By David Rogers. November 16, 2018. BOONE, NC — The Green Wave turned blue Friday night at Jack Groce Stadium. While their fingers and toes were likely blue from the blustery, icy playing conditions, the result wasn’t what Gastonia-Ashbrook was hoping for, either.
COVER IMAGE: Somewhere under that mass of blue is an Ashbrook ball carrier. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
In the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s 3AA state championship football tournament, Watauga controlled all three phases of the game to hand Gastonia-Ashbrook its worst defeat of the 2018 season, 49-0.
Behind and through a brilliant performance by Watauga’s offensive line, the Pioneers’ four-headed offensive juggernaut scored on the team’s first possession and never looked back — and the Pioneer defense barely let the visitors from Gastonia get a glimpse of their goal line objedctive.
Led by 175 yards rushing and two touchdowns from junior running back Bryce Satterfield on just 10 carries (a 17.5 average), Watauga rolled up 449 yards of total offense while the defense held Ashbrook to just 136 — even though the Green Wave had possession almost twice as long as the Pioneers. Ashbrook had offensive possession for 30 minutes, 14 seconds, while Watauga had the ball just 17:24. In other words, in dominating this game the Pioneers got it done FAST almost every time they got the ball. The lone blemish: an interception of an Anderson Castle pass by Ashbrook late in the third quarter when Watauga had the game well in hand at 35-0.
It was a good win.
Beyond the disciplined execution by Watauga’s offensive line, much of the Pioneers’ offensive credit goes to Castle, who ran his team’s veer option scheme to perfection. The junior QB was 2-of-4 passing for 67 yards for one touchdown offset by the interception, but most of his damage was done on the ground. Castle was credited with 112 yards rushing and two TDs, on nine “keepers” off-tackle, as well as around the perimeter. Once through massive holes opened by the offensive line, Castle and Satterfield both were effective in bobbing and weaving through the Green Wave defense into space — then often sprinting to big gains, if not touchdowns.
Defensively, Boone’s favorite sons were led by senior defensive back Jackson Greene and senior linebacker Eli Suggs. Greene was credited with 7.5 tackles (four solo) while recording two tackles for loss. Suggs was credited with a game-high 10 tackles (four solo), including a tone-setting thumper early in Ashbrook’s opening drive. On 3rd and 5, Suggs stopped the Green Wave’s junior wide receiver Kendall Massey, limiting him to only three yards and setting up the first of four Ashbrook punts. It was a crunching “hit” that reverberated around the High Country.
Watauga’s scoring drives were prompt and decisive, including two first plays in the possession runs by Satterfield of 53 and 25 yards in the second half.
- 5 plays, 58 yards, 16-yard TD rush by Castle
- 5 plays, 71 yards, 8-yard TD rush by Zach West
- 6 plays, 63 yards, 26-yard pass from Castle to WR Grant Oliver
- 1- play, 53 yards, 53-yard rush by Satterfield
- 5 plays, 47 yards, 13-yard rush by Castle
- 1 play, 25 yards, 25-yard rush by Satterfield
- 3 plays, 69 yards, 8-yard rush by Ben Critchere
Given last week’s “bye” that allowed the hurricane-struck schools in eastern North Carolina to complete their regular seasons (before the state playoffs), Pioneer fans knew that the Watauga players would be well-rested, but wondered if they would be “rusty” or complacent.
They came up here with four space heaters. That says a lot.
“We had a really good week of practice,” noted Watauga head coach Ryan Habich, “and that includes offense, defense and special teams. I thought our kids (tonight) were really focused. You know, our students weren’t in school for two days, Thursday and today (because of the ice and snow). That always concerns you, but we have such a good senior bunch and high character kids that they stayed focused throughout the whole thing. We practiced outside in the cold. We felt good about our preparation going into this game.”
Speaking of the cold, no high school football team in North Carolina is likely to have exploited “home field advantage” as much as the #1 seeded Watauga gridders. By the third quarter, any competitive spirit had been sapped from the Green Wave players. When they weren’t on the field, they were huddled together in the warmth of space heaters brought by their coaching staff and equipment managers.
“It’s always an advantage for us,” Habich observed. “We are blessed to have (artificial) turf fields here where we can practice when it is raining outside. This time of year, a lot of schools around the state have a hard time practicing outside because of field conditions.
“Anytime a team comes up the mountain,” added Habich, “and the temperature is in the 30s or lower, it is an advantage for us because our kids practice in those conditions.
“We have some talented football players,” Watauga’s 6th year coach concluded. “You get the ball into their hands and they can do something with it. The playoffs are a whole new season of football. We had a great regular season going 11-0 and winning the Northwestern Conference title, but I was really impressed by the preparation of our kids and coaches for the playoffs. They executed really well. We had that one turnover, the interception, but besides that our kids were in the right spots when they needed to be on defense and on offense our kids made the correct blocks upfront. We ran the ball good. We executed the way we needed to execute tonight.”
When you see them rolling out heaters on the sideline, you know you have the upper hand. We practice in this weather.
In speaking with Blowing Rock News after the game, Castle reinforced the idea that Watauga had an advantage because of the playing conditions.
“We knew we had the advantage coming in, with the weather. Our objective was to stomp on them quick because we thought they would shut down, and they did. We had a good week of practice, so that helped, too. We felt good coming into this game. We did the same things we have been doing, pound the run game and pass if we need to. It was a good win.”
That the Watauga coaching staff has been preaching that the playoffs are a “new season” was evident afterward in Satterfield’s comments to Blowing Rock News.
