By David Rogers. October 28, 2016. HICKORY, NC — This one was almost over before the captain’s coinflip came back to Mother Earth. Watauga exploded to a 35-0 halftime lead, then kept the pedal to the metal to race past Hickory, 49-13, Friday night in front of an estimated 1,000 Homecoming fans at the Red Tornadoes’ high school football stadium.
All photographic images by David Scearce for Blowing Rock News
When it comes to big offensive plays, Friday night’s performance by the Pioneers was an instructional handbook that seemingly left out a chapter on punting. Every early possesion was a “winner,” each culminating with the proverbial “big play” that found paydirt — and senior quarterback Hamilton Castle was the point of the spear with TD “keepers” of 47 yards and 62 yards sandwiched around an 86-yard TD-scoring bomb to senior wide receiver Cory Williams down the left sideline.
After punching up the middle and off tackle for field position and first downs, senior running back Evan Suggs finally joined the big play party in the second quarter with a 41 yard saunter through the Red Tornadoes’ defense, and put an exclamation point on the Watauga offensive explosion by opening the second half with a 32-yard catch-and-run.
It’s a game we HAVE to win.
For its part, Hickory appeared to have a couple of playmakers in junior quarterback/cornerback Derrien Phillips and senior running back/outside linebacker Zaveon Mccluney, but for the most part they were missing a supporting cast. And just when the Red Tornadoes looked like they had figured things out and put a productive offensive possession or significant special teams play together, a penalty or mental mistake would negate something positive.
Nothing on this night, though, was going to stop Watauga’s offensive juggernaut. At one point in the Press Box, with the general manager of Hickory-based game sponsor Modern Nissan standing next to him, one Hickory team official quipped after Castle’s 62-yard run off right tackle, “Watauga’s offensive line opened a hole big enough that you could drive a Nissan Titan (truck) through it, untouched!”
Castle and Suggs are the first to acknowledge the often gaping holes through which they waltz into their opponents’ secondary, where then their speed and elusiveness take over. Credit not just the offensive linemen, but the Pioneer coaches who have crafted and taught their charges disciplined and effective blocking skills and schemes.
Our offense is really connected.
Watauga’s defense played well enough to win, but if head coach Ryan Habich has any concerns, it is on the defensive side of the ball and on special teams in the Pioneers’ tackling.
“Our offense is really connected,” Habich told reporters after the dust had settled on the Red Tornadoes’ field. “I think we’ve definitely reached the pinnacle of our season and our ability. I belieive that we are as good as we can be (at this point), but we can always get better.
“…We missed some blocks up front, but Hamilton Castle made some really big plays. Early on we weren’t blocking the way we should have been blocking, especially as we go on to the playoffs.
“With the option game,” Habich added, “sometimes you don’t have to block great upfront (since the defense) doesn’t know who has the ball. (Hamilton) did a good job of reading it.”
Because of their reputation and history of having “big play” playmakers, Habich expressed some caution in assessing the Red Tornadoes. “That’s the thing that is always scary when you play Hickory,” he answered in response to a Blowing Rock News query, “because they do have some athletes. The thing that hurts you (often) is the kickoffs, like right before halftime. We try not to kick to them, but we didn’t do as good a job at that (right before half). Fortunately it got called back.
As we get into the playoffs, we have to be able to do both.
“But against their passing game, too,” Habich continued. “You have to put pressure on their quarterback. I didn’t feel like we tackled really well, either. That’s something we are going to get much better at this week in practice. There was too much grabbing and arm tackling. We had guys for losses, but then missed tackles. That’s an area that we need to improve on.”
Speaking to the balance that Watauga is finding in its offensive attack, Habich said, “We feel that we can run ball, but this year we (also) do a lot with our passing game to get outside, on the perimeter. We have some guys that can do things on the perimeter. We have to make sure we are blocking (effectively) on the perimeter, but if the weather conditions permit, we want to both run and pass the ball. As we get into the playoffs, we have to be able to do both.”
For the last couple of games, Watauga has played almost error free with few penalties and few turnovers. Against Hickory, they had one penalty and no turnovers.
Habich was able to smile when he recounted, “We had that holding penalty, which was huge because it back us up to 3rd and 20. But Hamilton was able to roll out and hit that wheel route (pass). It was a heckuva play by Cory Williams catching it and of course by Hamilton Castle avoiding pressure and (finding Williams downfield with the pass).”
It’s not a pleasant thing when we fumble the ball in practice.
In evolving as error-free, discipline is important to Habich and his coaching staff. “That’s something that we stress every day.” said Habich. “We stress ball security. We do drills every day on ball security. It is not a pleasant thing when we fumble the ball at practice. We make it a priority NOT to turn the ball over. We want to out-discipline and out-execute every team that we play. Against most teams, we have done that this year.”
With the win, Watauga improves its record to 7-3 overall and 5-1 in Northwestern Conference play. Although next week’s final regular season opponent, 4A rival South Caldwell appears to be having an off year (2-8 overall and 2-4 in conference play), the game looms large for Watauga. A win gives them the #1 seed in the 4A rankings for the 3A/4A Northwestern Conference (the only 4A schools are Watauga and South Caldwell) and so a home game for the state playoffs beginning the following week.
“(South Caldwell) crushed us the last two years,” Habich noted. “So our kids have been looking forward to (this) game. It’s a game we HAVE to win.”
- 1st Quarter
- WHS – Castle, 47 run (Densham kick)
- WHS – Williams, 86 pass from Castle (Densham kick)
- 2nd Quarter
- WHS – Castle, 62 run (Densham kick)
- WHS – Suggs, 41 run (Densham kick)
- WHS – West, 9 pass from Castle (Densham kick)
- 3rd Quarter
- WHS – Suggs, 32 pass from Castle (Densham kick)
- HIC – Millsaps, 1 run (Boston kick)
- 4th Quarter
- WHS – Critcher, 1 run (Densham kick)
- HIC – Shuford, 29 pass from Phillips (no PAT attempted, end of game)
- Castle 7-157-2
- Suggs 17-113-1
- Greene 1-40-0
- West 5-19-0
- Critcher 4-18-1
- Phillips 9-95-0
- McCluny 13-36-0
- Millsaps 5-26-1
- Byrd 2-5-0
- Shuford 1-5-1
Passing (completions-attempts-INTs-TDs, yards)
- Castle 9-9-0-3, 163 yards
- Phillips 5-15-1-0, 63 yards
- West 5-35-1
- Williams 2-103-1
- Suggs 1-19-1
- Carney 1-6-0
- Staten 4-67-0
- Hewitt 1-(-4)-0
|Avg. per rush||10.1||5.6|
|Avg. per attempt||18.1||3.9|
|Avg. per completion||18.9||12.6|
|Total plays-total yards||43-510||46-230|
|Avg. per play||11.8||5.0|