Rockets Zip Past Pioneers, 43-15

Rockets Zip Past Pioneers, 43-15
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By the Pioneers’ first half performance, the Pacers had a lot to smile about during their halftime show.

By David Rogers. September 11, 2015. BOONE, NC — Bigger, stronger, faster — and more of ’em.  That’s usually a good start for a successful football team at any level, and that’s what Asheville’s A.C. Reynolds brought to town Friday night at Jack Groce Stadium, running away from host Watauga, 43-15.

COVER IMAGE: Rico Dowdle (5) has received Division I FBS-level college recruiting offers from Appalachian State, UNC-Charlotte, Boston College, Wake Forest, and Vanderbilt, with other interest by Tennessee and Notre Dame, according to 247 Sports, a unit of

All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

Undoubtedly headed to a Division I college football program next year, ACR quarterback Rico Dowdle led the Rockets offensively, gaining 144 net yards rushing on 17 carries and all four of the visitors’ TDs on the ground.  Through the air, the 6-0, 201 lb. senior was an efficient 7 completions on 9 attempts for 91 net yards and another TD. The Rockets earned a sixth touchdown on the night when senior outside linebacker Aundreas Hill intercepted a slant pass on the right side and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown with 10:18 remaining in the game.

Check out the size differential between the Rockets, left, and the Pioneers.

For almost all of the first half, it was anybody’s ball game. Watauga received the opening kickoff and it took only three plays for the Aaron Dobbins-led offense to make a statement that the Pioneers did not intend to gift wrap a win for the Rockets. After a promising kickoff return by junior WB Corey West, Dobbins & Co. started their first offensive drive at their own 37 yard line. Junior RB Evan Suggs looked to quickly establish the Pioneer running game and on the first play from scrimmage punched through the line Rockets’ defensive line for a 9-yard game. Dobbins picked up the first down convincingly with a 7-yard keeper, then on first and 10 from the Reynolds 47, the big 6-4, 225 lb. senior signal caller squirmed through a hole up the middle, broke into the secondary, and outran all of the Rockets’ defenders to paydirt.

And just like, less than two minutes into the game, the blue-clad Pioneers were ahead of the visiting, perennial 4A powerhouse, 7-0. It took just three plays to go the 63 yards — and consumed only 1:13 off the clock. The fans packing the home side of the stadium hardly had time to settle into the bleachers with their pre-game purchases of popcorn.

Keys to the Game

  • ACR was bigger, stronger, faster — a true 4A powerhouse contender
  • Watauga is “thin” in terms of its roster depth, with as many as eight players going both ways (playing offense and defense) at any given time. ACR wore them out.
  • ACR QB Rico Dowdle and RB A.J. Logan were elusive, strong runners in breaking tackles and leading the Rockets to 281 yards of rushing offense

A fumble by Dowdle on the kickoff return that followed set the Pioneer faithful’s hearts afire, with Watauga regaining possession at the ACR 49-yard line.  But the Pioneers only gained 5 yards on four plays, turning the ball over on downs to the Rockets.

Especially late, the Pioneers didn’t make these kinds of tackles often enough.

A.C. was quick to respond, knotting the score at 7-7 in a purposeful, 6 play, 44-yard drive that took just 2:25 off the clock. The Rockets got the ball back quickly when Pioneer junior WB Corey West fumbled at the ACR 43 after rushing for 17 yards around the right side. Neither team was able to push the ball across on their next possessions, so the first stanza ended, 7-7.

In addition to Dowdle’s 177 yards on the ground, A.C. Reynolds used the services of senior RB A.J. Logan to gain another net 98 yards on 16 carries. Throw in some shifty running after the catch by junior WR Keyal Talbert (three catches for 49 yards and 1 TD), and the Rockets enjoyed a potent offensive attack.

Dowdle scored again late in the first half, with just 4:58 remaining before intermission, weaving his way through — and breaking arm tackles — the Pioneer defense for 22 yards and a second TD.

Remembering and honoring the victims of 9/11, the red-white-and-blue clad students were in good spirits.

Watauga was undaunted. In one of the more impressive offensive series of the evening, Dobbins led the Pioneers on a 9-play, 80-yard drive that kept the ACR offense off the field for almost four and a half minutes, scoring with 34 seconds remaining in the half when Dobbins found WB Rylee Critcher alone in the end zone on the right side for a second TD. Coming to the line of scrimmage for the PAT, Dobbins called for the ball to be hiked (rather than fall back for a kick), keeping it himself to cover the two yards and punching through a gap in the line for the two-point conversion — and the apparent lead going into halftime, 15-14.

A.C. Reynolds had other ideas. After Watauga head coach Ryan Habich opted to surprise Reynolds with an onside kick that failed, the recovering Rockets had a short field and the weapons to take advantage. A 16-yard pass from Dowdle to Logan got the ball into Pioneer territory at the 41, then an illegal block penalty by Watauga helped the Rocket cause, advancing the ball to the Watauga 31 and only three seconds n the clock.  One play later, Dowdle found the end zone with a dashing sweep around the right side to give the Rockets an unlikely 22-15 advantage going into the locker room to discuss things.

AMONG THE FANS: Appalachian Regional Healthcare System execs Rob Hudspeth, left and Richard Sparks not only mugged for the camera, they INSISTED that their picture be taken even when the photographer cautioned that his camera wasn’t insured and they would be liable for damages!

Offensively, the Pioneers were done and with three more ACR touchdowns in the second half, Watauga was done in.

Although Watauga arguably outplayed ACR early, the lack of roster depth became readily apparent as the game progressed.  With as many as 8 athletes playing both ways (offense and defense) and Reynolds platoon different players on offense and defense, the Pioneers were used up and arguably the final nail in their coffin came when they couldn’t keep Dowdle out of the end zone with three seconds left in the half and still 31 yards for the Rockets to go.

The cheerleaders were not to be outdone in the aerials department.

Watauga opened up their playbook a bit in completing two “trick” plays, with last season’s reserve QB Rylee Critcher completing the second half of double passes for big, decisive gains. Less successful were the Pioneers’ three onside kick attempts which, after failing, each time gave the Rockets a short field to cover to earn a score. And they did.

You just can’t sneak up on the student section, from whatever angle you are shooting your images.

Pioneer junior RB Evan Suggs carried the ball 21 times for a net gain rushing of 91 yards, the first time this season he had failed to reach the century mark. Dobbins added 81 yards on 14 carries and a TD. Corey West was the leading Pioneer receiver, pulling down four catches for 41 yards. Senior WR Michael Ebaugh, who was ejected late in the game for unsportsmanlike conduct, only caught two passes, but for 26 yards.

Defensively, Ebaugh made more of an impact. He was in on four tackles, including two tackles for a net loss of 22 yards. The Pioneers Emory Wallace and Hamilton Castle were also credited with sacks.

For its four sacks, the Pioneers set the Rockets back 33 yards. Watauga won the time of possession battle, having the ball almost double the A.C. Reynolds time of possession (30:25 to 17:35). But when they had the ball, the Rockets just had too much firepower.

SLIDESHOW by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News







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