“We came into this game,” the junior running back said, “as if it was the start of a new season, the playoffs. With this 49-0 win, it is a good start to that new season.”
If not physically, the weather especially helped the Pioneers mentally, Satterfield suggested.
“They came up here with four space heaters on their sideline,” he smiled. “That says a lot. They were freezing coming off the bus, but we practiced in these conditions the whole week.”
Suggs also made note of the weather advantage and how purposeful Watauga had to be in taking advantage.
“We had to come out in the first quarter and break them down, physically,” said Suggs of the Pioneers’ defensive performance. “You want to have a good start. You get (in your opponent’s) head, and they have a hard time progressing with the ball. The weather helped a ton because we have been practicing in these conditions all week. It was colder than this on Monday and Tuesday. When you see them rolling out heaters on the sideline, that is when you know you have the upper hand. They are already thinking about the cold weather and you need to have 100% of your focus on the game at hand.
“Ashbrook has some pretty good athletes,” Suggs noted. “Number 46 was pretty big and we had to scheme for that a little bit. They ran a weird double H-back set, so we had to scheme for that on defense, too. I’m sure they had some tricks up their sleeve, so to speak, but they didn’t take us by surprise this week, at least.”
In advancing to the second round, #1-seeded Watauga will now host Winston Salem’s #8-seeded Parkland High School, a 32-19 winner over #9 Asheville in other Friday night playoff action. According to broadcaster (and walking encyclopedia of all things Watauga football) Mike Kelly of WATA radio, next Friday’s game at Jack Groce Stadium will be the first time a Pioneer team has played on the day after Thanksgiving since 2007.
BLOWING ROCK NEWS PLAYERS OF THE GAME:
- Offense: The Watauga Offensive Line
- Defense: Eli Suggs, Jake Watson
Other playoff scores in Watauga’s 3AA bracket:
- #5 Weddington 48, #12 Central Cabarrus 0
- #4 South Iredell 33, #13 Southwest Guilford 21
- #3 Mt. Tabor 27, #14 Marvin Ridge 14
- #6 Erwin 48, #11 Alexander Central 21
- #10 Sun Valley 30, #7 Cox Mill 14
- #2 A C Reynolds 35, #15 A L Brown 28
- WAT — Anderson Castle 16-yard run for TD. PAT good by Kyran Densham
- WAT — Zach West 8-yard run for TD. PAT good by Kyran Densham
- WAT — Anderson Castle 26-yard pass complete to Grant Oliver for TD. PAT good by Kyran Densham
- Bryce Satterfield 53-yard run for TD. PAT good by Kyran Densham
- Anderson Castle 13-yard run for TD. PAT good by Kyran Densham
- Bryce Satterfield 25-yard run for TD. PAT good by Kyran Densham.
- Ben Critcher 8-yard run for TD. PAT good by Kyran Densham
SELECTED TEAM STATISTICS
- Total Offense: WAT 449, ASH 136
- Passing: WAT 67, ASH 8
- Rushing: WAT 382, ASH 128
- WAT 1-0
- ASH 6-1
- Interceptions Thrown: WAT 1, ASH 1
- Punting Attempts-Average Distance
- WAT 0-0.0
- ASH 4 -30.3
- Time of Possession — WAT 17:24, ASH 30-14 (running clock “mercy rule” went into effect at 42-0)
- First Downs: WAT 22, ASH 9
- Third Down Conversions/Attempts:
- WAT 1/1 (100%)
- ASH 4/13 (31%)
- Fourth Down Conversions:
- WAT 0/0
- ASH 2/5 (40%)
SELECTED INDIVIDUAL STATS
- ASH — Chandler Meeks 1-2-8-0-1
- WAT — Anderson Castle 2-4-67-1-1
- WAT — Bryce Satterfield, 10 carries, 175 yards, 2 TDs
- WAT — Anderson Castle, 9 carries, 112 yards, 2 TDs
- ASH — Chandler Meeks, 10 carries, 46 yards
- ASH — Kendall Massey, 24 carries, 45 yards
- WAT — Zach West, 3 carries, 31 yards, 1 TD
- ASH — Jakai Grier, 7 carries, 23 yards
- WAT — Jaiden Bond, 3 carries, 28 yards
- WAT — Jaxon Harmon, 2 carries, 11 yards
- WAT — Jackson Greene, 1 carry, 9 yards
- ASH — Carlos Brooks, 3 carries, 9 yards
- WAT — Ben Critcher, 1 carry, 8 yards, 1 TD
- ASH — Omarian Boyce, 2 carries, 6 yards
- WAT — Sebastian Best, 1 carry, 4 yards
- WAT — Jaiden Bond, 1 reception, 41 yards
- WAT — Grant Oliver, 1 reception, 26 yards, 1 TD
- ASH — Carlos Brooks, 1 reception, 8 yards
- Eli Suggs — 10 tackles (4 solo)
- Jackson Greene — 7.5 tackles (7 solo), 2 tackles for loss
- Jake Watson — 6.5 tackles (4 solo), 0.5 tackles for loss
- Sam Sappington — 4.5 tackles (3 solo)
- Jaiden Bond — 3.5 tackles (3 solo), 1 tackles for loss
- Zach West — 2.5 tackles (1 solo), 1 pass intereception
- Matthew Grambow — 2.5 tackles (2 solo), 1 tackles for loss
- Ben Critcher — 2.5 tackles (2 solo) 1.5 tackles for loss
- Dale Holman — 2 tackles (1 solo)
- Isaac Satterfield — 1.5 tackles, 0.t tackles for loss