The Watauga High football team won its biggest game in four years Friday night at Jack Groce Stadium.
And it was only fitting that the win came against its biggest rival on Homecoming Night. The Pioneers (5-3 overall; 3-0 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference) battered Alexander Central 28-10 with a 21-point blitz in the first quarter.
The win leaves the Pioneers all alone in second place in the NW3A/4A Conference, just one-half game behind South Caldwell. The Spartans, riding a seven-game winning streak, defeated Hickory 31-19 Friday night on the road.
"It sets up quite a match up next Friday night," said WHS coach Tim Pruitt, who was smiling ear-to-ear following his team's decisive victory. "We put ourselves in this position by hard work and determination. And it's a good position to be in."
The Pioneers didn't waste any time putting the Cougars (3-5; 2-2) on their heals. DeWayne Mackey got things started with a huge kick-off return that put the Pioneers near midfield at their 48-yard-line. Kyle Chambers finished things off on the very next play as he scampered in from 52-yards out for a 7-0 lead 19 seconds into the game.
"I couldn't believe how wide open that hole was for Kyle," said WHS quarterback Ethan Greene. "I turned around and there was no one there. That hole had to be at least ten-yards wide. Our line just pushed them out of the way."
WHS's offensive line---Will Critcher, Victor Hamby, Adam Ushelbec, Wade Norris, Dustin Ward and tight end Clint Trivette---threw their weight around in the first half. They opened gaping holes for Chambers, who had 76 yards on nine carries and scored three touchdowns in the first-quarter alone. He finished with 91 yards on 19 carries.
The defense wasn't too shabby, either. They forced a bad punt by Nick Salyer on Alexander Central's first possession of the game. The kick, which may have been touched by Mackey who was pursuing the play, only went 15 yards and gave WHS the ball at the Cougars' 36. They punched it in seven plays later on Chambers two-yard run for a 14-0 lead; and an interception by Alex Fox on Alexander Central's second possession of the game gave the Pioneers a first down at the Cougars' 16-yard-line. Chambers scored five plays later on a one-yard run for a commanding 21-0 lead.
"I was on the blitz on that play," said Fox concerning his interception. "I saw the running back (Cory Roberts) peel out a little bit, so the quarterback (Salyer) happened to throw it. I put my hands up and tipped it. I lost the ball a little bit, but I turned around and caught it out of the corner of my eye. But this was a big win for us. We came in here with a lot confidence. We really wanted to win this game."
The win also snapped a two-game slide against the Cougars. It was WHS's first win against Alexander Central since 2008, and its biggest win against the Cougars since 2007, when the Pioneers blasted Alexander Central on two occasions----50-22 in their regular-season meeting and 42-14 in the opening round of the state playoffs that year. And the loss also eliminated Alexander Central, which won the league title last year (its first since 1983), from the conference race.
Greene closed out the assault in the second quarter, when he hooked up with Brian Bolster on a 34-yard scoring strike to make it 28-0 with 7:58 to go before halftime. Greene showed off his athletic skills on the play as he avoided the rush, stepped up and found Bolster downfield.
"This game was big," said WHS senior Cody McKinney. "Coach has been telling us all week, 'win this game, and we have a shot at the conference championship.' We jumped on them right away. Last week against Elizabethon, we gave up 14 points in the first quarter. We knew we couldn't do that tonight. Mackey got us started with the big return, Kyle scores, the defense turns in a three-and-out, and we just took control of the game."
And playing Elizabethon last week was beneficial, according to Pruitt.
"It really was," he said. "It kept us sharp. Otherwise, you get stale. I really felt if we played, we were going to be better off. And even though we lost that game, we learned a lot of things about our team."
The Cougars finally got on the board at the 9:19 mark on the third quarter when Lucas Hayes sacked Greene in the end zone for a safety that made it 28-2. Salyer hooked up with Phillip Ferguson on a 17-yard scoring pass with 4:27 left in the game. Salyer hooked up with Dylan Smith on a two-point conversion pass that made it 28-10 to close out the scoring.
"The key was we kept them off the board in the first half," Pruitt said. "We didn't want a repeat of what happened between A.C. Reynolds and Asheville. A.C. Reynolds was up 29-0 in that game and lost. We just kept it conservative in the second half and ate up the clock."
The Pioneers, looking for their first conference championship since 2007, and only their third since 1981, travel to South Caldwell next Friday night in a first-place showdown. The Spartans defeated WHS 27-7 in Sawmills last season, but the Pioneers have won three of the last five meetings dating back to 2006.
Our coverage of that game begins at 6:30 p.m. on Oldies 100.7 FM.
1 2 3 4 T
ALEXANDER CENTRAL 0 0 2 8 - 10
WATAUGA 21 7 0 0 - 28
11:41 - WHS: CHAMBERS 52 YD RUN (PARSON'S KICK), 1-52 (0:19) 7-0
6:42 - WHS: CHAMBERS 2 YD RUN (PARSON'S KICK), 7-36 (2:40) 14-0
3:35 - WHS: CHAMBERS 1 YD RUN (PARSON'S KICK), 5-16 (2:37) 21-0
7:58 - WHS: GREENE 34 YD PASS TO BOLSTER (PARSON'S KICK), 7-80 (4:40) 28-0
9:19 - ACHS: HAYES SAFETY 28-2
4:27 - ACHS: SALYER 17 YD PASS TO FERGUSON (SALYER PASS TO SMITH) 6-75 (1:44) 28-10
FIRST DOWNS: ACHS 15, WHS 10
TOTAL YARDS: ACHS 274, WHS 206
RUSH YARDS: ACHS 207, WHS 120
PASS YARDS: ACHS 67, WHS 86
TURNOVERS: ACHS 2, WHS 0
PENALTY YARDS: ACHS 8-51, WHS 4-47
POSSESSION TIME: ACHS 24:25, WHS 22:35
3RD DOWN CONVERSIONS: ACHS 4-12, WHS 3-9
4TH DOWN CONVERSIONS: ACHS 0-2, WHS 1-1
WHS - CHAMBERS 19-91-3TD
ACHS - ROBERTS 16-151
WHS - GREENE 7-8-TD 86
ACHS - SALYER 10-21-INT-TD 67
WHS - BOLSTER 4-61-TD
ACHS - DUPUIS 2-23
NORTHWESTERN 3A/4A CONFERENCE STANDINGS
SOUTH CALDWELL 4-0; 7-1
WATAUGA 3-0; 5-3
ALEXANDER CENTRAL 2-2; 3-5
HICKORY 1-2; 4-3-1
ST. STEPHENS 1-2; 2-5
HIBRITEN 1-2; 3-5
FRED T. FOARD 0-4; 1-7
FRIDAY NIGHT'S GAMES
WATAUGA 28, ALEXANDER CENTRAL 10
SOUTH CALDWELL 31, HICKORY 19
HIBRITEN 38, FRED T. FOARD 36
ST. STEPHENS - BYE
POLK COUNTY 51, AVERY 31
ASHE COUNTY 35, ALLEGHANY 12
EAST BURKE 42, WEST CALDWELL 6
FREEDOM 45, HUNTER HUSS 7
A.C. REYNOLDS 34, ENKA 20
ASHEVILLE 34, McDOWELL 14
T.C. ROBERSON 20, ERWIN 16