Well, the Watauga High football team, mired in a four-game losing streak, hopes to turn its fortunes around against Hibriten Friday night. And the Pioneers (4-5 overall; 1-3 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference) are also toying with the
possibility of starting freshman Aaron Dobbins at quarterback against a much-improved Hibriten (5-4; 2-2) team that begins the night in a two-way tie with Hickory for third place in the NW3A/4A Conference standings.
And Dobbins, who put up some impressive numbers at the junior varsity level through eight games this fall, has been battling Jay Harrill for the starting nod on Friday night. And according to coach Tom Wright, it's going to be a pretty tough decision, who gets the start on Friday.
"It will be a game-time decision," Wright said. "Aaron and Jay have gone head-to-head this week. It's been an interesting battle. They're both good kids, and I like both of their work ethics. We'll see where we stand come game time Friday night."
Dobbins was 2-8 last week against South Caldwell in a relief role when Harrill suffered a rib injury late in the first half and did not return. The big highlight last week was a 45-yard toss to Cameron Baker in the third quarter that sparked WHS' first scoring drive of the game.
But the big concern Friday night, regardless who the starting quarterback may be, is to win a game, something the Pioneers haven't done since September 14 (a 28-27 win against Fred T. Foard on Alex Parsons' game-winning 38-yard field goal). Since then, the Pioneers have been simply overpowered by their opponents. WHS has been outscored 158-42 during this four-game slide. And WHS' running game has been non-existent.
The Pioneers have produced just 185 rushing yards during that stretch. In turn, they've coughed up 1,501 yards (an average of 375 yards a game), including 607 yards in a 55-15 loss against South Caldwell last Friday night. But help may be on the way with the return of senior Collin Augustine.
Augustine, who has been out since August 31 with a broke collarbone, returned last week against the Spartans, but did not play. But he will see playing time against the Panthers.
"Collin brings so much to the table," Wright said. "Even when he was out injuried, he was always supporting his teammates. He really wants to play, and he's been cleared (medically) to play. So, we plan on using him Friday night."
Augustine, who ran for 269 yards on 43 carries before his injury, will only play on offense Friday night against Hibriten. Defensively, the Pioneers will have quite a challenge on their hands---stopping a spread-option team that was second to South Caldwell in rushing in the NW3A/4A a year ago. And the Panthers haven't missed a beat this season. They have a two-quarterback system led by Jacob Copper and Dontavis Caldwell, who led the JV team to a 9-0 record last year. And like Elizabethon, Alexander Central and South Caldwell, the Panthers are deep at running back. The Panthers have used up to ten running backs in a game this season.
And they are explosive as well. In a 49-14 win against Fred T. Foard on October 5, the Panthers only ran 33 offensive plays, and they racked up 474 yards.
They're also blessed with a huge offensive line, led by Jon Minton (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) and Mason Minton (6-1, 303). Junior Thomas Murphy (6-1, 249) has been a fine addition from the JV team. Defensively, the Panthers have solidified a unit that gave up nearly 300-yards a game last season. But the Panthers are coming off a disappointing loss last Friday night. The loss to Hickory will most likely cost Hibriten the No.1 seed among the Class 3A schools in the league.
"We can't worry about that," Lewis said. "We can only control what we do, and we have two games left. And our focus begins with Watauga Friday night. Offensively, even though we're young at quarterback (senior Jordan Rutherford, last year's starter, was dismissed from the team), we haven't missed a beat. Our line has been solid. They're a aggressive group. They get after it.
"And we've done a good job running the ball. But I feel the biggest improvement we've made has been on defense. We've added more speed on the field. We really weren't that fast last season, and it hurt us. But this year, we've done a good job getting a lot of hats around the ball. And we're also much stronger up the middle."
Germaine Davenport, who made 99 stops in 2011, and Zac Walker, who was the second-leading rusher returning in the NW3A/4A Conference behind Zac Pollard of South Caldwell, backbone a solid linebacking corps for the Panthers. Now, this is the 27th meeting between the schools. The series is tied at 13 wins apeice. The Pioneers outscored Hibriten 42-31 at Jack Groce Stadium last season. It was WHS' first win against the Panthers since 2006, and their first win at home against the Panthers since 2001 (a 7-0 win that season). But the Pioneers haven't won in Lenior since 2006, Eric Breitenstein's (now a red-shirt senior at wofford College) junior year (a 22-14 win).
"I can't explain it, but every time we play Watauga, it seems to be a close game," Lewis said. "It doesn't matter what the records are, Watauga just plays us tough. I'm expecting another close game Friday night."
"They have a potent offense," Wright said. "They've been running that option attack for a number of years, and they run it well. I'm impressed with there offensive line. They're big and they can move. We've got to control their running game, something that's really been a problem for us lately."
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday night on Oldies 100.7 FM.
NORTHWESTERN 3A/4A CONFERENCE
SOUTH CALDWELL 5-0; 9-0
ALEXANDER CENTRAL 4-0; 5-4
HICKORY 2-2; 5-4
HIBRITEN 2-2; 5-4
WATAUGA 1-3; 4-5
ST. STEPHENS 1-3; 2-7
FRED T. FOARD 0-5; 2-7
WATAUGA @ HIBRITEN
ALEXANDER CENTRAL @ SOUTH CALDWELL
HICKORY @ ST. STEPHENS
FRED T. FOARD - BYE
ALL GAMES BEGIN AT 7:30 P.M.
Photo Courtesy: Jacob Copper, PHOTO SUBMITTED