EAST BEND - The 2013 Unifi Bowl had a little bit of everything.
Starmount jumped out to a big 14-3 lead before watching rival Forbush fight back and knot the game late at 14-all. The Rams then responded with a go-ahead, 61-yard scamper by senior quarterback Will Simpson with 2:04 remaining.
But the Falcons weren’t done, forcing their third turnover of the night, giving the underdogs a last-gasp effort at the game-tying score.
When the dust finally settled in East Bend, a short-staff Starmount squad lifted the Unifi Bowl trophy for the seventh-straight season to keep Yadkin County bragging rights with a thrilling 21-14 triumph.
“[It was a hard-fought win], especially with as many people as we had hurt and had out,” Starmount head coach Scott Johnson explained. “I think we had six out tonight and one dressed that really couldn’t play. We probably played the game with 18 or 19 kids. We were playing without both of our defensive ends. We are playing with guys who are not used to being in that situation, but they stepped up.”
“We knew this was our opportunity and I was proud of how we took the fight to them. We just didn’t capitalize on some opportunities and let them slip by,” Forbush skipper Chris Johnson added.
In front a raucous crowd jammed into Falcon Stadium, Starmount started strong on both sides of the ball.
Tyler Albritton pounced on a Forbush fumble on the opening drive of the game. The Rams then marched down the field as Simpson capped the drive with a one-yard plunge for a quick 7-0 advantage.
The Falcons answered when Tyler Holden recovered a loose ball in Starmount territory. Josue Aguilar followed with a 35-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3 early in the second.
With time winding down in the half, Simpson took over to extend the Rams’ lead before the break. The senior fielded a Falcon punt near midfield and ran down the left sideline to the 26.
On the next play, Simpson spun his way down to the three before plowing on the following play to give Starmount a 14-3 cushion with 47 ticks remaining.
But the Falcons weren’t done. Carson Fulp connected with Cameron Butner on back-to-back plays down the field to put Forbush in field goal range.
Aguilar added his second kick of the night to bring the Falcons within 14-6 at the break.
The defenses shined in the third quarter, holding both teams off the scoreboard, sending the Unifi Bowl to the fourth with the Rams leading 14-6.
But Forbush came out in the final stanza on fire.
Cody Shrewsbury stuffed a 4th-and-1 run at the 30-yard line, forcing a turnover on downs to open the fourth.
Jordan Sawyers then ripped off two first-down runs before Butner hauled in another catch to move the chains as the Falcons marched to the 9.
On 3rd-and-1, Sawyers dove up the gut for the touchdown. Fulp then hit Brady Willard on a roll-out for the two-point conversion to knot the game at 14-14 with 6:57 remaining.
Simpson, a running back filling in for injured starting quarterback Zach Freed, answered for the Rams. The senior darted 61 yards up the middle, winning a foot-race to the endzone for the go-ahead score with 2:04 left, sending the Starmout sidelines and stands into a frenzy.
Two plays later, Gunner Cass then picked off Fulp on a long pass down the field to all but seal the victory.
But on the ensuing drive, the Rams fumbled for the third time on the night as Butner jumped on the loose ball to give Forbush the ball with 43.5 seconds left in a last-ditch effort.
Fulp threw up four long pass attempts down the field but the Starmount defense stood tall to secure the wild 21-14 victory.
“In the past when we got down, we kind of laid down. But tonight, we hung together and that’s a trait of a team getting better,” Chris Johnson explained. “Even when we got down 21-14 with two minutes left, everybody still believed. You’re not always going pull out the win, but the good thing is that everybody believed on that sideline that we were going to.”
Simpson powered the Rams to victory as the fill-in quarterback with 151 yards on just 13 carries (11.6 yards per carry) and three scores.
“You have a kid who played offensive line growing up. He moved to running back in middle school and has been one our better backs coming through. We had to move him to quarterback and he said ‘Yes, sir. Whatever you need me to do,’” Johnson explained.
“He’s obviously limited with some of the things he can do throwing the ball. But he did everything we asked him to do. His leadership was the difference in the game for us,” he added.
Aaron Skeens added 82 yards on the ground, while Trey Bryant and Ken Kelly tacked on 48 and 43 yards, respectively, as Starmount piled up 389 rushing yards.
The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Rams, who evened their overall record at 2-2, while Forbush falls to 2-2 on the season.
Forbush hits the road against East Wilkes, while Starmount heads into its bye week looking to get healthy before returning Sept. 27 in the Battle of the Bridge against Elkin.
“This bye week comes at a good time for us. We just have to get everybody healthy and everybody back to speed - we’re not at full speed because of nagging injuries,” Scott Johnson added.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.