In many ways mental strength, or lack thereof, trumps physical strength on the football field. Make no mistake, it’s a big reason as to why East Wilkes punched their ticket to the third round of the 1AA State Championship playoffs Friday night.
East Wilkes senior Jorden Niten tackled the quarterback in the endzone for a safety early in the game, giving the Cardinals their first lead of the game. On the ensuing possession, Joah Logan scored on one of the craziest catches the Cardinals have had all year as they went on to win 22-7 over Swain County.
Swain County had just gotten the ball back after East Wilkes failed to convert on a fourth-and-17 just outside of field goal range. A Swain County player hit an East Wilkes player in front of the official, meaning that rather than Swain County getting the ball back on the 35-yard line, they were pushed deep in their own territory, where Niten made the deciding play of the game.
“It was a big momentum swing, but it didn’t come by accident… I thought our defense played lights out tonight, and they’re a big reason why we were able to win this game,” East Wilkes Head Coach JK Adkins said.
With the ball back up 9-7, the Cardinals offensive line bought sophomore quarterback Bryce Vestal all the time he could possibly need, and on 3rd-and-long, Vestal found sophomore Jared Wood for a long completion. Wood was the target again on what fans, players, and media alike could not believe what they saw.
Adkins made the call to go for it on fourth down, with Vestal rolling right and trying to find Wood again. Wood could not get a handle on the ball as it was tipped straight up in the air. Then, a Swain County player tried to swat it away but was unsuccessful. As the ball started coming back down, Logan came out of nowhere to snag it just before it hit the ground giving the Cardinals a 15-7 lead.
“We needed that catch, Jared was making big plays, Bryce was making great passes… A tip drill,” Logan said.
“It’s one of those situations where you get a play like that and you almost feel like, ‘Maybe tonight is our night,‘“Adkins said. “Football games are littered with plays kind of like that.”
With the win, the Cardinals won their first game against Swain County in school history, after falling in the state playoffs to them twice. As the top overall seed, the Cardinals host Mitchell Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Catch an in-depth preview of Friday night’s game in the Friday edition of the Elkin Tribune or online at elkintribune.com
Ryan DeCosta can be reached at 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.