Bearcat star Kalin Ensley (10) glides through a hole in the line, versus East. Eagle defenders include senior LB Kenny Pridmore (44). Cole McMurray (22) of HHS is at right. The Cats won this game, then their playoff opener. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas- Hendersonville Bearcats notched a road upset to open 2A playoffs, winning 28-6 at North Surry, while East Henderson bowed out to end a remarkable turnaround season.
HHS (7-5), the sole Henderson County varsity football squad with a winning record, plays this Friday at longtime rival Mountain Heritage (10-1). MHHS is the West Region’s third seed. Heritage eliminated HHS 30-20 a year ago in an Arctic-like freeze in round three before bowing out a round later.
The clash is this Friday, Nov. 23. That is “Black Friday” for shoppers, and the black plague for visitors to Burnsville’s frozen tundra in most seasons. The forecast for Burnsville that day is no rain but chills around 40 degrees for the game, near-freezing overnight and 45 degrees as the daytime high.
The Cougars were unbeaten at 5-0 again this year in the Western Highlands Conference that HHS left before last season. Record-setting rushing quarterback Trey Robinson and star RB Dathan Robinson graduated this spring. But Callin Randolph, a quick junior, has stepped in at QB to continue the rush-heavy offensive barrage.
Last Friday, Coach Jim Sosebee’s 11th-seeded Bearcats hounded the sixth-seeded Greyhounds (7-5) early and often, shutting them out in the first half.
HHS quarterback Woody Hunter scored first, on a one-yard keeper.
The biggest play was Kalin Ensley’s 76-yard touchdown run, just before halftime when HHS led 14-0. NSHS scored next. But HHS tacked on three touchdowns. The grand finale a scoring pass from Hunter to swift Nasir Artis.
East (5-7) lost 63-0 at West second seed Hibriten, in the 2AA for more populous 2A schools. Coach Justin Heatherly’s Eagles started out 5-1, in the pre-conference schedule. They won more games in a half-season than they did in the prior three full seasons. Five are the most Eagle wins in a year since they went 11-2 in 2012 and were unbeaten at 7-0 to win their conference. East won eight or more games in six of nine seasons in 2004-12, peaking with 13 in ’08.
In 2018 East varsity defeated Rosman, North Henderson, Chase, Polk County and Madison.
They were a 15th seed. Last year, five of six M6 teams made playoffs — all but East. This time, all six did.
The 2AA bracket had a huge upset atop the West Region. Number one seed Pisgah (10-2; 5-0 M6) was upset at home, 13-10 by 16th/lowest seed East Lincoln on a last-minute scoring pass. That was after the visitors stopped Pisgah on downs. The Bears were unbeaten in the Mountain Six that East and now also HHS are also in.
Tyler Pace (11), an East senior, crunches Cole McMurray of HHS in the regular-season finale. DT Troy Allison (64) and other Eagles converge. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
HHS finished in fifth place at 2-3, winning both home conference games. The Cats beat Smoky Mountain 41-28 on Homecoming, and East 55-12 in the regular-season finale.
The M6’s other playoff survivor is third-place Brevard (9-3; 3-2), a very large squad with speed that beat athletic HHS 45-31 on Oct. 26. The Blue Devils beat Eastern Randolph 14-7 at home, in an 8-9 in 2A. They play at top seed Randleman Friday.
The other M6 teams lost openers. Fourth-place Franklin (6-6; 2-3) lost 28-14 at Bandys and second-place Smoky (8-4; 3-2) was drilled 42-6 at North Lincoln, also in 2AA.
East QB Zay Henderson (1) runs against HHS. Joel Morales-Gonzalez (70) and Derek Huntley (76) pursue him. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Nearby Polk County, a Western Highlands rival of HHS for years, got merely its fourth win Friday. That is half as many as in ’17. But the 11th-seeded Wolverines notched a playoff upset, doubling up East Wilkes (7-5) by 33-16 in 1AA action.
A.C. Reynolds (11-1) and Erwin (10-1) are the sole Buncombe County teams still alive. Both are in 3AA. ACR is champ of the WMAC that West and North Henderson play in. The Rockets are the only show in the six-county Asheville area. They host Sun Valley (10-2). Erwin plays at Mount Tabor (8-4). Games start at 7:30 p.m.