MOUNT AIRY — This year’s bus trip home from Surry County was a much more celebratory ride than the last Mitchell visit to the Mayberry area.
Two seasons ago, a questionable late incomplete call on an apparent touchdown prevented the Mountaineers from a potential road victory against the talent-laden East Surry Cardinals.
Fast forward to Friday, Nov. 26, the Mountaineers again faced a daunting task and a talented opponent in Mount Airy High School. The Bears had surrendered just 25 points leading up to its state quarterfinal contest with the Mountaineers, and the No. 2 seed had shutout nine of its opponents during the season, including a pair of postseason shutouts.
As has been the case throughout the season, the Mountaineers took the field with a workmanlike approach, however, refusing to shrink against the challenge of traveling to Wallace Shelton Stadium to take on an athletic and talented Mt. Airy club. Capitalizing on Bears turnovers and penalties while smashing the Bears defense with its bruising offensive line and running attack, the Mountaineers overcame every obstacle placed in front of it en route to a 21-14 victory.
The victory sets up a 1A Western Regional championship game this Friday, Dec. 3, at Memorial Stadium in Ledger against the Robbinsville Black Knights, the team that eliminated the Mountaineers from the state playoffs last season in Robbinsville.
Mitchell’s do-everything quarterback Ty Turbyfill again shouldered much of the offensive burden, gaining 180 rushing yards on 34 carries with two touchdowns, while completing just 1-of-3 passing for 87 yards, but that one completion went for a touchdown.
Tyler Mason led Mount Airy with 139 rushing yards on 12 carries with a touchdown, with 85 rushing yards on four carries and a touchdown by teammate Zeb Stroup. MAHS quarterback Ian Gallimore completed 4-of-9 passing for 136 yards with an interception.
Mount Airy amassed 399 yards in total offense, while Mitchell gained 288 yards, but a difference in the game came by way of penalties. Mitchell committed only five penalties for 37 yards, while the Bears committed a whopping 14 penalties for 179 yards, including several unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that greatly benefited the visiting Mountaineers.
The Mountaineers showed that it had made the near-three-hour drive to Surry County with intentions of winning, as Mitchell took the opening kickoff and mounted a seven-play, 60-yard drive, using all running plays to break the ice on the scoreboard. Turbyfill broke free from the MA defense and raced 24 yards for the score, with Ben Wessinger’s PAT giving Mitchell a 7-0 lead at the 8:32 mark of the opening quarter.
Mitchell’s defense then reared its head as it held the potent Bears attack to a three and out. The Mountaineers were unable to move the ball with its second possession and punted back to Mount Airy. As the opening quarter concluded Mount Airy’s second offensive series found some traction, as the Granite Bears moved the football into the Mitchell red zone to open the second quarter. Facing a fourth down at the Mitchell 8-yard line, however, the Mountaineers D turned the Bears away when a Stroup pass fell incomplete to turn the ball over on downs.
Backed up deep in its own territory, Mitchell sought to get out from under the shadow of its own goal post with three running plays to its own 13-yard line. After a Mitchell timeout to strategize, the Mountaineers threw a rare pass on a 3rd-and-3 play, as Turbyfill found a streaking Ethan Willis, who outran the speedy Mount Airy secondary all the way to the end zone for an 87-yard touchdown pass. Wessinger’s PAT doubled Mitchell’s lead to 14-0 with 8:16 to play before halftime, sending the large contingent of Mitchell fans traveling from the mountains into euphoria while hushing the hometown Bears faithful.
After giving up its season-high point total for a single game in a matter of just greater than one quarter, the Bears regrouped and struck back on offense. A pair of Tyler Mason carries netted 28 total yards and, following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed against MA, the Bears shook off the foul with a Mason 49-yard touchdown run to put the home team on the scoreboard. Walker Stroup’s PAT cut Mitchell’s lead to 14-7 with 5:02 to play in the second quarter.
On its ensuing possession, Mitchell held the football for more than four minutes before a Wessinger punt pinned the Bears inside their own 10-yard line with less than a minute to play in the half. The Bears opted for a run play that closed the half, leaving the visiting Mountaineers with a seven-point lead at the intermission.
