By Madison Shelton. October 6, 2017. BOONE, NC- Host Watauga jumped out to a 14-0 “Homecoming” lead at Jack Groce Stadium Friday night and visiting Hickory could never quite recover. At the end of the Northwestern Conference “barn burner” of a football game, the Pioneers tamed the Red Tornadoes, 49-42.
COVER IMAGE: Satterfield can’t be stopped with a shirt tail tackle.
The sophomore tandem of quarterback Anderson Castle and fullback Bryce Satterfield combined for 444 yards rushing to lead the Watauga offensive juggernaut, accounting for the lion’s share of their team’s whopping 503 yards of total offense. Hickory’s 331 yards of total offense (234 rushing and 97 through the air) was modest by comparison, but the Red Tornadoes benefitted from two Pioneer turnovers – both fumbles lost – and capitalized on their opportunities.
Watauga’s Castle may have only thrown one pass all night, but he definitely made it count, hurling a 59 yard TD pass to a wide open tight end Philip Shukis lumbering down the left sideline with 3:37 left in the first half. That expanded the Pioneer lead to 28-13, but that advantage was short-lived as Hickory’s Jaylen Byrd fashioned a 23-yard kickoff return to midfield, giving the visitors good field position. They capitalized with an 11-play, 50-yard drive to the Watauga end zone, culminating with quarterback Derrien Phillips 13-yard dash to paydirt.
At the start of the evening, seven of the eight Northwestern Conference teams were within reach of the league lead, so both Hickory and Watauga were aware of the significance of their matchup.
We knew we needed to control the ball.
“We knew we needed to control the ball, grind it out, and pick up those hard-nosed yards,” Watauga head coach Ryan Habich admitted to reporters afterward. “We couldn’t do too much work or we would give the ball back to them. We knew we needed to score points but also hold on to the football.”
Castle and Bryce Satterfield were key to Watauga’s quest for ball control. Hickory’s game-opening drive was short-circuited on the third play from scrimmage when the Pioneers’ Jackson Greene jumped in front of a Phillips pass at midfield. His return was augmented by a Hickory block-in-the-back penalty, giving Watauga a short field to the Promised Land at the Hickory 31. Using five runs by Satterfield and three Castle keepers, the Pioneers’ time-consuming drive ended successfully when Castle handed the ball off to Satterfield for a one-yard punch into Hickory’s end zone to draw first blood.
Watauga attempted a two-point conversion but Satterfield run was halted by a Hickory defender at the goal line and Pioneer sophomore’s reach for the end zone went unseen by the officials.
By the end of the first quarter, Satterfield had an impressive 82 rushing yards. Just two minutes into the second quarter Satterfield had another touchdown run to give Watauga a 12-0 lead and this time the 2-point conversion was good as Castle kept the ball and turned the corner.
Three minutes later Hickory answered with a touchdown run by junior running back Quintavius Saddler, making the score 14-7.
It didn’t take long for the Pioneers to respond in kind. Just 20 seconds later Castle kept the ball around the left side, sprinting to a 64 yard touchdown. Kyran Densham’s PAT kick returned the Watauga lead to two touchdowns, 21-7.
After Hickory struggled, offensively, in the first quarter and fell behind 14-0, the Red Tornadoes seemed to have righted their ship from the second quarter on as they answered just about every scoring effort orchestrated by the Pioneers. There were a total of five scoring plays in the second quarter, three by Hickory and two by Watauga. Like a pinball game, the gridiron matchup evolved as “back and forth,” a battle for who was going to have the lead heading into the locker room during halftime. Phillips’ 13-yard TD scamper with 31 seconds remaining in the half and his 2-point conversion pass to Byrd didn’t give the Red Tornadoes the lead, but they tightened things up to make it a one score game at intermission.
Each team had two pivotal turnovers in the game. Phillips threw two interceptions in the first half, one was caught by junior Pioneer free safety Jackson Greene, and the other by junior free safety Zach West.
Watauga didn’t play error-free, either, for two Pioneer fumbles helped keep Hickory close. The first occurred in the second quarter, by Castle at the Watauga 17-yard line. Hickory recovered the ball and quickly covered the 17 yards for the touchdown.
We just didn’t match up well…They had too much speed and strength and we knew that we couldn’t consistently stop them.
The second was a source of consternation for Pioneer coaches and maybe even a heart-stopper for the Homecoming-packed grandstands. With 1:22 remaining in the game, a 7-yard Castle run to the end zone seemed to have decided things, giving Watauga what should have been an insurmountable 49-28 lead. But a 33-yard kickoff return by Hickory’s Kevin Shuford gave the Red Tornadoes good field position at the Watauga 47. After a drive-opening 35-yard pass from Phillips to Shuford, it only took two more plays for the visitors to tighten the score to 49-35.
On Hickory’s ensuing kickoff, Watauga’s return team allowed the ball to roll all the way down to their own 10-yard line. It may have run a few seconds off the clock, but on their first play from scrimmage Satterfield lost control of the ball and Hickory recovered the fumble at the Pioneers’ 6-yard line. Phillips and Byrd combined to make short work of that half-dozen yards, narrowing the deficit to just 49-42.
Thankfully for the hometown faithful, that was the end of the gift-giving. The Pioneers’ fate was in their own hands with the clock winding down and a one score game the reality as they received the final kick off. Castle recovered Hickory’s onside kick attempt, then took a knee on the last play from scrimmage to bring the battle to its end.
Habich seemed relieved to have emerged with the win when talking to reporters in his post-game press conference.
“We just didn’t match up well with Hickory,” fifth year Pioneer mentor observed. “They had too much speed and strength and we knew that we couldn’t consistently stop them. You could see how they scored within 25 to 30 seconds. You have to give Hickory credit (because) they are really good on offense.”
Now tied for second place in the conference, Watauga heads down the mountain next Friday to face off against St. Stephens.
In arguably the marquee Northwestern Conference matchup of the weekend, Alexander Central edged Freedom (Morganton), 25-20, to give the undefeated Cougars sole possession of first place in league play, with Freedom and Watauga tied but still in the chase for a conference title and a more favorable playoff berth.
Edited by David Rogers