By David Rogers. August 18, 2017. BOONE, NC — Call it a successful experiment that worked. After only four days practicing in the B-back position, sophomore running back Bryce Satterfield pounded and slashed his way through the line of scrimmage 13 times for 118 yards and one touchdown, highlighting a fierce ball-control offensive scheme that powered Watauga to a 35-34 season opening win over visiting T.C. Roberson (Asheville).
COVER IMAGE: Watauga’s Ben Critcher somehow emerged from a gang tackle at the line of scrimmage and sprinted to the 1-yard line in the game’s opening offensive possession. All photos by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
As barnburners go, Friday night’s non-conference matchup was a nail biter of a firestorm. Watauga scored on its opening drive and thanks largely to a well-executed two-point conversion after the TD, Roberson did not lead in this game until 0:00 read on the clock at the end of the third quarter. That’s when the Rams’ senior running back Shaq Gist scrambled into the end zone for the second of his three TDs on the night to put the visitors ahead, 27-22, with a full quarter remaining.
At least some high school football observers were nodding their heads as if to say, “OK, this is it. It was a valiant effort by the young Pioneers, who only returned 6 starters and brought up 8 sophomores to their varsity roster compared to the Rams’ 13 returning starters and a senior-laden roster. What’s more, so many Watauga players are playing both ways, offense and defense, including some of the sophomores. They just can’t keep this up against a bigger, arguably more athletic Rams team that is platooning squads on offense and defense.”
The Pioneers, of course, had other ideas. Head coach Ryan Habich effectively deployed a tandem of B-backs over the course of the game, using Satterfield mostly in the second half and junior running back Ben Critcher (15 carries, 95 yards, 1 TD) in the first half. It was Critcher, in fact, that energized the nearly 2,000 Watauga faithful in the Jack Groce Stadium grandstands. On the game’s opening drive, he miraculously emerged from a scrum on the left side of the line of scrimmage, then darted ahead of the pack until brought down inside the TCR 1-yard line. One play later, he punched it across through the middle for the game’s first score.
Fast forward to the start of the 4th quarter with the Rams leading for the first time at 27-22. So many doubted that the Watauga youngsters, some barely old enough to shave, could pull off the upset. But when Satterfield burst through a hole and into the clear for a 34-yard TD romp to put the Pioneers back in front, 29-27, with 8:11 left in the game, those doubts were cast aside. Everyone in the stadium knew that there was no quit in the home team, not in this season opener.
But a two-point lead with over eight minutes left in the game is not a victory, especially not with the Rams’ high-powered offense directed by a probable FBS-level quarterback, Ty Gossett, sometime in the future.
True to form, Gossett and the Rams offense ate up almost 5 minutes of game clock in a convincing drive that ended with Gist picking up his third and final TD of the game, a 12-yard scamper to paydirt. With sophomore placekicker Colson Graham’s PAT kick sailing squarely through the uprights, Roberson was back on top, 34-29. But did they leave too much time on the clock?
As offensive geniuses go, at least on the high school level, Pioneer head coach Habich may well be among the best. Early in the game, the Pioneers’ offensive scheme had the talented Rams defense befuddled. Especially Critcher’s punishing runs inside had the Rams’ dynamic duo of probable future NCAA Division I defensive ends, seniors Greg Johnston and Jordan McNeill, crashing inside — and Habich took advantage by running sweeps outside with Castle and West toting the football for long gains, even TDs.
For the entire game up to this point Watauga had kept the ball out of the potent Roberson offense’s hands by running the football, alternating inside and outside. Now it was time for some razzle-dazzle.
One of the interesting side stories of Watauga’s pre-season has been answering the question of who would start as the Pioneers’ varsity quarterback, senior Jackson Greene or sophomore Castle. Both, Habich told reporters later, were very capable and the decision really wasn’t made until shortly before game time to go with Castle because, the 5th year Pioneer mentor explained, “Though younger, I thought Anderson was a little better runner.”
So Greene focuses on his critical role of defensive back on the defensive unit, and seeing time on offense as a wide receiver.
Running the football may have been Watauga’s bread and butter for this game, but the passing of BOTH Pioneer quarterbacks — on the same play — was one of the most important factors in deciding the outcome.
With 2:10 left to play, the Pioneers had moved the football to the TCR 38-yard line. Whether the visitors were expecting another running play we could not learn after the game, but Greene drifted left toward the Watauga sideline and still behind the line of scrimmage. Castle threw to Greene, who fielded the reception cleanly, then spotted Bond curling around the outside of a Robeson defender down the left sideline. In the press box, WATA-AM radio’s Mike Kelly was screaming, “Double pass, double pass — he’s open, he’s open,” several seconds before Greene’s perfectly thrown spiral settled into Bond’s arms and the young sophomore raced into the end zone for what would become the game’s final TD and a 35-34 Watauga lead.
Castle’s 2-point conversion attempt failed on the last TD, but it was his successful 2-point conversion after the game’s first touchdown that proved the difference maker.
With 2:05 left in the game, many wondered, of course, whether Watauga had left too much time on the clock. For Gossett and his Rams’ offense, 2:05 was an eternity — and they almost proved it.
The Rams’ junior QB and his offensive unit effectively got the ball down to the Watauga 33 yard line, but a holding penalty put Roberson in a hole, their backs against midfield at the WHS 49 and mere seconds remaining. Where Gossett had been especially effective in hitting short passes to receivers in space who could then pick up big yardage after the catch with their speed and athleticism, now he had to throw long and the entire Pioneer defense was clued in. As the the junior signal caller’s final “bomb” fluttered harmlessly into the end zone, Jack Groce Stadium erupted with shouts of glee from the field, from the sidelines, and from the grandstands.
Watauga’s next opponent is Ashe County, in West Jefferson, another non-conference affair but an important High Country rivalry game nonetheless, Friday, Aug. 25, 7:30 pm. In their season opener Friday night, the Huskies fell to another High Country rival, Avery County, in Newland, 56-35.
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
|T C Roberson||7||7||13||7||34|
|T C Roberson||Watauga|
|No. of Plays||65||53|
|Yards per Play||6.4||7.7|
|Yards per Pass||8.0||20.0|
|Yards Per Rush||7.6||7.7|
|Yards Per Catch||8.0||20.0|
|Time of Possession||20:44||27:16|
|First Downs Rushing||13||15|
|First Downs Passing||8||2|
|3rd Down Conv/Atts||4/13 (30.8%)||4/10 (40.0%)|
|4th Down Conv/Atts||4/5 (80.0%)||1/2 (50.0%)|
|A J Baxter||1||-1||-1.0||0|
|A J Baxter||0||0||0.0||0|