With the first possession of the third quarter, Mount Airy demonstrated its explosive nature, as on the second play from scrimmage, Mason broke off a 40-yard run to the Mitchell 25-yard line. A Joshua Penn run of 13 yards four plays later set up the Bears with a first-and-goal from the Mitchell 1-yard line. The biggest moment of the game to that point occurred on the following play, as Penn lost the football while attempting to breach the goal line, and Mitchell’s Xander Gardner recovered the loose pigskin for a turnover.
Mitchell was unable to do anything with the turnover and had to punt, but the defensive stand squarely placed momentum on the Mountaineer sideline for the remainder of the quarter. The teams exchanged punts, as Mount Airy only ran three additional plays for the rest of the third period. Mitchell maintained its seven-point advantage of 14-7 entering the final 12 minutes of action.
A Mitchell possession was again stalled by the Mount Airy defense which bowed its neck, forcing a MHS punt. With good starting field position, Mount Airy again failed to capitalize. On its first play, a 40-yard touchdown run was negated by a holding penalty, then the turnover bug again bit the Bears when a Gallimore pass was picked off by Ty Turbyfill, who had just entered the game on the previous play as a substitute in the secondary. Turbyfill took the pick and returned the ball 27 yards into Mount Airy territory, again caging the Bears offense.
Mitchell failed to convert on a fourth down to turn the ball over on downs with its ensuing possession following the turnover, and despite a pair of MA penalties, the Bears managed to find the end zone for the tying touchdown on its subsequent possession, as Z. Stroup rambled down the field past the Mitchell defense for a 78-yard touchdown. The PAT split the uprights to tie the game at 14-14 with 5:47 left in the contest.
Needing bit plays on its most important possession of the season, the Mitchell offense delivered, with some assistance from the Bears defense. Mitchell returned the Mt. Airy kickoff to the Mitchell 35-yard line, and was beneficiary of an MA unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to start Mitchell’s drive at the Mt. Airy 48-yard line. Turbyfill ran for seven yards and 26 yards on two consecutive plays to put the Mountaineers inside the MA red zone.A two-yard Chase Duncan carry on second down was set to leave the Mountaineers facing a 3rd-and-7 play call from the Bears’ 12-yard line, but another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave the visitors an automatic first down. Three straight carries by Turbyfill moved the Mountaineers to the Bears 1-yard line, and after a Mt. Airy timeout prior to a fourth-and-goal play, Turbyfill followed his linemen and plunged across the goal line for the tie-breaking touchdown with 1:50 left to play. Wessinger added the PAT for a 21-14 Mountaineers lead.
Another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed to Mt. Airy following the Mitchell touchdown play meant poor opening field position for the Bears in its hope of trying to again tie the contest. Starting from its own 20-yard line, Gallimore completed a pass for 21 yards to Logan Dowell, but an illegal block penalty negated much of the yardage gained. A bad snap two plays later cost Mt. Airy 20 additional yards, leaving the Bears facing a 3rd-and-44 at its own 7-yard line. Unfazed, Gallimore completed a 50-yard pass to Z. Stroup into Mitchell territory. Gallimore was forced out of bounds during a run on the next play to stop the clock with 19 seconds remaining. With one timeout left in its pocket, Mount Airy made the decision to take a timeout following the play while the clock was stopped, a decision that proved costly a short time later. Out of the game stoppage, a second-down throw fell incomplete. On what proved to be the game’s final play, Gallimore completed a pass to Mario Revels in bounds at the Mitchell 10-yard line for a first down. Without a timeout, the Bears could not stop the clock and time ran out to preserve the Mitchell win and berth in the state semifinal round.
Enrique Huaroco led the Mitchell defense with six tackles, including two tackles for loss. Chandler Horney added five tackles, including a pair of tackles for loss. Gabe Brandt also pitched in with five tackles in the win.
The winner of this week’s 1A Western Regional title game between Robbinsville and Mitchell will advance to the NCHSAA 1A state championship game to face the winner of this week’s contest between 1A Eastern Regional finalists, sixth-seeded Pender and top-seeded Tarboro.