By David Rogers. October 4, 2019. TAYLORSVILLE, NC — Credit Hollywood’s “biker” movies from the 60s and 70s for the intimidating atmosphere Friday night at Cougar Stadium.
COVER IMAGE: Watauga defensive back Grant Oliver (8) leaps high to intercept a Lance Justice pass intended for ACHS running back Josh Abernathy. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
The only problem, at least for the Alexander Central faithful, was that the visiting Watauga Pioneers were not intimidated. The invaders from Boone dampened more than a few optimistic spirits on Homecoming Night in Taylorsville as the Pioneers cruised to a relatively easy, 42-10 Northwestern Conference win.
In high school football, it’s fairly common for pre-game festivities to feature the home (and sometimes the visiting) team bursting through a large and colorful paper banner held up by cheerleaders. To have a hundred or so Hell’s Angels lookalikes rumbling around the field of play on their unmuffled Hogs in front of a standing-room only, screaming home grandstand electrifies the pre-game atmosphere, presumably in favor of the hosting Cougars, in this case.
Every good athletic coach knows, however, that getting your team “fired up” before a game or match only takes you so far. The team still has to execute the game plan in all phases of the competition against an adversary. And sometimes, it is against a formidable foe.
Keys to the Game
- Watauga’s offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, opening big gaps in the line for Castle, Watson, and Bond
- Head Coach Ryan Habich’s grinding, control-the-clock rushing game plan was well executed
- Key turnovers by ACHS killed promising drives, including a sensational INT by WHS defensive back Grant Oliver
- Strong defensive effort by the Pioneers kept the Cougars’ vaunted rushing attack at bay
What was ballyhooed as one of the biggest, potentially thrill-a-minute Northwestern Conference matchups of the season flamed out for everyone except the Pioneers. Even a WBT-TV cameraman was on the sidelines with high hopes of a Football Friday Night shootout — that did not materialize.
But this was a game of punches and counter-punches, mostly by Watauga. The Pioneers used up more than half of the first quarter on the game’s opening offensive possession before senior B-back Jake Watson bulled into the end zone from four yards out. After Carter Everett’s successful PAT, the series gave Watauga a 7-0 lead and the Pioneers would never trail.
Alexander Central’s opening drive looked promising in response, especially watching senior running back Steven Montgomery plow through most of the Pioneer defenders for 20 yards before finally being brought to the ground by Watauga’s Jake Gragg and Jake Watson. It was the kind of play that made you wonder if it was going to be this way the whole night. Given Watauga’s opening demolition of the Cougar defense and that one play by Montgomery on just the third play from scrimmage by the ACHS offensive unit, would this be one of those all offense-little defense affairs like the Pioneers’s early-season visit to Ronald Reagan HS in Pfafftown (the only loss of the season so far in 2019, 63-35)?
While Central managed another dozen and a half yards, to the WHS 29-yard line, the Pioneer defense was stacking the box against the Cougar runs by Montomery, quarterback Lance Justice, and wide receiver Kobe Burns-Caesar. On 3rd down with 10 to go for the first down, Cougar head coach Butch Carter decided to go for it all. Justice dropped back to pass with enough protection, then launched a long pass down the home sideline, headed for the end zone.
But Watauga senior Grant Oliver (who played both ways, offense and defense) leaped high at the WHS 17-yard line to snare Justice’s pass, running back the interception to the ACHS 41 before being desperately tackled by a Cougar wide receiver-turned-defender.
Oliver’s INT effectively stopped any real momentum the Alexander Central side had mustered. Except for a 37-yard field goal by senior placekicker Oscar Lopez a little more than two minutes before the Homecoming halftime show, ACHS had little to show when the game was on the line.
The Twos Have It
Meanwhile, Watauga was grinding out touchdowns, including Watson’s second of the night midway through the second quarter — from, of course, two yards out. For the conversion, Castle pirouetted in the backfield on a two-point attempt, fooling the entire Cougar defense as he sprinted around the right perimeter to the end zone. It put the Pioneers ahead, 15-3, with just 10 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
One of the highlights of the second quarter was a 43-yard catch-and-run by Sebastian Best. The junior wide receiver fought off the wildly waving arms of a Cougar defensive back to gather in, in stride, a perfectly thrown Castle aerial. Two plays later, Castle scored on a 3-yard TD keeper and Everett’s PAT kick made it 22-3, with just 10 seconds remaining in the half.
The second half was more of the same domination by Watauga, including three consecutive touchdowns in the third and into the fourth quarter to give the Pioneers a more-than-comfortable 42-3 lead.
