By David Rogers. October 27, 2017. MORGANTON, NC — Once there were four, now there are only two — or is it three?
COVER IMAGE: After catching the ball behind the line of scrimmage, Freedom senior wide receiver Kimoni Money is surrounded by Watauga’s Grant Oliver (16), Eli Suggs (4) and Jackson Greene (12). All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
After the dust had settled on last week’s Northwestern 3A/4A Conference football games, four teams — Watauga, Hickory, Freedom and West Caldwell — were tied for second place in the league standings with 3-2 records. With its dominating, 42-0 win over Freedom (Morganton) Friday night, Watauga displaced one of that quartet of contenders, but Hickory’s surprising, 38-28 dismantling of conference leader Alexander Central kept the Red Tornadoes in the thick of things. Meanwhile, West Caldwell fell to conference cellar-dwellar McDowell in Marion, 21-14, which leaves the Pioneers tied only with Hickory for second place.
Watauga scored six touchdowns and placekicker Kyran Densham was good on all six PAT kicks to account for the Pioneers 42 points on the night.
The balanced Watauga rushing attack featured four players getting close to the 100-yard mark, including fullback Bryce Satterfield (21 rushes, 99 yards, 1 TD), quarterback Anderson Castle (15 carries, 97 yards, 3 TDs), wingback Zach West (5 carries, 89 yards, 2 TDs), and wingback Jaidon Bond (6 carries, 75 yards).
Castle completed two of four pass attempts for 54 yards.
While Watauga’s offense was rolling up 414 yards of total offense, 360 net yards on the ground, the defense held the Patriots to just 140 yards of total offense.
Freedom’s sophomore quarterback, Jayden Birchfield, completed 22-of-34 pass for 148 yards, but thanks to five quarterback sacks by Watauga, the Patriots recorded -8 yards rushing on the night.
Watauga’s junior outside linebacker back Eli Suggs was credited with 11 tackles during the game, including 2.5 sacks of Birchfield.
On Watauga’s second possession of the game, Castle scrambled around end for four yards to earn the TD, but it was set up by runs of 21 yards by Satterfield and 28 yards by Bond.
The Pioneers committed only one turnover during the game and it came early, toward the end of the first quarter. Watauga took possession at their own 46 yard line on a Freedom punt. Satterfield was featured on what started out to be a promising drive, running for 6 and then 15 yards before coughing up a fumble that was recovered by the Patriots at the Watauga 49. Unfortunately for the Freedom faithful, the home side turned the ball over on downs five plays later, at the WHS 32-yard line.
Castle & Co. engineered a seven-play drive that took just over 5 minutes off the clock and culminated with a 1-yard plunge by Satterfield, but the possession featured one of the big plays of the night when Castle found tight end Phillip Shukis for a 42-yards catch-and-run.
Watauga closed out the first half scoring with 4:07 remaining in the half when West took the pitch on a reverse that fooled everyone as the junior running back raced down the sideline on the press box side of the field.
In the third quarter, West got the Watauga scoring machine started again with a 43 yard run to paydirt to make the score 28-0, but then the Pioneers lanced Freedom’s hope of a comeback when Dustin Carter fumbled on the kickoff return and it was recovered by Watauga’s Damon Moretz at the Freedom 32. Three plays later, Castle sauntered in for Watauga’s fifth TD from 12 yards out, expanding the visitors’ lead to 35-0.
With 3:23 left in the third quarter and lapping over into the final period, the Patriots mounted their best opportunity of the night. After the kickoff return by Tristan Somerville gave Freedom the ball at their own 36-yard line, the Patriots fashioned a 10-play drive all the way to the Watauga one-yard line. But there what has historically been Morganton’s strongest football program imploded. On 1st and goal from the one-yard line, Birchfield was sacked for a 2-yard loss by the Pioneers senior defensive end Alex McConnell. After a pass fell incomplete, Birchfield was tackled for another 3-yard loss, with McConnell again doing the damage. Another incomplete pass and and a false start penalty gave the Patriots a 4th and goal from the Watauga 10, but Suggs burst into the backfield on 4th down and sacked Birchfield once again, giving the ball to the Pioneers on their own 18.
Watauga finished things off with a 14-play, 82-yard drive that ate up almost nine minutes and ended with a Castle’s third TD of the evening.
For the night, Watauga was 5-of-7 on third down conversions and one-for-one on fourth down conversions to extend drives. Freedom was successful on just 3-of-10 conversion opportunities on third down, and went 0-6 on fourth down.
For next week’s final regular season game, Watauga hosts West Caldwell as the Pioneers celebrate Senior Night at Jack Groce Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 pm.