By Taylor Welsh. November 3, 2017. BOONE, NC — With a 42-21 victory over West Caldwell, the Watauga Pioneers finished with one of the best regular season records in program history, ending 9-2 — but it came with a potential loss.
COVER IMAGE: In the event that reindeer horns look out of place, “Christmas” was the theme for Friday night’s student section. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.
Head Coach Ryan Habich noted to reporters afterward that the last time the Pioneers won nine regular season games was when they were the last team standing in 1978. They won the state championship.
“I don’t think a lot of people thought we could win nine games this season after we graduated so many people last year, but these kids came together as a team and didn’t care who got the credit,” Habich said in giving a nod to his players and their special relationships. “They blocked for each other and they played defense for each other. Winning nine games is pretty special. Now we head into the playoffs and hope that we can (do) some damage.”
Watauga took advantage of every offensive opportunity Friday night, scoring on each possession behind quarterback Anderson Castle, who ran for 186 yards and a “hat trick” of touchdowns.
Not very people gave us a chance to win 9 games this season.
“This was a great win for us,” Castle beamed to Blowing Rock News later. “We are excited to keep going. That is what’s great about this team, we want to play for and with each other and do it for as long as we possibly can. It was great to get the win for the seniors on Senior Night and now we are off to the playoffs.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Friday night’s regular season finale was the absence of West Caldwell’s star running back Taye Dula in the Warriors’ opening possession when the visitors from Lenoir were looking to answer Watauga’s touchdown to start the game.
In answer to a Blowing Rock News question about not having to defend against Dula on the first two Warrior possessions, Habich admitted, “I was excited about it. No. 20 (Dula) is a great football player. He’s a college athlete and scared our coaches all week. We knew we had to stop him if we wanted to win this game.”
Although Dula finished the game with 161 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and one touchdown reception of 13 yards, the Pioneer defense showed its dominance throughout the game. Watauga forced three punts and stopped Dula from reaching the first down marker on 4th-and-3 later in the second quarter, with senior Pioneer Alex McConnell making the tackle on the play. The stop gave Watauga great field position — and a chance to expand its 21-7 lead before intermission, to 28-7.
But the story of the night was Castle’s ability to read the Warriors’ defense in Habich’s triple option offensive scheme. Part of his impact was to make plays with his feet, including a 43-yard scamper to the end zone with 10:35 left in the second quarter that gave Boone’s favorite sons a two-score lead, 21-7. There was a lot for the estimated 2,000 hometown fans filling the grandstands at Jack Groce Stadium.
We had to grow up fast.
Few football enthusiasts in the High Country gave Watauga much of a chance in Northwestern Conference play after losing so many seniors last year, having relatively few seniors for the 2017 campaign, and having to promote nine sophomores to varsity, including three at the key offensive skill positions.
“Coach told us at the beginning of the season that we had to grow up fast,” Castle admitted. “He told us that we can’t play like sophomores. We got into that mindset early in the season and we are seeing the benefits of that tonight.”
One of those sophomores-turned-impact players is the Pioneers’ talented young running back ,Bryce Satterfield, who had another strong outing Friday night: 16 carries for 108 yards and a pair of trips to paydirt. But his night was cut short in the third quarter as he walked off the field holding his elbow after a six-yard gain on just his second tote of the second half.
“I think he will be ok,” Habich said. “We just took him out for precautionary reasons, you know. He got hit right there on the elbow. He’s a big part of our success this year.”
He added that Satterfield will most likely get a second opinion on the status of his injury Saturday.
Despite the loss of Satterfield, Watauga’s offense hardly skipped a beat. Jaidon Bond and Zach West picked up any slack, with Bond punching through and scooting around the Warriors defense for big gains and West bouncing between West Caldwell defenders like a pinball en route to a 12-yard gain for yet another Pioneer touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, Castle capped the Pioneers’ victory with a 14-yard touchdown run to complete Watauga’s scoring for the night. Combined with Hickory’s 22-16 loss to St. Stephens, the Pioneer victory cemented the team’s sole possession of second place for the regular season in the Northwestern 3A Conference. It also guaranteed a spot in the state playoffs.
“It was big to get the win,” noted Habich. “I think that we are clicking both offensively and defensively; our kids are playing well. But when you head into the playoffs, you want to be clicking like we are on both sides of the ball. We’ve done a better job of playing assignment defense and you can see that in the past three weeks. Hopefully we don’t have any major injuries.”
Watauga finished its season 9-2, 5-2 in conference, and went undefeated at home with Friday’s 42-21 victory over West Caldwell. Watauga will play Friday, Nov. 10 in the first round of the state playoffs, with the pairings to be determined by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association later on Saturday (Nov. 4).
Edited by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Friday night scores of note:
- Watauga 42, West Caldwell 21
- St. Stephens 22, Hickory 16
- Alexander Central 57, South Caldwell 14
- Freedom 41, McDowell 14
- Hibriten 35, Patton 0
- Starmount 30. Ashe County 0
- Mountain Heritage 56, Avery 7
SELECTED INDIVIDUAL STATS
- West Caldwell
- Kaleb Dula — 4-of-9, 45 yards, 1 TD
- Anderson Castle — 3-of-3, 76 yards
- West Caldwell
- Taye Dula — 28 carries, 161 yards, 2 TDs
- Jeremy Boyce — 5 carries, 16 yards
- Kaleb Dula — 2 carries, 9 yards
- Anderson Castle — 15 carries, 186 yards, 3 TDs
- Bryce Satterfield — 16 carries, 108 yards, 2 TDs
- Jaidon Bond — 7 carries, 51 yards
- Zach West — 4 carries, 18 yards, 1 TD
- Ben Critcher — 3 carries, 16 yards
- Jackson Greene — 1 carry, 14 yards
- West Caldwell
- Elijah Brooks — 3 catches for 32 yards
- Taye Dula — 1 catch for 13 yards, 1 TD
- Jaidon Bond — 2 catches for 70 yards
- Phillip Shukis — 1 catch for 6 yards