By David Rogers. September 20, 2019. BOONE, NC — It’s proven formula for winning football games: run up 492 yards of total offense while limiting the opposition to just 200, grind out 439 of those yards on the ground to take control of the clock and keep the other offense off the field, and limit your turnovers.
COVER IMAGE: Anderson Castle crosses the goal line for the game’s first score vs. Gastonia-Ashbrook. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Watauga did just that to visiting Gastonia-Ashbrook Friday night at Jack Groce Stadium, in control from the get-go to finish with a 42-14 victory over the Greenwave.
Led by senior quarterback Anderson Castle’s 258 yards rushing on 24 carries, including one TD, and “replacement” B-back Jake Watson rushing another 14 times for 112 yards and four touchdowns, the Pioneers all but dominated the Ashbrook side in all three phases of football: offense, defense, and special teams.
The Pioneers played inspired football Friday night at Jack Groce Stadium.
Watauga head coach Ryan Habich explained to reporters afterward that his team was extra motivated for this last non-conference game of the 2019 season. They were playing for senior running back Bryce Satterfield, Habich noted, who was lost for the season last week against Wilkes Central when he took a helmet to the knee while covering a kickoff on special teams.
“At he beginning of this game,” Habich said to reporters later, “we lined up without a B-back as a (symbolic) tribute to Bryce. The first play was designed for (quarterback) Anderson Castle to keep the ball. I told him I wanted him to get two yards, one for himself and one for Bryce. Castle replied, ‘I am going to get more than two yards. I am going to get seven or eight.'”
Senior wingback Jaiden Bond returned the opening kickoff 37 yards to the WHS 40, breaking tackle after tackle to get there. The stage was set for Castle & Co.
Castle plowed off tackle for nine yards to the WHS 49 yardline and the Pioneers never looked back. After a one-yard pickup on a rush by Bond to get the ball to midfield, the rest of the first offensive series mostly featured Castle keeping the ball on the ground behind a machine-like offensive line. With rushes of 11-, 14-, -14, 3-, 8-, and 6-yards, Castle & Co. owned the first offensive series in what has under Habich evolved as trademark Watauga fashion — a highly efficient, clock-eating ground attack that resulted in the game’s first score.
The first offensive possession by Watauga took almost five full minutes off the clock — a minute shy of half the first period. Importantly, it kept Ashbrook’s offense — featuring a couple of Division I college prospects — off the field.
Technically, Watauga only has a 24-man varsity roster, with many of the Pioneers playing both ways, offense and defense, as well as special teams. On Ashbrook’s first possession, the Pioneer defense was equally inspired, punishing the Greenwave and its novel double-wing offense to a 3-and-out.
“I haven’t seen a double-wing offense in 20 years,” Habich said later. By all accounts, he and his coaching staff effectively prepared his players to defend it, nonetheless.
Watauga scored touchdowns on its first three offensive possessions and stymied Gastonia-Ashbrook’s attempts to gain any kind of attacking momentum. Even where the Greenwave was able to move the ball toward the end of the first quarter, turnovers played into the Pioneers’ hands.
A Watauga highlight in the first half was a demonstration of Castle’s diverse abilities as a QB — and Bond’s speed and ability as a wide receiver.
After the Pioneers scored their first two TDs with a grinding ground attack and the defensive unit recovered an Ashbrook fumble at the Pioneer 14-yard line, Watauga ran two plays for 33-yards, out to their own 47-yard line. The Greenwave called for a timeout, which gave Habich even more time to cook up a body blow.
With 4:11 remaining in the half, Castle dropped back and launched a long pass up the middle of the field to a wide-open Bond. The senior receiver gathered in the perfectly thrown ball and raced untouched into the end zone, prompting the Pioneer student section to chant, “You can’t stop us. You can’t stop us. You can’t stop us.”
For the most part, Watauga elected not to kickoff deep out of respect for Ashbrook’s senior cornerback and return specialist, Trey Byers. The 6-0, 189 lb. athletic speedster showed why that respect is warranted on Watauga’s kickoff to open the second half. After finally fielding a bouncing ball that got behind him, Byers ran across the field past the Pioneers’ kickoff return coverage, turned the corner in front of his own bench, and raced down the sideline for the Gastonia crowd’s first score. Byers’ run was a good explanation for why the senior has reportedly been selected for the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas in December.
Suddenly, Watauga’s three-touchdown lead was pared to a two-possession lead, 21-7.
But no need to worry. Ashbrook scored one more time in what turned out to be a 14-point third quarter for the Greenwave, but Watauga always had answers. Call it bookends to intermission, if you will, but the Pioneers scored 21 points in each half to keep Ashbrook at bay.
Next up for Watauga is the opening of Northwestern Conference play on Friday, September 27th. The Pioneers host the lone 4A member of the conference, South Caldwell, then will travel to Taylorsville the following weekend to face Alexander Central, one of favorites to win the conference this year along with Watauga and Morganton-Freedom.
Ashbrook (0-5) begins Big South Conference play next week vs. Forestview.
Blowing Rock Newshound Players of the Game
- Offense: Anderson Castle, Jake Watson
- Defense: Joe Penley, Jake Watson
- Special Teams: Carter Everett, Jake Watson
SELECTED TEAM STATS
- Total Offense (yards) — WAT 492, ASH 200
- Rushing Yards — WAT 439, ASH 129
- Passing (completions-attempts-yards-TDs-INTs)
- WAT 1-1-53-1-0
- ASH 6-7-71-0-0
- WAT 2 lost fumbles
- ASH 3 lost fumbles
- Penalties — WAT 4-35, ASH 4-30
- Defensive Sacks — WAT 2, ASH 0
- Time of Possession — WAT 26:17, ASH 21:43
- 3rd Down Conversions — WAT 2/3 (67%), ASH 5/8 (63%)
- 4th Down Conversions — WAT 1/1 (100%), ASH 0/1 (0%)
SELECTED INDIVIDUAL STATS
- WAT — Anderson Castle 24-258, 1 TD
- WAT — Jake Watson 14-112, 4 TDs
- ASH — Postell 11-68
- WAT — Jaiden Bond 5-57
- ASH — Trevon Crank 5-46, 1 TD
- ASH — Chandler Meeks 6-7-71
- WAT — Anderson Castle 1-1-53, 1 TD
- WAT — Jaiden Bond 1-53, 1 TD
- ASH — Postell 3-26
- ASH — Batts 1-24