It's been a senior year filled with fond memories for the Watauga High football team.
The Pioneers clinched second place in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference, they defeated Hibriten 42-31 Friday night for their first win against the Panthers since 2006 (and their first win at home against them since 2001), and the Pioneers (6-4 overall; 4-1 NW3A/4A Conference) are just one win away from clinching their first winning season since 2007.
And the Pioneers also produced their first
1,000 yard rusher since 2007 as senior Kyle Chambers rambled for a career-high 253 yards on 40 carries. That effort gives Chambers 1,092 yards on the year. The last time WHS had a running back break the 1,000-yard barrier was in 2007 when a guy by the name of Eric Breitenstein, currently a red-shirt junior at Wofford College who is also a Walter Payton Award candidate, backboned the Pioneers to 12 wins and a Class 4A Western Finals appearance.
"I knew from the beginning that Kyle was going to have a great year," said fellow senior Alex Fox. "Like the rest of the seniors on this team, he was fed up with what happened last year. He wanted to be the go-to-guy this season, and he's been fun to watch."
Chambers established himself right away against the Panthers Friday night. He rambled nine yards on his first carry of the game. From that point on, he was in total command.
"You can't stop a guy like Chambers," said Hibriten coach Clay Lewis. "You just hope to contain him. He's a powerful guy. If he builds up speed, it's hard to bring him down."
But the Panthers couldn't contain Chambers. Really, no one has this season, except for A.C. Reynolds (in week one) and South Caldwell (last week). Otherwise, Chambers has pretty much had his way on the grid-iron.
"Give all the credit to the offensive line," he said. "I couldn't do it without them. There were huge holes all over the place tonight. It's feels great. I'm tired, and I'll sleep real well tonight. But We won the game. We really worked hard all week preparing for this game. It was great to bounce back after we lost last week (at South Caldwell)."
A game the Pioneers put on the back burner. The goal was to win out and possibly host a state playoff game on November 4. And the Pioneers are halfway there with Friday's win.
"Forget the South Caldwell game," senior Will Morgan said. "Our goal was to focus on our last two games and to win those games. Winning these next two is important for the playoffs. We really need a home game in the first round. It would really help us."
And having Chambers running the football on a cold night at Jack Groce Stadium is a bigger plus. A physical runner with deceptive speed, Chambers has established himself as a bruising runner. He's also etched himself among the league's rushing leaders---which have developed Breitenstein-like comparisons.
"It's a honor, that's for sure," Chambers said. "But Eric is such a terrific player. It's amazing what he can do on the field. I'm just doing the best I can. I'm happy with the season I've had, and my teammates, especially the offensive line, have played a huge part in it."
Chambers scored a pair of touchdowns Friday night. His four-yard run just before halftime gave WHS a 21-19 lead. And with his team trailing 31-28 in the final stanza, Chambers backboned WHS's go-ahead drive with nine carries for 68 yards. That set the stage for Ethan Greene's six-yard scamper that put the Pioneers on top to stay with 4:10 left in the game.
"It's got to be a state record, or close to one for carries in a game," said WHS coach Tim Pruitt. "What an effort by Kyle. Last week, we screwed up and couldn't give him any lanes to work with. But tonight, our offensive line opened up some huge holes and Kyle did the rest."
And the offensive line, led by Victor Hamby, Adam Uschelbec, Dustin Ward, Wade Norris Will Critcher and tight ends Clint Trivette and Luke Hudson, did an excellent job pushing a Hibriten defense, that was weak against the run, out of the way. The end result, the Pioneers rambled for 293 yards on the ground and 350 yards offensively.
"When he goes north and south, Kyle is tough to bring down," said offensive lineman Victor Hamby. "He's a strong guy. He's tough to bring down in practice. He really carried us tonight. We opened up the holes, but he knew what to do with those openings."
And the Pioneers also know how to silence their critics. Every week, the Pioneers find themselves in an underdog role. And according to Morgan, it also gets a little frustrating.
"Nobody favors us," he said. "It's out of our hands. Yeah, it's motivation to prove people wrong. And we've been pretty good at it."
Just ask their opponents.