Ryan Habich has a vision. Habich, who built a winning reputation at Fuquay-Varina High with 50 wins in four years, has brought his winning attitude to Boone. And
the results, at least in the season opener, were very promising.
Watauga blasted Alexander Central 34-12 Friday night at Jack Groce Stadium. It's the first time the Pioneers (1-0) won a season opener since 2010 (a 35-0 win against Ashe County). And the Pioneers, who many thought would be a running team in Habich's triple-option scheme, raised some eyebrows with an explosive passing game.
Sophomore quarterback Aaron Dobbins, who eventually left the game early in the second quarter with a concussion, got things rolling by marching his team 65 yards in five plays for a 7-0 lead. He hooked up with Cameron Baker on a 12-yard toss for the game's first points. Baker, an outstanding athlete, made a leaping grab in the end zone.
"They're big and physical up front," Habich said. "Our game plan was to get our skill people in open places. We just want to do what's successful to win on a given night. And tonight, it was the passing game."
The Pioneers continued their assault by scoring on their next two possessions for a 20-0 lead with 42 seconds left in the opening stanza. A razzle-dazzle play highlighted WHS' final scoring drive in the first quarter.
It was a double pass from Dobbins to T.J. Poulos, who connected with Baker on a 39-yard scoring pass.
"We only installed that play on Tuesday," Baker said. "We only ran it a couple of times in practice. It really caught their defense by surprised and it worked."
Baker finished with four catches for 115 yards and three TDs. Dobbins was 5-6 for 111 yards and two touchdown passes; Michael Ebaugh caught four passes for 109 yards and a couple of scores.
But the WHS offense stalled when Dobbins left the game. Austin Northern took over at quarterback, and survived a shakey start. He eventually engineered two scoring drives in the fourth quarter that put the contest out of reach.
"This is the first year we have a new offense," Northern said. "And it was my first varsity snap at quarterback. It took a while to get adjusted, especially with the speed of the game. But coach Habich stayed with me. I finally got comfortable back there."
"Austin knows the offense, and he knows what to do," Habich said. "That's why I put him out there. He went through some adversity, but he stuck with it and really picked it up in the second half. And that's what I expected him to do. I'm proud of him, especially with the job he did in the second half."
Northern was 5-5 for 113 yards and two touchdown passes to Ebaugh. The pair teamed up on a 25-yard scoring toss with 6:04 left to give WHS a commanding 27-12 lead.
And give a lot of the credit to WHS' defense, which stood firm and kept the Cougars (0-1) in check. The Cougars finally got on the board with 7:51 left in the second quarter. Landon Hammer hooked up with Jacob Reese on a 25-yard toss. But the drive took nearly five minutes off the clock.
And the Cougars, who won the field position battle in the third quarter, made things interesting as Hammer scored on a three-yard run with 11:53 left in the game to make it 20-12. But the Pioneers stood firm and halted Alexander Central's momentum on the very next series. Adam Goetz fumbled at his own 38, and Austin Brown recovered for the Cougars. But the Pioneers stuffed Devante Clark on fourth down at the Pioneers' 29.
"Our kids faced adverity and responded very well," Habich said. "Our running game isn't where its suppose to be right now. But our defense and the coaching staff did a great job allowing us to maintain the lead. (Alexander Central) is a very good football team. We did a good job with our responsibilities on the field, especially against their option offense. Our kids persevered, and they allowed us to get settled in on offense."
"Our goal is to get 11 hats to the ball every time," said Justin Greer, who made seven stops on the night. "We just ran our assignnments and everyone was covered. The option is hard to read, and their quarterback is real fast, too. We just picked up our intensity, especially when Aaron went down."
Dobbins, who was nursing a headache following the game, didn't have a very good memory of the game.
"I don't really remember what happened, but I feel all right," Dobbins said. "I got hit in the head and started seeing stars and stuff. I don't remember much more after that. I don't even remember my touchdown passes. All I can remember is what went on at the start of the game."
The Pioneers amassed 319 yards offensively, including 263 through the air. The Cougars racked up 278 yards, and most of that came on the ground. Alexander Central finished with 225 rushing yards. Hammer paced the Cougars with 92 yards on 14 carries. But the Pioneers displayed a "bend-but-don't break" mentality on defense.
"It's feels great to win like this, especially after the way the season ended last year at Porter Ridge (a 69-0 loss in the opening-round of the state playoffs)," said linebacker Dakota McCrary, who paced the defense with 15 stops, including eight solo tackles. "We won this game as a team. And if we want to win our share of games, we have to play like this. A lot of people thought we were going to go out there tonight and get beat. We just wanted to prove them wrong. But we have room to work. It's just our first game."
"Cam Baker really set the tone for tonight's game," Ebaugh said. "It boosted our attitude and confidence. They shaded towards Cam after that second touchdown, but our running game still isn't where it should be. But our passing game got it done tonight."
The Pioneers travel to Ashe County next Friday night. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m on AM 1450, WATA and Goblueridge.net.
NOTES: The Cougars are 0-3 lifetime at the new Jack Groce Stadium. But the Cougars still lead the all-time series 21-16....Friday night's win was WHS' largest margin of victory against the Cougars since 2007. The Pioneers beat Alexander Central twice that season, 50-22 in the regular season and 42-14 in the opening-round of the state playoffs....Ryan Habich is the first coach to win his debut since the coaching carousel began at WHS in 1995.
WATAUGA 34, ALEXANDER CENTRAL 12
Score by Quarters 1 2 3 4 Total
Alexander Central 0 6 0 6 - 12
Watauga 20 0 0 14 - 34
1st 08:54 WATAUGA - Cameron Baker 12 yd pass from Aaron Dobbins (Stephen Shirley kick), 5-65 3:06
07:04 WATAUGA - Cameron Baker 25 yd pass from Aaron Dobbins (Stephen Shirley kick failed), 2-52 0:30
00:42 WATAUGA - Cameron Baker 39 yd pass from Aaron Dobbins (Stephen Shirley kick), 6-72 2:28
2nd 07:51 ACHS - Jacob Reese 25 yd pass from Landon Hammer (Connor Fox kick failed), 10-59 4:41
4th 11:53 ACHS - Landon Hammer 3 yd run (Connor Fox kick blockd), 7-49 2:34
06:04 WATAUGA - Michael Ebaugh 25 yd pass from Austin Northern (Stephen Shirley kick), 6-71 2:59
02:29 WATAUGA - Michael Ebaugh 40 yd pass from Austin Northern (Stephen Shirley kick), 3-43 0:53
FIRST DOWNS: WHS 14, ACHS 14
RUSHING YARDS: WHS 56, ACHS 225
PASSING YARDS: WHS 263, ACHS 53
TOTAL YARDS: WHS 319, ACHS 278
FUMBLES/LOST: WHS 5-2, ACHS 2-0
PENALTIES: WHS 3-15, ACHS 5-50
TIME OF POSSESSION: WHS 19:48, ACHS 28:12
THIRD-DOWN CONVERSIONS: WHS 4-8, ACHS 6-16
FOURTH-DOWN CONVERSIONS: WHS 0-0, ACHS 1-4
ACHS: HAMMER 14-92-TD
WHS: ISSACS 8-19; DOBBINS 3-17
ACHS: HAMMER 6-15-53Y-TD
WHS: DOBBINS 5-6-111-2TD; NORTHERN 5-5-113-2TD
ACHS: BOWMAN 3-25
WHS: BAKER 4-115-3TD; EBAUGH 4-109-2TD
Photo Courtesy: Michael Ebaugh and Cameron Baker Celebrate, Bill Sheffield