BOONVILLE - While losses are never a good thing, Starmount head coach Scott Johnson said last week’s 14-7 loss to Wilkes Central in the Mountain Valley Conference title game was almost a blessing in disguise.
“I told them last week, we never want to lose, but getting beat at Wilkes Central might be the best thing that could have happened to us,” he explained. “It would get us refocused.
“They had a great week of practice and watched a ton of film and did everything we asked them to do. And other than getting ‘out-athleted’ a time or two, they did a real good job tonight,” Johnson added.
Starmount bounced back from the humbling defeat with a convincing 24-20 victory over a solid and athletic Carver squad in the opening round of the 2A state playoffs Friday night.
Aside from two long scoring plays that the Rams were “out-athleted” on, Starmount’s top-ranked defense held the Yellow Jackets in check for most of the night.
The Rams forced two turnovers - Will Lambert’s seventh interception of the season and Michael Wood’s second fumble recovery of the year - and held a potent Carver passing attack to 285 yards of total offense, with much of that coming in the final minutes of the game.
Offensively, senior quarterback Samuel Stone powered Starmount on the ground and through the air. Stone led the way with 73 rushing yards and 60 passing yards on 6-for-10 passing and one touchdown.
Leading rusher Chaston Martin was limited to 38 yards on the ground, while Brian King and Sergio Sarinara added 36 and 26 yards, respectively, against a physical defensive line for Carver.
Lambert led Ram receivers with two catches for 30 yards, with Will Simpson and James Watson hauling in one catch each for 16 and 10 yards, respectively.
After a scoreless first quarter, Starmount struck first when Stone floated a pass to Simpson out of the backfield for the opening score of the night early in the second.
The Yellow Jackets responded with an 80-yard touchdown strike midway through the quarter. Starmount blocked the ensuing extra point attempt to preserve the one-point lead at 7-6.
Coming out of the half, the Rams used a six-minute drive - highlighted by four third-down pick-ups - to extend their lead with an 8-yard touchdown run by Watson.
After a Lambert interception, Starmount racked up another long drive with three third-down and one fourth-down conversion, capped off by Simspon’s second touchdown of the night to push the lead out to 21-6.
“We have to keep moving the chains and plugging away,” Johnson said. “Samuel had that one real long play on the trap option and that was the only long run that we had.”
Carver answered quickly with a 40-yard score and two-point conversion to cut the lead to 21-14 with just over 10 minutes left on the clock.
On the next drive, Stone broke free on a 65-yard run up the middle down to the five-yard line. After the drive stalled, Parker Gunnell drilled a 24-yard field goal to extend the lead out to double-digits at 24-14.
In a hurry-up offense, Carver picked their way down the field and found the endzone on a 3-yard strike with 32.2 seconds left in the game. On the two-point conversion, Brady Lamm rocked a Jacket receiver, jarring the ball loose.
Starmount recovered the ensuing onside kick to preserve the victory, 24-14.
“They are explosive and they do a good job at getting the ball to their athletes. I felt like we left some points on the field a couple times out there,” Johnson said. “I thought we did a pretty good job.”
In what was likely the final home game of the year for Starmount and the 23 seniors, Johnson credited the strong senior class for the Rams bounce-back victory.
“Credit a great group of seniors,” he said. “I told them, unless something really strange happens, this would be their last game on this field. And they didn’t want to go out losing.
“I told them that a lot of what people think of you is how you handle this week. Their character, heart and love for one another showed through tonight,” Johnson added.
With the win, the Rams advanced to the second round against undefeated East Lincoln next Friday in Denver. Starmount knocked the Mustangs out of last year’s playoff in the first round, 21-13.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.