The Huskies were up 6-0 with six seconds to go in the second quarter. They had the ball on their 29-yard line, but linebacker Dakota McCrary of the Pioneers picked off a Conner Bowers' pass and returned it 20-yards for a game-tying touchdown. But Luis Ramos blocked the extra-point try (he also dislocated his knee on the play and didn't play in the second half) to preserve a 6-6 tie at halftime.
"My teammates really picked me up at halftime," Bowers said. "I was really down after throwing that interception. But they had my back. They had confidence in me. I put all the credit on my teammates. They kept me up. They were positive."
But WHS, despite an anemic first half offensively, took the lead with 10:11 left in the fourth quarter. Working with a short field, quarterback Rylee Critcher, playing for the injured Aaron Dobbins (who was at the game on crutches because of a badly sprained ankle), marched his team downfield. His 29-yard scoring toss to Elijah Temple gave WHS its first lead of the game, 13-6.
But the Huskies responded as they march 65-yards in six plays to tie the game on their next possession. A 38-yard toss from Bowers, who litterally picked WHS apart, to Carter Calhoun gave Ashe County a first down at the WHS 11. The Huskies punched it in two plays later on Bowers eight-yard toss to Skye Sullivan with 8:04 to play.
"This is the best offensive line I've ever had," Bowers said. "I had a pocket on every play. There was no real pressure on me. The protection was fabulous. The blocking was outstanding on that scoring drive."
That set the stage for Richardson, who missed an extra point on Ashe County's first scoring drive. He also missed a field goal from 34 yards out in the second quarter. But with the game on the line, Richardson came through with the biggest field goal of his career.
The Huskies were looking at fourth-and-seven at the WHS 22-yard-line, when the moment arrived.
"I really thought about going for two when we scored the game-tying touchdown," Hampton said. "But I went with my gut feeling, and we decided to kick the extra point. And it paid off on that field goal attempt. He really nailed it."
"I really thought we were going for it on fourth down, but it was coach's decision and it was fine with me," Bowers said. "I was pleased with the call. (Richardson) has kicked it in practice all year like that. We had enough confidence in him, that's for sure. I'm so happy we won this game. I don't really know what to say. I'm tongue tied right now. But it's such a great feeling to beat Watauga. It's a big win for our team."
The Pioneers had one last chance and drove the ball to their 41-yard line with 41 seconds left. But Joseph Lowder settled the issue as he picked off Critcher's pass attempt to Michael Ebaugh at the Ashe County 29.
Bowers was only sacked two times. He was 29-45 for 267 yards and two TDs. He also threw two interceptions. Critcher was 7-23 for 76 yards and a score. He was sacked twice and he threw two intercepitons.
"I thought Rylee played well, considering he was playing with a junior varsity player, Cory West, in the backfield (when T.J. Poulos went down with an ankle injury in the second quarter) in the second half," WHS coach Ryan Habich said. "Yeah, we could use our injuries as an excuse, but I'm gonna do that. I give Ashe all the credit. They played real well, and they beat us. They out-executed us, they out-coached us, they outplayed us. They definitely earned that victory tonight.
"But we made so many mistakes, especially in the secondary. We had a lot of breakdowns, and they made some big plays against us. What really hurts is how quickly they responded after we took the lead. They just marched it down the field on us, and tied the game. But this is a good loss for us. It's a humbling loss. Our guys found out tonight, that despite all of our injuries, we still have a lot of work to do."
But the Pioneers, who have been bitten by the injury bug to start the season, resembled a mash unit Friday night. With Dobbins all ready sidelined with a bad ankle injury (he probably won't return until the St. Stephens game on September 26), the Pioneers added to their woes as they lost Poulos, center Jacob Rutz (who went down with a concussion), and Jeremiah Wooldridge (who was slowed by an ankle injury) Friday night. Ebaugh, who missed last week's game with a sprained ankle, played Friday night, but he wasn't at full strength.
"And we realize Watauga is battling a lot of injuries," Hampton said. "They were missing some huge weapons. They didn't have a full squad. And coach Habich has done a great job with that team, and he's such a class act. But they're still a well-coached team, and they made us earn this win. And to be a well-coached team makes me proud."
Defensively, the Huskies shut down WHS' running game. The Pioneers, who tore up Alexander Central with 338 yards last week, were held to 131 yards Friday night. And Zach Williams, who ran for 146 yards and a couple of TDs in last week's game against the Cougars, was held to 60 yards on 14 carries.
"And our defense has played well against Watauga the last two years," Hampton said. "We've only given up two offensive touchdowns against Watauga the last two years. Believe me, this is a big win, but we can't hang our hats on it. There's still a lot of games left on our schedule. But it's a statement win for our program. Now, we have to build on it."
"The penalities we had, the dropped passes, the blown coverages, we just made too many mistakes against a good football team," Habich said. "It's that simple. We've got a bye week coming up, so we have to get healthy and be ready to play in two weeks."
The Pioneers were flagged seven times for 82 yards Friday night. They also turned the ball over three times---one of those a fumble by Williams at the Huskies' 17 in the first quarter (Kenny Reed forced the fumble and recovered it) that killed a scoring drive.
"We definitely had our chances," Habich said. "But give Ashe County credit. They made the plays when they had to, and they played with a lot of confidence. They just beat us."
The Pioneers entertain Avery at Jack Groce Stadium on September 12.
NOTES: WHS leads the all-time series 13-3.....It was Ashe County's first win against WHS since 2001.....When the Huskies grabbed a 6-0 lead on their first possession, it was the first time the Huskies led that early against WHS on the road since 1999.
ASHE COUNTY 16, WATAUGA 13
Score by Quarters 1 2 3 4 Total
Ashe County High 6 0 0 10 16
Watauga High 0 6 0 7 13
1st 06:45 ACS - Colin Ellis 4 yd pass from Conner Bowers (Kendall Richard kick failed), 12-70 3:20
2nd 00:00 WHS - Dakota Mcrary 20 yd interception return, (kick blocked)
4th 10:11 WHS Elijah Temple 29 yd pass from Rylee Critcher (Raul Forani kick), 5-42 1:34
08:04 ACS - Skye Sullivan 8 yd pass from Conner Bowers (Kendall Richard kick), 6-65 2:07
01:30 ACS - Kendall Richard 37 yd field goal, 5-44 1:23
FIRST DOWNS: ASHE COUNTY 19, WHS 11
RUSHING YARDS: ASHE COUNTY 85, WHS 131
PASSING YARDS: ASHE COUNTY 267, WHS 67
TOTAL YARDS: ASHE COUNTY 352, WHS 207
FUMBLES/LOST: ASHE COUNTY 0-0, WHS 3-1
TURNOVERS: ASHE COUNTY 2, WHS 3
PENALTIES: ASHE COUNTY 6-61, WHS 7-82
POSSESSION TIME: ASHE COUNTY 25:22, WHS 22:38
3RD DOWN CONVERSIONS: ASHE COUNTY 4-12, WHS 2-12
4TH DOWN CONVERSIONS: 0-2, WHS 1-3
RED ZONE CONVERSIONS: ASHE COUNTY 2-3, WHS 0-1
ASHE COUNTY: ELLIS 11-47, BOWERS 7-25
WHS: WILLIAMS 14-60, CRITCHER 10-56
ASHE COUNTY: BOWERS 29-45-267-2I-2TD
WHS: CRITCHER 7-23-76-2I-TD
ASHE COUNTY: ELLIS 8-67-TD, BLEVINS 6-53, CALHOUN 5-97
WHS: EBAUGH 3-46
NORTHWESTERN 3A-4A CONFERENCE
ASHE COUNTY 16, WATAUGA 13
SOUTH CALDWELL 28, WEST CALDWELL 7
HIBRITEN 58, WILKES CENTRAL 20
SOUTH IREDELL 34, HICKORY 27
ST. STEPHENS 57, BUNKER HILL 55
EAST BURKE 16, PATTON 12
FREEDOM 70, DRAUGHN 7
BANDYS 28, FRED T. FOARD 21
AVERY 24, McDOWELL 21
Photo Courtesy: Rylee Critcher, WHS Athletics