By Jesse Wood
Nov. 13, 2014. Coming off back-to-back, eight-win seasons for just the second time in the past 25 years, the Watauga High School Pioneers (8-3) travel to Lexington on Friday afternoon to face powerhouse North Davidson (10-1) in the first round of the 2014 state 4-A playoffs.
The game starts at 7:30 p.m.
To have shot at winning this football game, WHS head coach Ryan Habich says his squad must play a perfect team game because the individual talent of North Davidson will overwhelm the Pioneers if they don’t.
North Davidson features Shy Tuttle, a 6-3, 310 pound defensive tackle that is heading to the SEC next year. He’s the No. 1 recruit in the state and the 41st recruit of any position in the country, according to ESPN 300. He received scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida State, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Texas, Ohio State, LSU and – well, you get the idea.
“He’s a tremendous football player,” Habich said, adding that there is no one on the Pioneers’ squad that is “even close” to matching up with him one on one.
Because Habich said there isn’t an offensive lineman on his squad that can come “even close” to being able contain Tuttle alone, the Pioneers will resort to double teaming Tuttle, operating the read option and running away from Tuttle.
Also, North Davidson features another star player – wide receiver Kylil Miller – who will play in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, which is an invitation all-star game for the top high school football players in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Habich acknowledged that the Pioneers must play disciplined football by eliminating big plays such as one- or two-score drives, not committing penalties and turnovers, completing tackles in the open field and being in the right spot defensively. In addition, Habich said the Pioneers have to be opportunistic on offense and find ways to score points in the red zone. That and a little bit of luck.
Habich noted that he’s coached teams that have upset more talented teams because his units believed they could win, put in the preparation to win and played together as a team.
“The theme going in is you have to believe you can win, work to win and put yourself in that position [in the fourth quarter] and good things can happen,” Habich said. “I believe we can win.”
WHS will be without starting quarterback Aaron Dobbins, who sprained his MCL in his left knee in the season’s finale against South Caldwell last week. Starting in his position is Rylee Critcher, who has played quarterback in four other games when Dobbins was hurt earlier in the year. Critcher is also the starting linebacker on defense and starting tight end when not behind center.
“Critcher is a very good athlete, a hard-nosed kid,” Habich said, adding that Critcher has become more familiar with the offense as the year has progressed. “I think he’ll do fine.”
However the night turns out for the Pioneers on Friday, Habich said he’s extremely proud of this football team.
“I am really proud with this senior bunch that has won 16 regular season games in the past two years. That’s a huge accomplishment for these kids at Watauga High School,” Habich said. “It’s a testament to the kids and their work ethic and the work they put in during the offseason.”
The kids, he said, persevered when several players went down with injuries and had the next-man-up mentality.
“Our kids stuck together,” Habich said, and were successful.
Radio coverage of the game begins at 6:30 p.m. on Classic Hits 100.7 FM. Also, Mountain Television Network will show replays of the game in the near future.
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