By Mark S. Kenna
Nov. 18, 2013. Closing out the season 8-4, third in the conference, the Watauga High School Pioneers tasted defeat against the Porter Ridge Pirates 26-32 in the first round of the playoffs Friday night at Jack Groce.
“Our youth and inexperience shows at times when we don’t make the plays,” said WHS head coach Ryan Habich. “I’m really proud of the way our kids played today. I think they played well over expectations this year.”
After receiving the kickoff, the Pioneers ran into trouble early forcing Watauga to punt the ball only 1:26 into the first quarter. Porter Ridge struck fast and hard on an 11-play drive for 69-yards, moving down the field to score the first touchdown of the game with 6:28 on the clock. However, Watauga was not going to face the same fate as last year when Porter Ridge crushed the Pioneers 69-0.
Taking command, WHS quarterback Aaron Dobbins and the Pioneers marched down the field and capped a touchdown on a 50-yard strike to TJ Poulos, putting the clock at 4:59, after a four-play 1:24 drive for 63-yards. An onside kick by Watauga gave Porter Ridge the ball on their 45-yard line. Five plays, 55-yards and 49 seconds later the Pirates converted on a rushing touchdown from Jerrick Robbins, putting the score at 13-7 after Poulos blocked the extra point.
On a 3:08 drive, Dobbins took the Pioneers to field goal range and WHS kicker Steven Shirley knocked down a 28-yard field goal, ending the quarter trailing the Pirates by three points, 13-10. The Pioneers almost ended the first quarter strong with a pick-six by defensive back Justin Greer; however, a holding call on Watauga canceled the touchdown.
Starting their drive on the Porter Ridge 20-yard line, Watauga missed a chance to capitalize on a touchdown after an interception by PRHS wide receiver and defensive back Casey Hardison at the Porter Ridge one-yard line. A defensive stop by Watauga forced the Pirates to punt from their own 48-yard line.
On their second drive of the quarter, Watauga marched from the Porter Ridge 48-yard line to the 21-yard line and with a Shirley 38-yard field goal the Pioneers tied the game at 13-13 with 3:51 left in the half. Porter Ridge started their next drive on their own 27-yard line. WHS defensive back Dakota McCrary picked off Porter Ridge quarterback Isaiah Hicklin on the second play of the drive and returned it 30-yards, putting Watauga up 20-13 at the end of the half.
Porter Ridge started the second half with a Robbins 21-yard kick off return from the five-yard line, however a Hicklin fumble forced by WHS defensive back Landry Morgan gave the Pioneers possession of the ball at the Porter Ridge 19-yard line with 11:25 on the clock. Running back Zach Williams one-yard rush gave Watauga another touchdown putting the score at 26-13 after a failed extra point by Shirley. Porter Ridge dug in on an 11-play, 80-yard drive to make the last strike of the quarter and put the score at 26-20.
One minute and 40 seconds into the fourth quarter, Porter ridge missed a 31-yard attempt on fourth down after a nine-play 39-yard drive and after a botched eight-play,28-yard drive Watauga faked the punt for a first down.
However, an illegal shift penalty on the Pioneers forced another punt. A Robbins 77-yard return for a touchdown tied the ball game up 26-26 after Watauga blocked the Porter Ridge extra point. On the kick off, WHS wide receiver and corner back Cam Baker returned the ball for 23-yard to the Watauga 28 but the Pioneers turned over on downs on their own 33-yard line. With Porter Ridge starting on the Watauga 33-yard line PRHS running back and line backer Nick Vagnone punched through the Watauga defensive line for a touchdown, and after a blocked extra point Porter Ridge led 32-26 with under a minute on the clock. Watauga’s response drive drained the clock of the remaining 24 seconds to solidify Porter Ridge’s victory.
“Most of our players played J.V. last year so with the youth and inexperience sometimes you get out here and see the speed and size of these players [and] it takes time to get adjusted to that,” Habich said. “They’re such a good defense, Porter Ridge — Rocky River will have a hard time scoring against them.”
“This is just the start of Watauga football. I think were a young football team, and we may not be the same level as Porter Ridge but that’s the direction were headed and were gonna be there; I am proud of our season, proud of the way our kids fought and proud of our kids’ attitudes,” Habich added.
Porter Ridge will move on to the second round in the playoffs to take on Rocky River in Mint Hill on Friday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Rock River, ranked number 17 in the state, beat Reagan High School 26-6 on Friday, Nov. 11.