By David Rogers. September 7, 2018. MORAVIAN FALLS, NC — Facing their sternest test of the still young 2018 high school football season, the Pioneers of Watauga rallied behind the junior running back tandem of Jaiden Bond and Bryce Satterfield to roll past host Wilkes Central Friday night, 43-14.
COVER IMAGE: Watauga junior running back/wide receiver Jaiden Bond looks for daylight en route to a 178-yard rushing performance. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Watauga faced a “perfect storm” of adversity and came out the other side with a decisive win. On a night when key members of the offensive line were missing in action, the Pioneers faced the biggest and arguably the most disciplined opposition linemen yet, on both sides of the ball.
If attacking the middle is problematic, then perhaps you should attack the perimeter. At least on this night, that strategy worked for head coach Ryan Habich’s Pioneers.
Watauga’s defense opened the non-conference, regional rivalry by holding the Eagles’ offense to a three-and-out. Taking advantage of a Wilkes Central punt that only netted eight yards, Watauga capitalized on the short field in starting the visitors’ first possession at the WC 35-yard line. The Satterfield-led Pioneer offense punched downfield, making short work of the opportunity. After consecutive Satterfield runs of 6, 9 and 9 yards, Bond added an 8-yard carry before Satterfield finished the job with a 3-yard TD-producing jab that seemed — at least initially — to set the tone for what would become another convincing Watauga win.
Credit on-the-fly defensive adjustments by the Eagles’ coaching staff, but the going got much tougher inside for the Pioneers’ offense. After Watauga’s defense limited Wilkes Central to yet another three and out, the Pioneers could only manage six yards on three running plays before facing a 4th-and-4 near midfield. The 4th down conversion attempt came up short, and the Eagles took possession at the 50-yard line.
An inspired Wilkes Central offense began moving the ball, even giving Watauga a taste of their own medicine in using its large and athletic front four and a dynamic running back of their own in the form of sophomore Joraye Morrison to rip off large gains.
But the reeling Pioneer defense recovered, highlighted by consecutive key plays by senior middle linebacker Ben Critcher, a tackle for loss and a quarterback sack, then a heady interception by senior defensive back Jackson Greene.
It was at this point that Watauga found a softer spot in the Eagles’ defense that they would exploit again and again for the rest of the game.
On the Pioneers’ first play from scrimmage after Greene’s interception, running back Jaiden Bond attacked around the right side, slipping through holes and breaking tackles for 66 yards before being brought down at the WC six-yard line. Seconds later, wide receiver Zach West took the ball the rest of the way on a jet sweep around the left side for the touchdown that put Watauga ahead, 14-0 (with Kyran Densham’s successful PAT kick).
With the first quarter ending and the Pioneers having struggled to a 14-0 advantage, the nearly full visitors’ grandstand seemed nervously confident that things would turn out alright by game’s end.
As it turned out, things did turn out OK for the now 4-0 Pioneers — but it wasn’t as easy of a victory as the final score indicated. With the Eagles’ big offensive front leading the way, running back Josh Pack ripped off large gains through the middle of the Pioneers. On 3rd and goal from the Watauga five-yard line with 8:32 still remaining in the half, Pack carried a couple of WHS defenders into the end zone for the Eagles first score to narrow the hosts’ deficit to 14-7.
The final eight minutes of the first half was mostly played between the 35-yard lines, with neither team able to move the ball effectively on this steamy, 90-degree night with high humidity.
Watauga’s fortunes improved in the second half, and right from the beginning. Sophomore wide receiver Sebastian Best returned a grubber of a WC kickoff 21 yards to give the Pioneers good field position at their own 39-yard line. After a couple of runs by Satterfield to earn a first down, Bond again attacked the right side perimeter, rambling 50 yards for the TD. Adding a surprise 2-point conversion by Greene on a QB keeper, the Pioneer faithful found comfort in a 22-7 lead.
The Eagles didn’t quit, responding with a scoring drive of their own. The possession was highlighted by a Pack run of 21-yards, then senior quarterback Camden Wyatt found fellow senior Luke Combs for a 14-yard aerial to move the ball into Watauga territory. A bad snap and a delay of game penalty moved the Eagles back into their own half of the field, but faced with 2nd-and-17, Wyatt hurled a perfectly thrown pass to senior John Brame, who had outsprinted the Pioneer defense along the left sideline. Brame cradled the ball in stride and outraced his Watauga pursuers for a 53-yard touchdown-producing catch-and-carry.
