Try, try again. Well, the Ashe County High football team has been living by that motto the last 12 years. Afterall, it's been a while since the Huskies have beaten Watauga. Try 2001 to be exact.
And with WHS' starting quarterback Aaron Dobbins listed as probable for Friday night's match up at Jack Groce Stadium, Ashe County's chances to finally beat WHS look pretty good.
Of course, that was the case last season when Dobbins didn't play due to a concussion. But the Pioneers (1-0) found a way to get it done, and they beat the Huskies, 13-7.
"And I'll say it, Ashe County beat us last year," WHS coach Ryan Habich said. "They beat us up front, they beat us in yardage, they beat us up all over the field. We lucked out and won the game. We stole one last year."
But the Pioneers, despite their recent rash of injuries to start the season, resembled a well-oiled machine in their season opener against Alexander Central. The Pioneers scored on six of their eight possessions in a 41-24 win in Taylorsville, N.C.
WHS piled up 407 yards offensively, including 338 on the ground. And they featued a balanced running attack, led by Zach Williams, who rambled for 146 yards and two touchdowns. T.J. Poulos ran for 99 yards (he had 250 yards of total offense) and scored four times; Dobbins ran for 99 yards, he passed for 69 yards, and he threw two TD passes.
"And I'm real impressed with Williams," Ashe County coach Brian Hampton said. "The guy runs hard, and he doesn't go down easy. He's a load to bring down. And he's just one of the many weapons they have. Poulos is an outstanding athlete and he's danderous on the edge, Michael Ebaugh is a talented guy, and the list goes on. Watauga has good team speed, they have a lot of ways to hurt you. Sure, they may not have Dobbins Friday night, but they still have some very good players, and they're well coached."
Rylee Critcher seems to be the next man in line to start at quarterback Friday night against the Huskies. Critcher, who transferred in from Florida, is a jack-of-all-trades. And Habich will be relying on him to play quarterback, if Dobbins can't go.
"And T.J. can play quarterback, too," Habich said. "But when we have to move people around like this, it creates a trickle down affect. With Rylee at quarterback, we lose a good tight end and an outside linebacker. With T.J. at quarterback, we lose a good wing back and a strong corner (back). Making moves like this, it makes us thin in other areas."
And the Pioneers will have their hands full trying to defend Ashe County (1-0) quarterback Connor Bowers, a three-year varsity player and a two-year starter. Bowers, thanks to assistant coach Drew Piscopo, has stepped up Ashe County's passing game. He threw for 376 yards and six TDs last week, but he also threw four interceptions.
"And two of those were just bad decisions on his part," Hampton said. "But it wasn't his fault alone. We had guys that missed their assignments, and it led to those bad throws. But for the most part, I was pleased with the effort. There's always room for imnprovement, but at least we're off to a good start."
"Right now, their a better team than we are," Habich said. "We're battling a lot of injuries at the moment. And that's not taking anything away from Ashe County. They're a solid football team. They've got (Class) 4A size on their (offensive and defensive) lines, and they've got a very good quarterback in Conner Bowers. The guy can throw the football, and he's a big weapon for them.
"We played teams like this when I was at Fuquay-Varina. They've got a very good quarterback, they have size, and they have some depth to work with. And those games were huge challenges for us. We struggled in our pass coverage last week against Alexander Central. If we can't step it up defensively this week, the Pioneers are going to be in for
a long night."
The Huskies were 7-5 last year and they shared a tri-championship in the Mountain Valley 1A-2A Conference last season. It was their first conference title since 2007, and their first winning record since 2008.
"They're conference champions," Habich said. "They had an outstanding season last year. And they've got a lot of those guys back (the Huskies have 23 seniors). It's a veteran team, and we're still a young team, especially with our injuries. We have a lot of guys starting that were deep on the depth chart. But at least we're developing some depth. The important thing is to get healthy by conference time."
The Pioneers begin Northwestern 3A-4A Conference play against St. Stephens September 26.
But the Huskies, who racked up 50 points in a season-opening win against North Surry last week, will be missing one of their big weapons Friday night in wide receiver Maison McNeill, who suffered a concussion at practice Monday.
"And he was our leading receiver," Hampton said. "It leaves us a little thin at wide receiver, but we have to work around it, other people have to step up."
But the Huskies still have Jacob Blevins, who is the fastest man on their team. He's a big-play guy, who caught five passes for 140 yards and two TD last week against the Greyhounds.
"And (Blevins) really worries me," Habich said. "T.J. is the guy were counting on to cover him. But their guys don't drop passes. I watched them on film, and I didn't see one dropped ball. They make plays, and that really concerns me. We're playing a dangerous team."
Which means WHS' 12-game winning streakc could be in jeapordy Friday night. But remember this, the Huskies are winless in Boone. They're 0-7 against the Pioneers on the road dating back to 1999. But the Huskies came very close in 2012, but the Pioneers hung on, 23-21.
"And remember, we didn't score an offensive touchdown against them last year (in regulation time. Williams scored WHS' winning TD on a one-yard run in overtime)," Habich said. "Ashe County has an aggressive defense, an attacking defense. It won't be like Alexander Central last week. That was more of a read and react defense. Ashe County will attack us. They'll try to jam things up at the line of scrimmage. Our line has to block well Friday night."
And WHS' offensive line, led by Jake Williams, August Sauls, Stephen Miller, Jacob Rutz, and Adam Greene, looked pretty darn good against the cougars last Friday night.
"We made some mistakes for our first time out, but we for the most part, I was very happy with that group," Habich said. "We ran a lot of traps, and it opened a lot of holes for our backs, especially for Williams. We had some big gains last week."
And the Huskies struggled against the run last week. The Greyhounds had more than 400 yards offensively, and most of that came on the ground. And North Surry's running game nearly wiped out a 40-22 deficit.
"And I blame that on our offense," Hampton said. "We were scoring too quick, and our defense wasting getting a lot of rest. North Surry put together some long scoring drives, and it wore our guys down. And I felt we got a little too comfortable when we went up 40-22. Things got a little too interesting near the end of the game.
"And we can't afford to do that this week against Watauga. They've got an outstanding team. Now, we're preparing to see Dobbins Friday night. He's a competitive guy, and if he can play, he'll be out there. But whether Dobbins plays or not, Watauga is going to be a very tough to beam, especially on their home field."
Coverage Friday night begins at 6:30 p.m. on AM 1450, WATA and GoBlueridge.net.
NOTES: Michael Ebaugh, who sat out last week's game with a ankle sprain, will be, like Dobbins, a game-time decision. Landry Morgan is still nursing a sore knee among some of the various injuries the Pioneers are faced with at the moment.
Photo Courtesy: Zach Williams, WHS Athletics