By David Rogers. October 21, 2016. BOONE, NC — If it was a movie, Friday night’s football game between Watauga and visiting Patton (Morganton) might have been aptly called, “Stormy Weather,” with a sub-title: “Boys On The Run.” The Pioneers made short work of the Panthers, 49-7, in front of a mostly empty Jack Groce Stadium.
COVER IMAGE: The pylon may have blown over, but Corey West was still able to find the end zone for the second TD of the first quarter. Photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.
There was nothing keeping the American flag “starch stiff” during the playing of the national anthem except a fierce, 30+ miles-per-hour wind. A large sideline sponsor sign flew down the track in front of the grandstands and clubbed a cheerleader in the back of the head (she was OK, and laughed it off). Any of the couple of hundred fans braving the elements to fetch some coffee or hot chocolate from the concession stands may well have needed some dermatology work afterwards, the wind blowing icy pellets of rain into their faces.
Welcome to “Mountain Football.”
Patton’s head coach Tom Eanes was gracious afterwards in telling reporters that the weather was not so much of a factor as Watauga’s execution on both sides of the ball, but clearly the Panthers seemed somewhat intimidated by the conditions: cold, wet, windy. Perfectly miserable.
They just whipped us.
“They just whipped us,” admitted the Patton coach who is now 0-3 against the Pioneers. “I have been saying all week that we couldn’t fall behind by two touchdowns. The weather made things tough on us, too.
“But Watauga has such a good team,” Eanes added. “They did an excellent job of marching the ball into that stiff wind (in the first quarter) to score those (two) touchdowns. We didn’t have the kind of offense to match them. I was really disappointed in our play up front. (Watauga) controlled the line of scrimmage.”
Of course, both sides had to play in the adverse weather conditions. Watauga head coach Ryan Habich reported later that he told his players (about the weather) that they had to be “mountain tough” — and they were, on both sides of the ball and on special teams. To a man, the Pioneers played a complete game in an imperfect setting.
To explain the outcome of Watauga’s Friday night performance begins, though, with the defense. After giving up 46 points in a 46-35 loss to Alexander Central and 48 points in a 78-48 win over Ashe County, the Pioneer “D” has steadily improved even when facing stiffer competition. Patton entered the game with what was touted as one of the state’s leading offenses, headed by a dynamic quarterback in junior Joe Eakin and junior running back William Brawley. Together they had amassed almost 2,400 yards of offense in recording 28 TDs in the 2016 campaign.
Between the elements and Watauga’s swarming gang-tackles — often behind the line of scrimmage — the Patton stars had their moments but didn’t really stand a chance. And almost every time the Panthers threatened to respond, even orchestrating long, time-consuming offensive possessions, a penalty or a miscue would wipe out the benefit of a big gain.
Assistant coach (offensive line) Steve Breitenstein was effusive in his praise of the defense’s improvement when he observed to Blowing Rock News afterwards, “They have come a long way. When you think about where they were against Alexander Central and the points they gave up to Ashe County, what they have especially done against Freedom, Patton and even in the loss to Hibriten is a remarkable achievement.”
Habich was quick to credit his coaching staff on both sides of the ball, but especially Dustin Kerley (defensive coordinator), Bill Carr (defensive line) and Klay Anderson (defensive backs).
Asked after the game to explain the dramatic improvement in the Pioneer defense, senior strong safety (and fullback on offense) Evan Suggs noted, “It has simply taken a lot of chewin’ outs by the coaches for the guys who have been slower to understand (their assignments).”
The last two games mean a lot. If we win out, we have a higher probability of getting at least one, maybe even two home games in the playoffs.
Offensively, it was not a night for passing — or even pitchouts.
“In the first quarter,” Habich chuckled to reporters, “I saw the ball flutter in the wind on the first option pitchout and I just told (QB) Hamilton Castle not to pitch out anymore.”
The senior QB didn’t and, as a result, turned out to be the game’s second leading rusher and highest scorer, keeping the ball five times for 125 yards and three TDs. Suggs found the end zone twice, carrying the ball 11 times for 137 yards.
For the game, Watauga rushed 30 times for 400 yards (with no pass attempts, that was also the total offense) and seven TDs. Patton rushed 47 times for 215 yards and completed none of four pass attempts.
By the end of the first quarter, Watauga led 14-0 and some in the crowd saw the writing on the wall and headed for the exits. When the buzzer sounded the end of the first half and a 28-0 Watauga advantage, most of those at the start had already zipped up their parkas, adjusted their earmuffs, gathered their blankets and peppermint schnaps and gone home.
Perhaps the bravest among the crowd were the members of the Pacers dance team whose near perfect halftime show was performed with the weather at its worst — as well as the elementary and middle school dancers (and their parents who stayed to watch) who have been participating in a series of camps with the Pacers and this was their night to put it all together.
Now 6-3 overall and 4-1 in Northwestern Conference play, Watauga is 2-1 against the three preseason conference favorites (Hibriten, Freedom and Patton), with their only conference loss a heartbreaker last week to Hibriten, 28-27.
To close out the 2016 regular season, the Pioneers go on the road with a fire in their bellies next week against Hickory, then close out league play at home on Senior Night against South Caldwell on Nov. 4th.
“These last two games mean a lot,” Suggs pointed out to reporters in the locker room afterwards, “If we win out, we have a greater probability of at least one and maybe even a couple more home games in the state playoffs.”
COMPREHENSIVE GAME STATS
- First Quarter
- WHS — Castle, 41 run (Densham kick), 7-0
- WHS — West, 33 run (Densham kick), 14-0
- Second Quarter
- WHS — Castle, 40 run (Castle run), 22-0
- WHS — Suggs, 17 run (kick failed), 28-0
- Third Quarter
- WHS — Suggs, 64 run (Densham kick). 35-0
- WHS — Castle, 29 run (Densham kick), 42-0
- Fourth Quarter
- WHS — Critcher, 4 run (Densham kick), 49-0
- PHA — Causby, 15 run (Scott kick), 49-7
- Rushing (Carries, Yards, TDs)
- Eakin, 10-60-0
- Lytle, 8-48-0
- Brawley, 7-43-0
- Causby, 9-39-0
- Thomas, 7-36-0
- Wright, 1-4-0
- Curtis, 2-3-0
- Epps, 1-(-4)-0
- Team, 2-(-15)-0
- Suggs, 11-137-2
- Castle, 5-125-3)
- West, 5-28-1
- Critcher, 5-28-1
- Greene, 1-9-0
- Williamjs, 1-6-0
- Passing (Completions, Attempts Interceptions, TDs)
- Eakin, 5-0-2-0
- Patton, None
- Watauga, None
|Avg. Per Rush||4.6||13.3|