By David Rogers. December 6, 2019. MATTHEWS, NC — For 14 seniors on the 2019 Watauga Pioneers’ football team, Friday’s 49-14 loss to Matthews-Weddington in the North Carolina 3AA West semifinals was bittersweet.
On the one hand, after several games this year when the tables were turned, the Pioneers learned what it was like to be on the receiving end of the state’s “mercy rule.” On the other hand, their stellar high school gridiron careers come to an end knowing that no Watauga senior glass and gone so far, so consistently, in anything resembling recent memory.
In Weddington, the Pioneers not only ran into the defending 3AA state champion, but arguably and even better team than the Warriors’ 2018 edition and perhaps the premier team in North Carolina at any level, including the 4A and 4AA levels. If there are moral victories worth a damn, some of the state’s talking heads’ pregame comments suggested that Weddington would be ahead, 42-0, by the end of the first quarter. The Warriors are that good. Instead, Watauga “held” Weddington to just a 14-0 advantage by the end of the first period.
To be sure, Watauga had its moments, even against the Warriors’ frontline playmakers, such as when senior QB Anderson Castle would not be denied on a keeper through the Weddington line then, when seemingly stopped, dragged almost the entire Warrior defensive unit another 10 yards or so for an inspiring, 22-yard gain.
Or later in that same drive, when Castle hooked up with fellow senior Grant Oliver for a pair of 14-yard pass completions, the second one good for a TD right between the goal posts.
After that score to at least avoid a “skunk” outcome on the Pioneers visit to Matthews, a local radio station’s sideline reporter whispered to Blowing Rock News, “Now Watauga’s defense needs a stop here.”
The score was 35-7 and that urgent message was barely out of his mouth when Weddington’s starting QB, junior Dante Casciola, dropped back and flared a pass short left in the direction of a receiver along the sideline. It never got there, as the Pioneers’ freshman defensive end Isaiah Shirley got his hands up to not only interrupt the flight of the ball, but deftly hauled it in for an INT, lumbering another 10 or 15 yards before being tackled on the interception return. With 34 seconds remaining in the half, down by four TDs, Watauga had a spark of a chance, even if only a flicker.
Then, of course, there was the Pioneers’ first highlight reel moment when, down 7-0 midway through the opening stanza, Castle tossed a sideways pass to senior wingback Jaiden Bond along the right sideline, who promptly hurled it downfield to Oliver for a 56-yard pass, to the Weddington 9-yard line. Unfortunately for Watauga, the Warrior defense stiffened and the ball was turned over on downs at the 7-yard line.
To be sure, there just weren’t enough Watauga highlights on this night. Led by Casciola’s completing 9-of-12 passes for 183 yards and four TDs vs. the one INT and junior all-star running back Will Shipley carrying the ball 14 times for 169 yards around and through the Pioneer defense, Weddington was just too much for the Pioneers. As a smaller rural mountain school with a technically small roster of athletes, the over-achieving Watauga eleven had finally met their match.
With the loss, Watauga’s season comes to an end, 13-2, the losses coming to Weddington in the 3AA state semifinals and earlier in the season to 4AA power, Ronald Reagan HS of Pffaftown, NC.
With the win, Weddington (15-0), advances to the state final as the West bracket champion to meet Lee County (15-0, Sanford, NC), which moved to the final Friday night after defeating Wilmington-New Hanover, 35-9.
OTHER STATE PLAYOFFS NOTES
- In the West bracket’s 3A division semifinal, Kings Mountain and Charlotte Catholic battled to a 7-7 tie at the end of four quarters. It took FIVE overtimes for Charlotte Catholic to emerge from the fray victorious, 56-49. The head scratcher:
- 7-7 at the end of regulation
- 14-14 at the end of 1st overtime
- 28-28 at the end of 2nd overtime
- 35-35 at the end of 3rd overtime
- 42-42 at the end of 4th overtime
- Charlotte Catholic (11-3) advances to meet Southern Nash Firebirds (15-0) next week at Carter-Finley Stadium in the 3A final
- In the 4A championship, Cardinal Gibbons (12-2, Raleigh), will meet East Forsyth (12-2, Kernersville) in Kenan Stadium at UNC-Chapel Hill on Saturday, Dec. 14
- In the 1A championship game, Northhampton County will face Robbinsville at Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke University on Saturday, Dec. 14th
- At the 1AA level, Tarboro plays East Surry (Mt. Airy) at Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke University on Saturday, Dec. 14th
- 2A championship: Northeastern (Elizabeth City) vs. Reidsville at BB&T Field, Wake Forest University on Saturday, Dec. 14th
- 2AA championship: Salisbury vs. Shelby, at BB&T Field, Wake Forest University on Saturday, Dec. 14th
- The 4AA (large school) division features a couple of upsets. #2 seeded Leesville Road (Raleigh) will meet #10 Zebulon B. Vance (Charlotte) at Kenan Stadium, UNC-Chapel Hill on Saturday, Dec. 14th
SELECTED TEAM STATS
- Total Offense — WED 445, WAT 229
- Rushing — WED 257, WAT 95
- Passing — WED 188, WAT 134
- Penalties — WED 6-50, WAT 4-20
- Turnovers — WED 2, WAT 3
- Fumbles-Lost: WED 2-1, WAT 1-1
- Interceptions Thrown: WED 1, WAT 2
- Time of Possession — WED 24:03, WAT 23:57
- First Downs — WED 22, WAT 12
- 3rd Down Conversions — WED 4/5 (80%), WAT 3/9 (33%)
- 4th Down Conversions — WED 0/0. WAT 0/2
SELECTED INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
- WED — Dante Casciola 9-12-183, 4 TDs, 1 INT
- WAT — Anderson Castle 7-16-78, 1 TD, 2 INTs
- WAT — Jaiden Bond 1-3-56
- WED — Will Shipley 14 carries, 169 yards, 2 TDs
- WAT — Anderson Castle 15 carries, 88 yards, 1 TD
- WAT — Grant Oliver 6-105, 1 TD
- WED — Will Shipley 3-66
- WED — Kambridge Tuttle 2-65, 1 TD
- WAT — Jaiden Bond 2-29
- WED — Alec Mock 1-15, 1 TD
- WED — Landyn Backey 1-12, 1 TD
- WED — Colby Barsz 1-11, 1 TD