By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: March 14, 2019 | 3:15 p.m.
SURRY – Long before Surry County took on the Eastside Spartans, the whisper started around: If the boys win, it would be the first time the Cougars have taken home the championship since 2005. That was the year that Coach Joe Ellis coached the team to the ultimate win in what everyone knew was his last game due to terminal cancer. On Saturday, egged on by a lot of hard work and QuanDriel Palmer’s hard drives in the last quarter, the Cougars took the Virginia State 1A Championship with a 57-48 win – the exact same score as that game 14 years ago.
In the first quarter, the Spartans wasted no time letting the Cougars know that they came to win. Playing neck and neck the whole first period, Drew and Brown answered with three pointers for Surry, but when the buzzer went off to end the quarter, Surry was trailing by one.
The second quarter, Eastside drew first blood with a three pointer making it 17-13 their favor. With four points being the greatest margin the whole period, the lead was swapped again and again. Finally, with four seconds left before the half, a three pointer by Surry’s, Slade, tied the score 26 all going into the locker room.
Palmer scores after several last quarter drives that ultimately led to victory
Surry’s Palmer started off the scoring with a basket to begin period three, but Eastside roared back with another run of three pointers. In spite of serious hustling by the Cougars, the score was soon 40-35 Eastside. With less than a minute to go before the third quarter buzzer, Surry’s Palmer caught fire with the first of a series of hard drives heading toward the last quarter, bringing the score back within three with a two-pointer 15 seconds before the buzzer.
Between Palmer’s drives and 8 points picked up in the last quarter, a three for Drew, a nice slam by Slade and Pope scoring 5 points in the last 28 seconds of the game, the Cougars just proved too strong for the Spartans. When the smoke cleared, the score was 57-48, and the Surry County Cougars were the new Virginia State 1A Champions.
After the boys were awarded the championship trophy before their screaming fans, they pulled Coach Ellis’s widow, Dorothy, down to have her photo made with them holding the trophy – carrying on the legacy. Just how much that meant to the team and the fans became clear at the press release following the trophy presentation.
Tynes up in the air! Photo Credit: Carlos Turner
One of the first questions asked of Pope was how knowing that Coach Ellis “sat right in that same chair” the last time Surry took home a state championship had affected the team, Pope responded, “Since the playoffs started we’ve been watching a little three minute clip ‘Going Out a Champion.’ We watched today before leaving the hotel. That was his widow we got to come out and accept the trophy with us. She’s with us every home game, been with us a lot of away games. She told us before we left Sussex (at the semifinals) she said, ‘Go get one.” It’s been very emotional. That’s why I’m glad the staff at VCU let her come down and take a picture with us. That was monumental. Something she’s going to live with for the rest of her life.”
Pope’s son, Montel, who was carried off the floor on his teammates shoulders after he saved the Semifinal game in the last seconds, added, “The video gives us motivation. He won the championship right before he passed, and it was like a legacy we had to live up to.”
Coach Pope then described the 2018-19 season as “The culmination of all the hard work they’ve put in over the last four years. They’ve worked hard, fall leagues, team camps, some of these guys have even run cross country. It’s just really unbelievable that we can bring the championship home to Surry County … and I’m just so proud of them.”
In response to a question to Palmer about what was going through his mind when started driving over and over to the hoop at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, he laughed, then emphatically said, “I wasn’t losing. I saw us losing, and I didn’t want to lose. So I’d just keep driving and driving and take the time with the shots.”
After a little good-natured ribbing about being “duded up” for the game, Coach Pope said, “I like to coach comfortably, but I said if I make it to the state championship I’ll buy a suit and I’ll wear it. It was well worth it. I’m glad I bought the suit and I’m glad these boys won it. I’m just humbled by these guys. And to be coaching my son? It just all seems surreal to me.”
Asked what it felt like to play his last game winning the state championship with his father coaching him, Monte Pope said, “I’ve been with my dad since middle school, through a lot of seasons and a lot of adversity, so I was just glad to do it.” Then, to a question about whether or not he thought his buzzer beaters in the last couple of games helped the team later on as well, he replied, “I think it did. It gave us confidence. It just felt like it said to us that we’re here for a reason.”
“Our goal was to win,” Coach Pope said, finishing up the interview. “The boys worked HARD, and I’m so proud of them and so proud of the community. The boys believe – they really believe. This was a good way to cap off an unbelievable season.”