Senior wingback Jaiden Bond figured prominently in the Pioneers’ second score of the second half. First, while playing cornerback on defense he recovered a Montgomery fumble at the ACHS 26-yard line. Then, three plays later, Bond rambled around the perimeter as a wingback on offense to score a TD from 21 yards out. Castle’s mishandling of the snap from center on a two-point conversion attempt was arguably the lone serious execution blemish of the evening for the Pioneers.
Watauga rolled up 382 yards of total offense while limiting Alexander Central to just 148. A clock-eating 329 of the Pioneers’ offensive production was on the ground, keeping the Cougar offense off the field (30:09 minutes of offensive possession vs. just 17:51 for the home side). Turnovers played a big role, too, given the drive-stopping INT and fumble in the first half.
The Pioneers never punted and never even had to “go for it” on fourth down, their offensive production and ball control were that good. Meanwhile, Alexander Central converted on 37% of third downs (4-of-11).
Bond led the Pioneers’ ground attack with 147 yards on 12 carries (a 12.3 yards per carry average), with one TD. Castle kept the ball 14 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns, as well as one two-point conversion. Watson also significant in Watauga’s punishing ground attack, toting the pigskin 14 times for 71 yards and two TDs.
The development of junior wingback Sebastian Best, especially with the tragic loss of starting senior B-Back Bryce Satterfield three weeks ago on a kickoff coverage vs. Wilkes Central, has been a welcome boost to the Pioneers’ offensive production. In addition to providing some variety to the Watauga rushing attack by carrying six times for 32 yards (5.3 avg.), Best caught two long passes from Castle for 53 yards (a 26.5 average), including the aforementioned TD.
Watauga, now 6-1 overall and 2-0 in conference play, returns to the friendly confines of Jack Groce Stadium next Friday (7:30 pm kickoff) to face Hickory. Alexander Central (4-2, 0-1) goes on the road to Morganton, to face Freedom (4-3, 1-1).
Although the resurgent Red Tornadoes that the Pioneers face next are 2-5 overall, they are 2-0 in Northwestern Conference play after edging Freedom, 23-22, on Friday and prevailing over McDowell, 20-14, on September 27th.
Blowing Rock Newshound Players of the Game
- Offense: Sebastian Best (two long pass receptions and a TD), Watauga Offensive Line (controlled line of scrimmage, created gaps for Castle, Watson)
- Defense: Grant Oliver (momentum-changing INT)
- Special Teams: Carter Everett (well-placed kickoffs)
- WAT – Q1 – TD Run, Jake Watson, 4 yards, PAT: Carter Everett kick
- WAT – Q2 – TD Run, Jake Watson, 2 yards, PAT: Anderson Castle run (2 points)
- ACHS – Q2 – FG (37 yards), Oscar Lopez
- WAT – Q2 – TD Run, Anderson Castle, 3 yards, PAT: Carter Everett kick
- WAT – Q3 – TD Pass, Anderson Castle to Sebastian Best, 10 yards, PAT: Carter Everett kick
- WAT – Q4 – TD Run, Jaiden Bond, 21 yards, PAT: 2-point conversion by Castle failed
- ACHS – Q4 – TD Run, AJ Miller, 19 yards, PAT: Oscar Lopez kick
SELECTED TEAM STATS
- Total Offense — WAT 382, ACHS 148
- Rushing Yards — WAT 329, ACHS 102
- Passing Yards — WAT 53, ACHS 46
- Penalties-Yards — WAT 8-65, ACHS 3-35
- Turnovers — WAT 0, ACHS 2 (one lost fumble and one INT)
- Defensive Sacks — WAT 1, ACHS 0
- Time of Possession — WAT 30:09, ACHS 17:51
- Third Down Conversions — WAT 5/6 (83%), ACHS 4/11 (36%)
- Fourth Down Conversions — WAT 0/0, ACHS 1/1
SELECTED INDIVIDUAL STATS
- WAT – Anderson Castle 2-2, 53 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs
- ACHS — Lance Justice 6-11, 46 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT
- WAT – Jaiden Bond, 12-147, 1 TD
- WAT – Anderson Castle, 14-73, 2 TDs
- WAT – Jake Watson, 14-71, 2 TDs
- ACHS – AJ Miller, 9-60, 1 TD
- WAT – Sebastian Best, 6-32
- ACHS – Steven Montgomery, 9-30
- ACHS – Lance Justice, 6-17
- WAT – Sebastian Best 2-53, 1 TD
- ACHS – AJ Miller 2-31
- ACHS – Peyton Payne 2-8