By Pete Zamplas
Undefeated West Henderson Falcons soared into the early forefront of the Western Mountain Athletic Conference race, by thrashing North Buncombe Black Hawks 35-7 in their WMAC opener Friday.
Hendersonville (3-1) also clicked on offense. The Bearcats outscored visiting Newton-Conover (2-1) by 38-31, also on Friday the 13th. That was a week after out-scorching Asheville 47-40. HHS’ latest game was delayed for two hours, due threats of lightning. West’s road game went on as scheduled.
Quarterback Auden Brennan led West in rushing with 121 yards (12.1 ypc.). He scored the final touchdown on a keeper, and ran for several pivotal first downs. Brennan showed gritty tenacity, such as by withstanding a very hard hit at the end of one of his longer runs. The senior with Stars and Stripes tattooed on his left arm bellowed out to the Hawks, “Yes sir!!!” He can take what they dish out. Yes, indeed.
Roles reversed from a year ago, when North Buncombe was the WMAC’s feel-good story with a 4-1 conference start. The Hawks won six times — five more than in 2017. They won 31-6 at West. So far now, West looks like the team to make a quantum leap after slipping to four wins in ‘18.
The showdown of West (4-0) and N.B. Buncombe (3-1) loomed as a close contest, between two punishing ground attacks that rolled foes. Instead, mainly West did the punishing.
As they say, “speed kills.” West with likely its fastest backfield ever deployed its speed advantage. As WHHS head coach Paul Whitaker said, the Hawks “took away our fullback” carries by clogging the middle on defense. So West ran wide — very effectively.
Khaliq Barnes sped on a 44-yard TD run, untouched along the right side. Keyaris “Fast Cash” opened scoring, by zooming 11 yards. He later set up a score, by returning a Hawk fumble 25 yards. Austin Jenkins ran for two TDs, covering 12 and six yards. West led 14-0 at halftime, then scored twice in the third quarter to seize a commanding 28-0 lead.
“Tail kicking” is how NBHS head coach Brandon Allen termed the lopsided defeat, to friends afterward. The Hawks were shut out until final minutes, when Joe Jones scored on a 12-yard run. Jones and Levin Fender each reached rushing 100 yards.
But West out-rushed NBHS 322 yards to 253, averaging 7.5 versus 4.8 yards a pop. West rushed for 135 yards (10.4 ypc.) in the first quarter, and 121 (6.4 ypc.) when sealing it away in the fourth.
The Hawks had averaged nearly 400 rushing yards, and scored at least 60 points in their first two wins. Jones has rushed for 775 yards and ten TDs. The junior entered the game as WNC’s leading rusher. “No defense — at least yet — has shown they can slow down North Buncombe’s Jones,” the school’s pre-game literature stated. Scratch that.
“Our defense clamped down on a high-powered offense,” West LB-FB Peyton Dimsdale said. Coach Whitaker in the post-victory huddle praised the Falcons’ defense. “We forced them into third and long,” and out of their run-only offense, he told The Tribune. NBHS rushed for merely 33 yards (3.3 ypc.) in the third quarter.
The downing of the Hawks marks for the Falcons back-to-back “bird battles” on the road, after outdoing East Henderson Eagles 41-10 a week earlier.
East Henderson (1-3) fell 54-8 at Chase Friday. North Henderson’s home game with Owen was weather-postponed to Monday night, which is well beyond the Tribune weekly press deadline. The Trib will report on that game in the next issue, along with HHS-Mountain Heritage this Friday.
Hendersonville’s Woody “End Zone” Hunter found the end zone on a keeper, for the winning TD with 47 ticks on the clock Friday. Coach Jim Sosebee spun the roulette wheel on fourth down and one, way back on his own 27. Richmond Felton smashed through a bunched-up defense for 43 yards. Jaluan Givens preserved victory on the final play, with an interception in the HHS end zone.
Hunter ran for 109 yards and HHS’ last two scores — including a 50-yarder for a 31-17 lead. Hunter passed for 138 yards, and a TD to Dorian Allen. Jay Gaines flew 37 yards for the opening TD. He rushed for 138 yards. Hazhan Collington’s 35-yard scoot was another long TD run.
The WMAC race already is in splendid chaos with two (Asheville, Erwin) of the usual three frontrunners starting out with a defeat. Asheville was doubled up at home, 42-21 by T.C. Roberson Friday. Erwin was pummeled 53-0 at A.C. Reynolds (2-2), on Saturday night. ACR has been unbeaten in the WMAC for the past four years, and looms as a favorite.
Asheville or Erwin is often WMAC runner-up. They square off Friday, in an early title elimination game.
West Falcons are atop the WMAC perch with Reynolds, Roberson and Tuscola at 1-0 in strong contention for an upper seed and even a home playoff game. Jenkins said when it is over, “we can be number one.” West nearly upset Reynolds last year.
Dimsdale said it was a “huge” confidence boost to beat another supposed WMAC contender, in N.B. Jenkins called it a “very big win, over a really good team.” Some Falcons chanted “our home,” about William E. Reeves Stadium.
West (4-0) has looked most consistently good of WMAC teams, as the sole unbeaten team overall and by winning convincingly each week.
When asked what the Falcons did well that night, Hawk Coach Allen praised their ball control and superb “fundamental” discipline in avoiding any turnovers. “West is extremely well-coached,” he added.
West’s defense stiffened, when backed up. As opposing Coach Allen noted, “You can’t keep up, when you get into the red zone four times but score no points.” He said two lost fumbles stifled drives.
West Coach Whitaker as always strives for more. “We can’t dig a hole on first down” with a meager gain, he told his troops, adding first-down rushing yardage improved in the second half. That enabled West to keep running the ball, and using clock to preserve its large lead.
West does not play this Friday, when Hendersonville hosts Heritage in a likely 2A playoff preview. East is at Polk County. North, after making up its Owen game Monday night, opens its WMAC season by hosting Tuscola. Games start at 7:30 p.m.