and reigning conference player of the year Avery Smith did not suit up for the Greyhounds.
Ashe still had no problems finding points early on without their missing pieces. Senior quarterback Colin Ellis had a highlight-reel run through the Greyhound defense for a 39-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead just three minutes into the game.
The defense and special teams stepped up big over the next two minutes. After a quick North Surry drive ended, Ashe was forced to punt. Ellis’ quick kick punt out of shotgun formation was downed at the one-yard line. The Husky defense swarmed North Surry quarterback Brent Crouse for a safety with 7:08 left in the first quarter.
The Huskies found the end zone one more time in the first. Ellis capped off a scoring drive with a five-yard TD pass to Simon Houck. Ashe’s extra point from Dylan Little was good, increasing the lead to 15-0 for the home team.
North Surry got one of those scores back with a six-yard touchdown run from senior tailback Andrew Smith. The extra point made the score 15-7 with 11:41 left in the first half.
After an interception by the Greyhound defense, the visiting team capitalized with a five-yard touchdown pass on a trick play that featured wide receiver Darius Duncan throwing to fellow wideout Casey Hull for a touchdown. A failed two-point conversion left Ashe still clinging to a 15-13 lead with 8:18 left in the second quarter.
The score remained the same until the 6:41 mark of the third quarter when Reid Stanley picked off a pass from Ellis and returned it for the go-ahead touchdown. The extra point was no good, giving the Greyhounds a 19-15 advantage.
On the very next series, Ellis threw another pick, this one by Nic Rodriguez. Rodriguez ran it into the end zone for another score, however the return was called back on a block in the back penalty. The penalty turned out to be a huge one as the Husky defense held and forced a turnover on downs.
With just under 10 minutes left in the game and trailing by three points, the Husky defense stepped up yet again with senior linebacker Tristen Jones picking off a pass from Crouse.
The Husky offense came back to life with a great deep ball from Ellis to junior wideout Grant Thompson. A simple pitch play to running back John Reavis resulted in a three-yard touchdown that put Ashe back in front, 22-19, with 6:55 left to play.
North Surry was able to drive down to the Ashe County 25-yard line, but the Husky defense held and got a key stop on fourth down.
After running off some clock, the Huskies needed one more big defensive stand with two minutes to play.
As North Surry tried to get down the field to either tie the game or win it, Thompson picked off a pass with 20 seconds left in the game to seal the hard-fought win.
“I am super proud of a bunch of very young men. We had 13 sophomores on that team tonight. For us to fight the way we did, senior leadership came up big, Grant Thompson made a couple big plays, but our defense played incredible,” said Ashe County head coach Brian Hampton. “They got after it, they got two points for us, they only gave up two scores. I’m so proud of our defense.”
Offensively, the Huskies had some first-game struggles including the six interceptions by Ellis, but in the end, it was also Ellis that made a couple of big throws on the drive that ended up providing the game-winning score.
“We just told him (Ellis) to play. He was getting mad, he threw some interceptions, that’s going to happen,” said Hampton. “He’s our guy and when we needed him, he was there. We never got down on Colin. It might have looked like it when I was throwing a fit but I was never down on him.”
Next week, the competition takes another step up when Ashe travels to Watauga to take on the rival Pioneers.
“We’ve got to improve a lot of things. I’ll watch the film and see what we’ve got to do but defensively I was impressed with the way we battled. We’ve still got to fix some coverage things,” said Hampton. “Next week will be a little bit of a different animal with some physical play up front, more running game oriented stuff so we’ll have to adjust some things.”
Hampton praised a lot of players after the game, including John Reavis who started at running back and at linebacker. Hampton said he wasn’t sure if Reavis came off the field more than a handful of plays all night long.
“He (Reavis) sucked it up and played. I’m just proud of this group,” Hampton said. “I’ve said it before, I love this team, they work hard, there’s not many of them but they work hard. It’s a fun team to coach and it showed tonight, they played their guts out.”
Alexander Central 46, Watauga 35
Alleghany 34, North Stokes 0
Bandys 46, South Caldwell 24
Mount Airy 42, Starmount 18
West Stokes 35, Central Davidson 12
Forbush 27, Elkin 6
Hampton (TN) 46, Avery County 12
Hibriten 56, East Burke 0
Maiden 53, Fred T. Foard 0
Mitchell 20, West Wilkes 6
Mountain Heritage 36, Davey Crockett (TN) 14
East Wilkes 15, South Stokes 6
Surry Central 34, East Surry 14
West Caldwell 41, North Wilkes 10
Wilkes Central 20, North Iredell 18
Nathan Ham can be reached at 336-489-3062.