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Rivalry Renewed: Watauga Pioneers set to Host Ashe County Huskies

By Nathan Ham

A pair of High Country rivals will hit the gridiron on Friday night with the Ashe County Huskies making the short trip over from West Jefferson to take on the Watauga Pioneers.

Both teams are coming off of impressive victories in their first games last week. For Ashe, they ran all over neighboring Avery County on the way to a 50-7 victory. Sophomore tailback Timothy Peterson ran for 250 yards and four touchdowns in the victory. Ashe’s quarterback Luke Hudler completed 16-of-23 passes for 213 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Watauga piled up 324 rushing yards in last week’s 36-12 win over T.C. Roberson, led by Bryce Satterfield’s 142 yards and 125 yards from Jaiden Bond.

The Pioneers got some bad news this week as starting quarterback Anderson Castle will not be able to play against the Huskies, meaning senior Jackson Greene will have to step up and take over the quarterback spot. Greene passed for 120 yards and ran for 26 yards in last week’s game after Castle left with the injury.

“We’ll miss Anderson until conference play. Jackson Greene is our leader on defense, he’s a three-year starter at safety, so he’s got to play both ways now,” said Watauga head coach Ryan Habich. “It’s difficult to play both the whole game, but he’s going to have to do it. He’s a good enough athlete and in good enough shape to do that.”

Coach Habich said he also has a few other players that will be game-time decisions

“We’ve got some players dealing with some injuries, that’s part of high school sports. It’s going to be a challenge and we’ve got a lot of respect for Coach (Brian) Hampton and the Ashe County program,” said Habich. “They have a real good team this year, they had a really impressive win against Avery County. It’s always a challenge when you play Ashe County, they throw the ball so well, they get open and catch the ball and move the chains so well, then they take those home run shots.”

Ashe County putting a running game together makes them even tougher to defend.

“The added thing this year is they are running the football really well and that’s really dangerous for them offensively,” said Habich. “Defensively, they’re much improved, they run to the ball really well and get in the right spot to make plays.”

Ashe County head coach Brian Hampton knows his team will have to be ready to go to contend with Watauga’s potent rushing attack.

“Every year you play Watauga, you’ve got to play disciplined football. I think Coach Habich does one of the best coaching jobs in the state every year. They don’t beat themselves and defensively, you’ve got to play four downs, they never punt,” said Hampton. “Defensively, they are much improved and play very aggressive. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Offensively, Hampton is excited to see more balance in their offense after the team struggled to consistently run the football last season. Much of the credit for that goes to the experience up front on the offensive line.

“We’ve got four seniors and a junior up front, we feel like having that experience up front should help us,” said Hampton. “We should be a little more balanced on offense to try and keep people from dropping eight back in coverage. We have to take advantage of the numbers.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Ashe has had its ups and downs over the past couple of years. After a strong performance against Avery County surrendering just one touchdown on a short field following a turnover, the defense has to have some confidence heading into this week’s game.

“Defense the last few years has been our weakness. We’ve been able to move the ball and score some points, but we haven’t been able to stop anybody consistently. To go out and play well defensively, and have everyone on defense contribute, that was big,” Hampton said. “We’ve been strong in areas, but as a whole, we have not. For the whole team to really get after it and take pride in that side of the football, that is important. If we are fortunate enough to get Watauga in fourth down situations, we have to play defense and get off the field. We’re happy with where we are at right now and hopefully we can improve more.”

Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. from Jack Groce Stadium.

Week 2 area games

McDowell (1-0) at Avery County (0-1)

Bunker Hill (0-1) at St. Stephens (0-1)

Draughn (0-1) at Freedom (0-1)

Wilkes Central (0-1) at Alexander Central (1-0)

South Caldwell (0-0) at Kings Mountain (0-0)

West Caldwell (0-1) at Hibriten (1-0)

Alleghany (0-1) at Grayson County (VA) (0-0)

Elkin (1-0) at North Surry (1-0)

Surry Central (0-1) at East Wilkes (0-1)

East Surry (1-0) at Starmount (0-1)

South Stokes (0-1) at North Wilkes (1-0)