Ethan Greene displayed his moxie Friday night under adverse conditions.
The Watauga High football team, which had not won a state playoff game since 2007, was facing possible elimination at Jack Groce Stadium Friday night in the opening round of the Class 4A state playoffs. Greene, who went down with a serious ankle sprain with 8:42 left in the second quarter, was on the sidelines in obvious pain. His right ankle was
heavily taped and he was doing his best to get back on the field.
On the field, the Pioneers (7-5, and the No.3 seed in the Western pod), thanks to a pair of costly turnovers late in the first half, were trailing Alexander Central, 10-7. But Greene, despite the injury, came off the bench and gave his team a much-needed lift. Following an Alex Fox interception midway through the fourth quarter, Greene hooked up with Ethan Poulos on a 28-yard scoring pass two plays later for a 14-10 lead with 7:37 left in the game. And that proved to be the difference as the Pioneers nailed down their first winning season and their first post-season win in four years
"I just couldn't let my teammates down," said Greene, who suffered the injury when he was knocked into the WHS bench attempting a fourth-down pass. "I got hit as I was going out of bounds. I stepped on someone's foot and rolled my ankle to the outside. It hurt pretty bad, but I just wanted to get back on the field. The big concern was to plant my foot and throw. I wasn't going to run much, if at all. I just to suck it up. I couldn't just leave my guys out there."
Making matters worse, the Pioneers also lost tight end Clint Trivette, who suffered a broken hand in the second quarter when he collided with Nathan Birkedall of the Cougars trying to catch a pass.
The win moves WHS into the Western Quarterfinals next Friday night. The Pioneers will play Mooresville (10-2, and the No.2 seed in the Western pod), which defeated East Gaston 35-15 in its first-round game. And it was also a memorable night for WHS coach Tim Pruitt, who picked up his first playoff victory.
"The guys don't know this, but it was also the first time I've ever had gatorade poured on me after a game. But when that happens, it means you've won a big game. I am so happy for our coaches and players. What a turnaround. Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, we closed out a disappointing season, and just one year later, here we are winning our first playoff game. I am so proud of this team."
And the WHS defense, which has been pretty generous against the run in recent weeks, shut down Cory Roberts, who burned them for 151 yards in their last meeting back on October 7. Roberts finished with 87 yards on 23 carries.
"The last time we saw him, David Martin missed the zone and that's how he got a lot of his yards," Pruitt said. "But this time around, we really concentrated on stopping that and David came out and played great. He led us in tackles (13) tonight. He was real aggressive and really put a lot of pressure on the ball carrier."
But it was Greene's moment to shine, especially with the game on the line. The WHS senior, who has amassed nearly 1,300 yards offensively and 14 touchdowns, stepped up big in the clutch.
"Having him back on the field was a huge motivation for us," Martin said. "We could see it at halftime. He could barely walk, but he was really trying his best to play. That just goes to show his character. It really shows the character of this senior group."
Greene had his ankle heavily taped, and he was also wearing a brace when he made his way back to the sidelines in the third quarter. Tripp Taylor, playing in only his fourth game, was going through the growing pains at quarterback. Poor field position didn't help his cause, either. And the Pioneers were in full speed reverse.
"Tripp will be a great quarterback before it's all said and done," said WHS running back Kyle Chambers, who ran for 96 yards on 23 carries. "He did his best, and we believed in him. He wanted to win this game as bad as we did."
Greene, who scored WHS's first touchdown on a one-yard run on its opening possession of the game, returned with 5:30 left in the third quarter. He marched the Pioneers into scoring position, but the Cougars blocked Alex Parson's game-tying, 22-yard field-goal attempt to preserve their three-point lead.
"We knew we were going to get the job done," Greene said. "We trust each other, and with this being a conference opponent we've all ready beaten, we were more than determined to win this game. I heard Ray Lewis (of the Baltimore Ravens) say this one time, 'I can't blame the coaches for what the players control,' and when we're out there we control the game. And tonight we controlled our way to victory."
And Fox set the stage for Greene's heroics with his interception on Alexander Central ensuing possession. it was WHS's first playoff win since the Pioneer defeated Purnell Swett 25-14 in the Western Semi-Finals on November 23, 2007 at the old Jack Groce Stadium.
"This winning season means a lot to us as a group, no matter how we finish," Greene said. "We know we did our best, we got a playoff win and we did real well in our conference. It was a successful year for sure."
Our coverage of next Friday night's second-round state playoff game at Mooresville begins at 6:30 p.m. on Oldies 100.7 FM.
NOTES: Ismael Aldaco of Alexander Central kicked a 43-yard field goall with 1:34 left in the second quarter. It was a record-setting field goal at the new Jack Groce Stadium ....The original record of 43 yards was set by Pat Smith of Hickory in 2009 at the old Jack Groce Stadium. Smith is currently a sophmore at Wingate University.
1 2 3 4 T
ALEXANDER CENTRAL 0 10 0 0 - 10
WATAUGA 7 0 0 7 - 14
7:46 WHS - Ethan Greene 1 yd run (Alex Parsons kick), 10-69 4:14 0 - 7
3:52 ACHS - Phillip Ferguson 10 yd pass from Nick Salyer (Ismael Aldaco kick), 5-21 2:22 7 - 7
1:34 ACHS - Ismael Aldaco 43 yd field goal, 5-12 2:03 10 - 7
7:37 WHS - Ethan Poulos 28 yd pass from Ethan Greene (Alex Parsons kick), 2-30 0:47 10 - 14
FIRST DOWNS: WATAUGA 15, ALEXANDER 8
TOTAL YARDS: WATAUGA 302, ALEXANDER 192
RUSHING YARDS: WATAUGA 161, ALEXANDER 117
PASSING YARDS: WARTAUGA 141, ALEXANDER 75
TURNOVERS: WATAUGA 3, ALEXANDER 3
PENALY YARDS: WATAUGA 6-44, ALEXANDER 8-65
TIME OF POSSESSION: WATAUGA 24:09, ALEXANDER 23:51
3RD DOWN CONVERSIONS: WATAUGA 3-9, ALEXANDER 4-12
4TH DOWN CONVERSIONS: WATAUGA 0-1, ALEXANDER 0-0
WATAUGA: CHAMBERS 23-96
ALEXANDER: ROBERTS 23-87
WATAUGA: GREENE 7-14-INT-TD-141
ALEXANDER: SALYER 5-11-2INT-TD-75
WATAUGA: POULOS 5-83-TD
ALEXANDER: FERGUSON 3-53-TD
FRIDAY NIGHT'S GAMES
CLASS 4A: WATAUGA 14, ALEXANDER CENTRAL 10
HOPEWELL 14, T.C. ROBERSON 9
SUN VALLEY 52, A.C. REYNOLDS 23
CLASS 4AA: SOUTH CALDWELL 35, LAKE NORMAN 0
CLASS 3AA: CREST 49, ST. STEPHENS 0
CLASS 3A: HICKORY 36, HIBRITEN 26
CLASS 2AA: BANDYS 40, ASHE COUNTY 14
SMOKEY MOUNTAIN 35, BUNKER HILL 13
CLASS 1AA: SWAIN COUNTY 63, AVERY 35
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 11
CLASS 4A: WATUAGA @ MOORESVILLE
CLASS 4AA: MYERS PARK @ SOUTH CALDWELL
CLASS 3A: HICKORY @ LAWNDALE BURNS