In the heat of a summer practice, well before the hoopla of Friday night lights, coach Jimmy Upchurch said he wanted his seniors to have the opportunity to win a conference championship this season. On Friday in a thrilling 21-20 game against Carver, he watched it unfold and had a hard time blinking back tears when students rushed the field to congratulate his team.
“It’s pretty unbelievable and I couldn’t be happier for these guys. They’ve worked so hard and been so loyal to our program. They deserve every bit of this,” Upchurch said.
Patrick Ellis put West on the board with a 19-yard field goal in the second quarter. Moments earlier West took a huge hit when leading rusher Devan Hairston was taken off the field with a knee injury.
“We were going to take chances because I knew we couldn’t run on them a lot. They’re so good upfront,” the coach said. “But when Devan went out it totally put us in disarray. Everything we had worked on all week went out the window.”
Carver responded with back-to-back touchdowns and took a 14-3 lead before halftime.
“We had to pick them up because we were down mentally. We had to get them focused quick. I said, ‘Boys, we have 24 minutes to decide whether you want to be a champion or not,’” Upchurch said.
In the second half quarterback Alex Manley hustled down the left side for a 5-yard touchdown run.
Minutes later Manley connected with Gavin Parker on a 12-yard touchdown pushing the Wildcats lead ahead 15-14.
The excitement was short lived when Carver threatened again with a 43-yard touchdown pass and a 20-15 advantage.
The Wildcats gained possession and in a play likely to be remembered for years to come, Manley fired off a 31-yard pass to receiver Jacob Rosecrans. A Carver defender leaped in the air, tipped the football, but Rosecrans pulled it in for a touchdown to seal the championship win with two minutes left in the game.
Longtime announcer in the press box, Mike Marshall may have said it best.
“Wow, just wow.”
As a team the Wildcats tallied 328-yards to Carver’s 163.
Manley threw for 159-yards on 11 passes and rushed for another 58 and a touchdown.
Defensively for the Wildcats, Caustin Beckner and Ty Walker led with six tackles, while Jacob Conn and Gavin Parker tacked on 4.
“Tonight, it was like everybody was chipping in and fighting and that’s what we wanted. There’s so many hours of hard work these kids put into this. I’m really happy for them,” Upchurch said.
West Stokes (9-1 overall, 4-0 WPAC) can wrap up a perfect conference season next Friday with a win on the road against Surry Central (3-7, 1-3).
Amanda Dodson can be reached at 336-813-2426 or on Twitter at AmandaTDodson.