By David Rogers for HighCountrySports.net
BOONE, N.C. — Watauga High School Principal Chris Blanton speculated after the Sept. 16 “Homecoming” football game that it was probably the largest crowd at least in the Pioneer grandstands in quite some time. And, by the way, they had a lot to cheer about with Boone’s favorite sons running away with a 55-21 win over regional rival, Ashe County.
For scheduling purposes, it was a non-conference game. With last year’s NCHSAA realignment of all North Carolina high school conferences and the growing Ashe County enrollment pushing the Huskies from the 2A to 3A level, both institutions are now in the 3A/4A Northwestern Conference that Watauga has seemingly dominated for the last several years.
Watauga head coach Ryan Habich discounted any notion that the early non-conference encounter provided either team with insight into the other’s game plan when they meet for the official conference game on Oct. 28. He noted that both he and the Huskies head coach, Brian Hampton, have led their respective programs for the last 10 years, so “… he knows what we do and we know he runs an ‘Air Raid’ offense,” said Habich. The only thing that changes, through the years, are the players’ names, he suggested.
Opening the playbook a little further as league play officially approaches, the Pioneers rolled up 482 yards of total offense, 353 yards of it on the ground and 129 yards — more than usual — through the air. While running back Will Curtis carried the ball 14 times for 101 yards and a TD to lead the rushing attack, he was joined in rushing TDs by Maddox Greene, Cole Horine, Carlton Horine, and Peyton Ash.
Meanwhile, Greene completed 8 of 11 passes for those 129 yards — and 2 TDs.
In this one, Watauga wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard. Ashe received the opening kickoff for the first offensive possession, but on the Huskies’ second play from scrimmage, the Pioneers’ Morgan Henry came up with an interception — and only 43 seconds had ticked off the clock. Then, on Watauga’s first play, Greene hit Jackson Pryor over the middle for a 28-yard TD. With a successful Grant Kight PAT kick, the score was 7-0. Arguably the largest Pioneer student section of the last 10 years, costumed in “white out” attire, had barely gotten to exercise their lungs.
After the Pioneer defense stopped the Ashe advance at their own 46 yard line, Greene & Co. staged an 11-play, 71-yard drive that took more than four minutes off the game clock. On a keeper off right tackle, Greene found a whole and galloped 9 yards for Watauga’s second TD of the night, with more than five minutes remaining on the first quarter clock.
Although Watauga’s defensive end Isaiah Shirley at times seemed to take up residence in Ashe County’s backfield for QB sacks and tackles for loss, the Huskies’ QB Blake Peters and running back Matthew Peterson shook off those setbacks and orchestrated an 11-play, 60-yard drive that ended in an AC touchdown: Peterson finished it off with a one-yard punch into the end zone.
Peters completed 24 of 41 pass attempts on the night for 236 yards but to the dismay of the many Husky fans filling the south grandstands of Jack Groce Stadium, that yardage produced no TDs — but two interceptions that gave the ball back to the Pioneers. Unlike in many Watauga games where the Pioneers control time of possession, Ashe County’s 23:09 with the offense on the field was nearly identical to Watauga’s 24:44. Simply put, the Pioneers did more with their opportunities and committed no turnovers.
In spreading the ball around, Peters’ favorite targets on the night were wide receive Colin Estes (10 catches, 89 yards), receiver Ian Graybeal (7 catches, 88 yards), and Peterson (5 catches, 34 yards).
After the game, Habich conceded that Ashe County exposed an area of vulnerability in the Pioneer pass defense. “We have to get better,” he said, “if we are going to win a conference championship.”
Peterson also proved to be an elusive target at times once he got ahold of the football. Habich said, “He is a good player and good players make you miss tackles. That was another area of concern where we need to improve, tackling.”
Even with Ashe County showing a lot of Northwestern Conference potential if it can only avoid turnovers (fumbles and interceptions), Watauga was much more consistent in playing near-error free football, with no turnovers.
And, the Pioneers showed off a number of offensive weapons in running back Will Curtis (14 carries, 101 yards rushing, 1 TD), Cole Horine (4 carries, 77 yards, 1 TD), Greene (8 carries, 75 yards, 1 TD) and Carlton Horine (4 carries, 48 yards, 2 TDs).
Greene also had an opportunity to show off his arm, passing. Wide receiver Jackson Pryor had 5 catches for 88 yards and a TD, while Cole Horine’s versatility led to 2 catches for 33 yards and a TD.
Although he rambled over the century mark with 101 yards rushing on the night, Curtis was quick to point out that Watauga’s game plan relies on a total team effort.
“We are not always the biggest nor the fastest,” said Curtis, “so a lot of our success begins with the blocking upfront, the fakes, and then the reads in finding the gaps. It is a team game. I am just the one who happens to be carrying the ball but I can do very little without those blocks from our offensive line.”
Next up for the Pioneers is the first game of the Northwestern Conference slate in 2022, but it doesn’t come for two weeks, Sept. 30, at South Caldwell (4-1). They have a bye next week and it comes at a fortuitous time, allowing for players to “heal” after being a little banged up in the five early, non-conference games from which they emerged, 4-1.
Ashe County (2-3) also has a bye on Sept. 23, opening NWC play on Sept. 30 at home against Alexander Central (2-3).
- Q1 WAT – Maddox Greene TD pass, 28 yards to Jackson Pryor (Grant Kight PAT is good)
- Q1 WAT – Maddox Greene TD run for 9 yards (Grant Kight PAT is good)
- Q1 ASH – Matthew Peterson TD run of 1 yard (PAT kick is good)
- Q2 WAT – Cole Horine TD run for 45 yards (2-point conversion run by Greene)
- Q2 WAT – Carlton Horine TD run for 17 yards (2-point conversion run by Greene is no good)
- Q2 WAT – Maddox Greene TD pass, 32 yards to Cole Horine (Grant Kight PAT is good)
- Q3 WAT – Carlton Horine TD run for 16 uards (Grant Kight PAT is blocked))
- Q3 WAT Will Curtis TD run for 4 yards (Grant Kight PAT is good)
- Q3 ASH Matthew Peterson TD run for 6 yards (PAT kick is good)
- Q4 WAT Peyton Ash TD run for 5 yards (Grant Kight PAT is good)
- Q4 ASH Matthew Peterson run for 1 yard (PAT kick is good)
SELECTED TEAM STATS
- Total Offense: WAT 482, ASH 286
- Passing Yards: WAT 129, ASH 236
- Rushing Yards: WAT 353, ASH 50
- Penalties: WAT 1-15, ASH 1-10
- Turnovers: WAT 0, ASH 2
- Time of Possession: WAT 24:44, ASH 23:09
- First Downs: WAT 28, ASH 19
- 3rd Down Conversions: WAT 2/3 (66.7), ASH 7/12 (58.3%)
- 4th Down Conversions: WAT 1/1 (100%), ASH 1/2 (50%)
- ASH Blake Peters. 24-41-236, 0 TDs, 2 INTs
- WAT Maddox Greene 8-11 129, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
- WAT Will Curtis 14-101, 1 TD
- WAT Cole Horine 4-77, 1 TD
- WAT Maddox Greene 8-75, 1 TD
- ASH Matthew Peterson 16-58, 3 TDs
- WAT Carlton Horine 4-48, 2 TDs
- ASH Colin Estes 10-89
- WAT Jackson Pryor 5-88, 1 TD
- ASH Matthew Peterson 5-34
- WAT Cole Horine 2-33, 1 TD