That would be the end of the Eagles’ scoring threats, however. The Pioneer defense grew stingy, and the Watauga offense attacked for large gains, inside and out. Scoring runs by Best, as well as two more by Satterfield put the game away for the Pioneers, a second-half performance that even included a blocked punt.
“We had a hard time blocking inside tonight,” Habich admitted to reporters later. “We have to be better than that. We had both starting guards out, but that is not an excuse.”
With new guys in the O-line, there were some missed blocking assignments Habich noted and it necessitated a change in the Pioneer attack.
Habich conceded that in the Pioneers’ first three games, all wins, they had not faced any opponent with the kind of size and athleticism of Wilkes Central.
“They ran right at us,” Habich observed. “We told our guys to expect a fight (and Wilkes gave it to us)…We got exposed a little bit, but our coaches will adjust and our players will see this as a learning experience and try to get better.”
Acknowledging that with so many of his key players taking the field on both offense and defense, the 90-degree heat and humidity was taking its toll on the Pioneers — but a silver lining may be on the nearby horizon.
“Anderson Castle (injured QB in the season opener at Robeson in Asheville) gets his cast off this week, so we will see how his arm has healed. With Castle back, Jackson Greene will not have to play both ways so much and can give the wide receivers some rest from time to time…
“…What I am most proud about tonight is how our guys responded in the second half,” smiled Habich. “We did not play a great game, but they came out and played well in the second half to win.
“That was the first game where we faced a team with size and they beat us up front a bit,” said Habich. “They ran the ball straight downhill against us. We are going to have to get better (at defending) that because our conference is very, very tough this year.”
Given a bye week, the Pioneers will now rest up and heal before facing a big and physical South Caldwell eleven on September 21st. The 0-3 Spartans posted lopsided losses to open the season, first at Kings Mountain (6-42), then home defeats at the hands of high-scoring East Rutherford (44-70), the to cross-county rival Hibriten (12-56). Hosting their smaller, longtime rivals in the Pioneers at home in Hudson, however, may be just the tonic Caldwell County’s only 4A school needs to get their season back on track.
Blowing Rock News “Players of the Game”
- Offense: Jaiden Bond and Bryce Satterfield
- Defense: Jackson Greene and Ben Critcher
KEY TEAM STATS
|Time of Possession||21:02||26:58|
|3rd down conversions||3-of-7 (42.9%)||1-of-12 (8.3%)|
|4th down conversions||0-of-1 (0%)||1-of-5 (20%)|
KEY INDIVIDUAL STATS
- Jaiden Bond, WAT — 8 carries for 178 yards, 1 TD
- Bryce Satterfield, WAT — 23 carries for 128 yards, 3 TDs
- Josh Pack, WC — 22 carries for 99 yards, 1 TD
- Zach West, WAT — 6 carries for 67 yards, 1 TD
- Jackson Greene, WAT — 5 carries for 45 yards
- Joraye Morrison, WC — 7 carries for 30 yards
- Camden Wyatt, WC — 8 carries for 14 yards
- Eustacio Lemon, WC — 2 carries for 8 yards
- Sebastian Best, WAT — 1 carry for 5 yards, 1 TD
- Camden Wyatt, WC — 6-of-15 for 115 yards, 1 TD
- Jackson Greene, WAT — 0-3 for 0 yards
- John Brame, WC — 3 catches for 73 yards, 1 TD
- C.J. Clements, WC — 1 catch for 21 yards
- Luke Combs, WC — 1 catch for 14 yards
- Alex Nichols, WC — 1 catch for 7 yards
Key Watauga Defensive Stats
- Jackson Greene — 7 tackles (6 solo), 1 INT
- Ben Critcher — 6.5 tackles, 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss
- Eli Suggs — 5.5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
- Braeden Myers — 4.5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
- Sam Sappington — 3.5 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 tackles for loss
- Matthew Granbow — 3.5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
- Zach West — 3.0 tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss