By Pete Zamplas
West Henderson Falcons shut out Erwin Warriors 21-0 Friday in their biggest game of the year thus far, defeating one of the usual Big Three of the Western Mountain Athletic Conference.
The victory keeps West unbeaten at 6-0 overall, and 3-0 in the WMAC — out front with usual top dog A.C. Reynolds (5-2; 4-0 WMAC).
“We’re still on top” with ACR, West head coach Paul Whitaker told his troops right after their huge win to spoil Erwin’s homecoming. He commended their “fight” against Erwin, as versus prior victims.
ACR destroyed Tuscola (2-4; 2-1) 51-0, behind the Eli Carr to Jhari Patterson aerial show. THS fell out of a first-place tie.
The Falcons are unbeaten past midseason. With a homecoming win over lowly Enka (1-6; 0-4), they will match their 7-0 start in 2001 (a 8-3 season). Seth Corliss was quarterback then — in a much weaker league than the WMAC with its swift spread offenses.
Shutting out high-octane Erwin (2-5; 2-2) “feels great,” said Peyton Dimsdale, standout West runner and linebacker. He is among Falcons confident of running the table to set up a showdown for first at Reynolds Nov. 1.
Erwin was on the upswing, beating rival Asheville then North Buncombe after falling to ACR. The EHS-AHS game winner typically finishes second and the other team third in the WMAC. Tuscola and Roberson (1-5; 1-2) are also still in the running for the top four spots and state playoffs.
But the top two seeds will open playoffs at home, which is pivotal. Beating all but ACR achieves that for West.
This is West’s spirit week. Falcon pride soars these days. West won the WMAC in volleyball a year ago, making its mark as a recent member in the area’s elite conference.
Defense and rushing brutalized Erwin. Falcon quarterback Auden Brennan ran for all three touchdowns Friday. He and Dimsdale carried the ball on 31 of West’s 51 rushing plays. “We got Peyton going in the second half,” mixing in plays better, Whitaker said.
This was literally vintage “blood and guts” grinding football, with a unique way of suddenly “becoming number one.”
Dimsdale’s helmet strap detached as he ran with the ball, and just before a hit upward into his chin cut him there. His blood dripped onto his uniform.
Thus by rules, he had to leave temporarily. The team’s Pardee athletic trainer stitched him up at halftime. Dimsdale changed jerseys, from 20 to wearing number one. He soon returned, and kept pounding away into the large Erwin line that seemed to key on him.
West out-rushed Erwin 215-37 yards, and was twice as productive — 4.1 to 1.9 yards per carry. Austin Jenkins averaged ten yards a pop, and led a balanced stable with 64 yards. Four runners each gained at least 13 yards on a run. Once again, West more than doubled its foe’s time of possession.
West’s defense likely turned it its hardest-hitting performance of ’19. The Falcons intercepted Jared Penland four times, recovered two Warrior fumbles, and stopped Erwin on all four of its fourth-down plays. Erwin managed merely 150 yards of offense.
“Their defense played ‘lights out,’” Erwin head coach Rodney Pruett said. “They shut us down.” He said the Falcons “made plays, when they had to” — on both sides of the ball.
Erwin set up shop in the red zone after a long return of the opening kickoff, but went out on downs. “We couldn’t get a yard” on the fourth-down run that was stuffed, EHS Coach Pruett said.
West drove deep, but Erwin’s Shy Stillwell blocked a field goal.
Kyle Gaither intercepted Jared Penland three times, returning the first pick 25 yards to inside the five-yard line. That set up the first of two one-yard TD keepers by quick Brennan behind his powerful line, at the 9:52 and 1:32 marks of the second quarter.
Brennan iced it with 5:16 to play, with a 10-yard keeper on fourth down and two yards to go.
West’s second scoring drive started after a game-changing fumble. Lane Johnson crunched Penland in Leicester — so loud, it could be heard back in Mills River. Chandler Both, also a linebacker, scooped up the ball. Johnson later recovered another Erwin fumble.
Jenkins made an acrobatic one-handed pick, reaching up with his right hand. That was near midfield, just before halftime.
“We figured if we got up by two scores, they had to go to the air,” Whitaker said. “We put eight men in the secondary” guarding speedy receivers and big target Tristian Brank.
With few up front, West still got to Penland.
West “rattled” Penland, a sophomore lefty, with its pressure, Coach Pruett said. “We broke down in our protection.”
Striving for more, Whitaker told his blockers to “drive people more,” rather than “lean” in. Yet often this season, West blockers have advanced far downfield.
Coach Pruett was impressed by how “West has speed” more than usual, size, and seemed “well prepared” by coaches and revved up, he said. The Falcons showed a “bright football IQ.”
After the Enka game, the Falcons play at North Henderson (0-6; 0-3) Oct. 18 then conclude the regular season with three showdowns. They host Tuscola Oct. 25 and Asheville Nov. 8, sandwiched around battling at Reynolds Nov. 1.
North Knights at their homecoming Friday fell to Asheville (2-4; 1-2) by 43-6. Three Hillier hit Famous Pasley for three scores, including on a 65-yard play.
The Knight TD was on Conner Hunt’s catch of a pass from QB Zaire McDaniel, a sophomore in after injuries this year to Brayden Corn then Brian Payne.
North’s homecoming queen is Bailey Malloy, a basketball guard and volleyballer. Homecoming king Ismael Jacquez plays soccer.
This Friday is the North Bowl as North Henderson plays at North Buncombe (5-2; 2-2).
East Henderson and Hendersonville (HHS) were idle last week. They open their Mountain Six conference seasons this Friday. East (1-5) is at Brevard (5-1).
HHS (3-3) welcomes Franklin (0-6), for homecoming. HHS Hall of Fame new inductees will be honored at halftime. Games start at 7:30 p.m.