By David Rogers. September 6, 2019. PFAFFTOWN, NC — While some might think that reporting a 63-35 football score is a misprint — that maybe they meant to report a basketball score — it isn’t. Watauga High School lost to the Ronald Reagan Raiders by that margin on Friday night, and Pioneer head coach Ryan Habich found a silver lining in the onslaught.
COVER IMAGE: Watauga wingback Jaiden Bond (21) sprints for the end zone for the Pioneers’ early score. All photographic images by Craig Weston for Blowing Rock News
“My longtime mentor, David Riggs, explained to me early (in my coaching career),” Habich recalled for reporters after the game, “that there are three phases to a football season. First you have the offseason (where you are training, lifting weights, etc.), then you have your non-conference schedule. Then you have your conference schedule and possibly the state playoffs.
“We are in the non-conference schedule phase, now,” he added. “This is where you expose your vulnerabilities and deficiencies. This is where you want to have those teaching moments before you get into the phase of schedule that really matters.”
Keys to the Game
- Reagan offensive line’s control of the line of scrimmage
- The Raiders’ speed and athleticism, especially on the perimter on offense
- Tazhae Woods’ first quarter interception that shifted the momentum clearrly in Reagan’s favor
- Reagan defense’s ability to force two Watauga punts; a third 4th down opportunity on a fake punt failed with an incomplete pass late in the first half
To the North Carolina 4AA-level (big school) Raiders, Watauga gave up 474 yards of total offense, much of it on the perimeter. Reagan quarterback Gabriel Hollingsworth completed an efficient 11-of-13 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns, but the 6-3, 210 lb. senior also did a lot of his damage on the ground where he carried the ball five times for 88 yards and three touchdowns.
And Hollingsworth may not even have been the point of the spear, figuratively speaking.
That honor should go to Reagan running back Daniel Moyer, Jr., who dashed and slashed his way through a porous Watauga defense for 149 yards and two TDs, on 17 carries. The 5-9, 182 lb. senior speedster proved near-unstoppable for the relatively young Pioneer linebacking corps. And as the game wore on and the outcome more certain, the Raiders’ head coach inserted a pair of junior rushers in Tazhae Woods (3 carries, 54 yards) and Sanchez Redden (7 carries, 54 yards, 1 TD) who also flashed by Pioneer defenders.
“When you play 1A and 2A schools in the preseason,” Habich noted, “your team weaknesses aren’t necessarily exposed because your athletes might be more capable than your opponents. But when you play a 4AA school like Reagan, that has 3,000 students to draw from and the opposing players are likely to be bigger, stronger and faster, that’s where you get those valuable teaching moments as you prepare to go into the meat of your schedule.
“What we saw tonight,” he said, “is that we have to get off our blocks and make some tackles. You have to give a lot of credit to Reagan’s offensive line, which controlled the line of scrimmage just about all night.”
Reagan head coach McGee undoubtedly found some teaching opportunities, too, because Watauga’s offense was nearly as productive on the ground. The Pioneers’ three-headed offensive juggernaut moved the ball extremely well behind a solid performance by Watauga’s offensive maturing offensive line. Senior B-back Bryce Satterfield led the Pioneer rushing attack with 116 yards on 14 carries, including one TD, while senior wingback Jaiden Bond sparkled with 102 yards and two TDs on just five carries. Quarterback Anderson Castle was also productive, piling up 90 yards on the ground in 20 keepers, and one TD.
Watauga got the ball first to start the game and Habich’s ball control strategy of run-run-run seemed effective. After Satterfield and Castle alternated punching the ball forward three and four yards at a time, picking up three first downs and taking five minutes off the game clock — and keeping Reagan’s offense off the field for that period of time — Bond surprised the Raiders on a sweep around the right side, finding space and sprinting the remaining 30 yards for the game-opening TD. Then a clever two-point conversion by Castle gave the Pioneers an early, 8-0 lead.
Reagan didn’t waste any time in responding. On the subsequent kickoff, return specialist Woods wove his way through and around the Watauga kickoff coverage unit, gathering in the short kick near his own 25-yard line, picking up some key blocks, and sprinting most of the 75 yards to the Watauga end zone. After a successful PAT by senior placekicker CJ Hill, the Raiders trailed by only a point, 8-7, and their offense had yet to touch the ball.
The Castle-led Watauga offense looked like it would fashion a repeat of the Pioneers’ first offensive possession, with Bond, Castle and junior wingback Sebastian Best ripping off good gains, including an apparent 49-yard TD gallop by Castle. But the Pioneers were flagged for offensive holding back at the Reagan 45-yard line and the TD nullified. Then, on the very next play, a long Castle pass was intercepted by Raider defensive back Shavon Revel. His long return was negated by a block-in-the-back penalty, but Watauga had been stopped and Reagan’s offense took the field for the first time.
It didn’t take Hollingsworth & Co. long to make short work of the short field. Starting at the WHS 40, Woods and Moyer rattled off 9-yard and 18-yard gains, respectively. Two plays later, Hollingsworth capped off the 5-play, 40-yard drive with a 5-yard TD run of his own. Taking advantage of the Watauga turnover, the errant pass, Reagan seized a 14-8 lead and would never again trail.
Simply put, Reagan got a couple of defensive stops that Watauga couldn’t match.
The Raiders led 35-15 at halftime and for many teams playing a bigger school on the road, that would have been demoralizing. In the press box early in the second half, one pundit even wondered aloud how long it would take for Reagan to get ahead by 42 points and trigger the “mercy rule” with running clock.
After Watauga kept trading touchdowns with Reagan in the third and fourth quarters, including a 48-yard scamper around the outside by Bond and 44-yard burst up the middle by Satterfield, both runs for TDs, that same observer said, “Watauga just won’t go away. These guys are certainly well-coached, that’s for sure.”
After a week of learning from those teaching moments vs. Reagon, Watauga returns to the High Country for a three-game home stand, beginning with a visit from NCHSAA 2-A contender, the Wilkes Central Eagles (2-1). The south Wilkesboro school defeated North Iredell, 15-13, to open the season before losing to Watauga’s Northwestern Conference rival, Alexander Central, 28-12 on Aug. 30th. On Friday, the Eagles recovered to thump Surry Central, 38-14. With its wins over TC Roberson and Ashe County, Watauga is also 2-1.
Blowing Rock Newshound Players of the Game
- Offense: Daniel Moyer, Jr. (17 carries, 149 yards, 2 TDs), Gabriel Hollingsworth (5-88 rushing, 3 TDs; 11-13-132 passing, including 2 TDs)
- Defense: Shavon Revel (key INT for the only turnover by either team)
- Special Teams: Tazhae Woods (kickoff return for TD)
- Offense: Bryce Satterfield (14 carries, 116 yards, 1 TD)
- Defense: Jaiden Bond (9 tackles, 7 solo)
- Special Teams: Anderson Castle (2 punts, 94 yards, 47-yard avg.)