|How About That....|
|Written by Mike Kelly|
|Thursday, 19 September 2013 19:52|
The Watauga High football team is coming off its best effort of the season. The Pioneers racked up nearly 500 yards offensively, including a season-best 266 on the ground, as they dismantled Avery 57-36 last Friday night in Newland, N.C. Up next, the Wilkes Central Eagles,
a team the Pioneers have dominated in recent years. Despite a seven-year hiatus between the schools, the Pioneers, who lead the all-time series 25-13-1, have beaten Wilkes Central 11 consecutive times. And if the offense has a repeat performance against the Eagles at Jack Groce Stadium Friday night, the Pioneers (3-0), off to their best start since 2006, should waltz their way to another win.
But WHS coach Ryan Habich, who has engineered the Pioneers' immediate turnaround, isn't so sure about that.
"(Wilkes Central) are pretty athletic," he said. "They have great speed. They're probably the fastest team we've seen all year. That (running back Victor Williams) gets into our secondary, we're in trouble. We don't have anyone that can run him down. It's going to be a good test for us."
The Eagles, led by head coach Jeremy Funderburk, have turned their fortunes around the last nine years. A pereninial doormat in past years (they were 10-36 from 2001-04), the Eagles have won 62 games (which includes a 29-8 record the last three years) and three Moutain Valley 1A/2A Conference championships. Wilkes Central was 9-2 last fall and won the MVC title.
But the Eagles were hit hard by graduation. They lost 22 seniors, an offensive player and defensive player of the year, and four all-conference performers (two on offense and two on defense). And the Eagles (0-3) are going through the growing pains. They're off to their worst start in eight years (2005).
"It's the next man in line," Funderburk said. "We just can't give up. Things like this happen. You lose a great class like we did to graduation, so it up to the next guy to step up. We're not giving up on the season, and we're not feeling sorry for ourselves. Our goal is to win every week."
But the Eagles haven't beaten WHS since 1991, and Funderburk is 0-2 lifetime against the Pioneers. And both of those games were blowouts. The Pioneers won 29-6 in 2005 in Boone, and 41-18 in 2006 in Moravian Falls. And with the Eagles, who will only dress 25 players for Friday night's match up, could be on the receiving end once again.
"Efficient, that's the best way to describe Watauga," Funderburk said. "They're well coached, and they play old fashioned style football. They line it up and come right at you. It's going to be a great challenge for our defense."
And the Eagles are coughing up nearly 200 yards a game on the ground. Making matters worse, the Eagles must find an answer for WHS quarterback Aaron Dobbins. The sophomore has been instant offense for the Pioneers. He's basically played five full quarters of football this season, and the Pioneers have scored 77 points during that stretch. He's completed 12 of 17 passes (71%) for 321 yards with six touchdown passes and no interceptions.
"What impresses me the most about him is that he never gives up on a play," Funderburk said. "He can elude trouble, and he can create something on the run. He's a college quarterback. He's got the body and the arm for it. And he doesn't panic, and that puts a lot of pressure on a defense."
Just ask Avery about that. The Vikings had Dobbins scrambling for his life in the second quarter last Friday night. But Dobbins avoided the sack, reversed field, and while running to his right, fired a strike to Cam Baker for a 59-yard TD pass.
"He makes plays," Habich said. "That's the thing about Aaron. He can make a play, when the play isn't there. On that pass to Cam Baker, (Avery) blitzed, he avoided the rush, and found him wide open down field. He can do things you just can't coach. That's what make him so special."
Ironically, the last time WHS started the season with three consecutive wins (in 2006), the Pioneers defeated Wilkes Central in their fourth game that season. WHS also marched itself to a 12-3 record and a trip to the Class 4A Western Finals.
"We're still learning what to do in this offense," Habich said. "The week off really helped us. We did a better job of blocking and our backs did a better job of hitting the holes. We made some mistakes, but overall, the kids did a good job."
The Pioneers also did a good job spreading the ball around last week. T.J. Poulos had a career night with 250 yards of offense (129 yards rushing, 121 yards receiving), Zach Williams rambled for 102 yards, and Baker caught two passes for 80 yards.
"I thought going in (Avery) was going to put two to three people on Cam Baker," Habich said. "And they took Cam away, so we put the ball in T.J.'s hands more. There were scared of Cam, and that allowed us to open up the box. They only had five guys lining up against our running game. And we also want to find unique ways of getting the ball to T.J. "We moved him around. He played wide out, he played running back, and we even had some packages that had him playing quarterback, but that didn't happen last week. We just want to make it tough on a defense to take him out of the game."
Which means it could be a long night for Wilkes Central. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m., on AM 1450, WATA and GoBlueridge.net.
Photo Courtesy: Ryan Habich, WHS Athletics
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