By Pete Zamplas
West Henderson Falcons behind Auden Brennan’s two long touchdown runs defeated Asheville Cougars 35-20 Friday, to clinch second place in the elite all-3A Western Mountain Athletic Conference.
This propels West — the WMAC’s surprise success story — to a home playoff opener, in 3A against talented Kings Mountain this coming Friday.
Second place in the WMAC is an immense accomplishment for West (9-2; 6-2 WMAC). Only A.C. Reynolds (9-2; 8-0) outdid the Falcons. The WMAC’s other two playoff teams (both 5-3) are third seed Roberson and fourth-place Erwin. AHS slipped to 3-5, missing playoffs.
West is one win from attaining double digit victories. The challenging opener is against another 9-2 squad in Kings Mountain. The bracket worsens as barring upsets, seventh-seeded West is at second seed Statesville (11-0) in round two and. If the Falcons pull the upset, they play at third-seeded Reynolds. Usually 3AA, ACR for a change gets to terrorize 3A teams. The split between 3A and 3AA brackets hinges on comparative enrollments of all 3A schools.
Hendersonville (5-6; 2-3 M6) plays at Brevard in its 2A opener. Sixth seed Chase (9-2) looms, then second-seeded Reidsville (10-1) if higher seeds win out. Coach Jim Sosebee’s Bearcats can avoid arch nemesis Mountain Heritage (9-1) — the West’s number one seed — until round four.
HHS shut out Coach Justin Heatherly’s East Henderson 49-0 at East Friday. Burly Richmond Felton rumbled 56 yards run down the left side, to inside the five to set up his TD run. Jay Gaines zigzagged and raced 34 yards for the second score.
The Bearcats play Brevard for the second time in three weeks, reversing roles from 2017. Then, HHS thrashed BHS in the regular season by 43-0 then by 49-0 two weeks later in playoffs. Both games were at HHS. But this year, Brevard won 20-14 at HHS in a Mountain Six showdown Nov. 1. The Blue Devils host the rematch. Both teams want payback — BHS intently for ’17 playoffs, HHS for their first meeting this season.
Brevard (9-2; 4-1) is the M6 top seed, even after losing at Pisgah 12-7 Friday and going scoreless for the final three quarters. BHS and PHS tied Smoky Mountain at 4-1. Brevard drew the first seed.
North Henderson as expected secured its sole victory of 2019, edging Enka in a 28-27 thriller in Candler. This boosts pride and confidence for Coach Jim Beatty’s Knights next year, and ends a 29-game losing streak that began in ’17. It also vaulted NHHS above Enka (1-10, 0-8) in the WMAC.
Brian Payne hit Javar Jackson for three scoring pass plays — with two long ones. Windell Flowers ran for 155 yards, and the other Knight TD.
North was down 14-0, but tied it by halftime. The Knight defense won it in the end, stopping the Jets’ try for a two-point conversion and the win. “A big swarm of guys” swooped in to make the stop, including linebackers Barndon Rhodes and Colton Laughter, defensive coordinator Zach Wilkins noted.
Birds Skin Cats
West led Asheville 13-7 after a quarter, 22-20 at halftime, then scored a TD in each of the two remaining quarters to pull away.
Falcon quarterback Brennan turned in his gutsiest and most prolific performance yet. He reeled off two long touchdown runs on keepers. They covered 45 then 74 yards. The first one — on third and eight — gave West a 13-0 lead seven minutes into the game. Brennan’s second TD put the Falcons back up, by 19-14 with 8:14 left in the half. He ran 25 yards early in the third quarter.
Soonafter, he was hit extra hard and his “bell rung” on a keeper, as West head coach Paul Whitaker noted. Brennan tried to get up but collapsed twice, after the big hit. But he returned soon.
Whitaker shrewdly deployed swift Brennan as a running back, which is less intensive play after play than at QB. Will Parker, a 6-foot-3 junior, handled QB duties well in the option. He threw to Brennan at times, and let him carry the ball other times.
Brennan intercepted a pass a minute into the final quarter, and later broke up a pass to tall Pasley in the end zone. Kyle Gaither’s late pick in the end zone also helped preserve the win.
In the second half, Peyton Dimsdale carried the load. He powered for the game’s opening score — a one-yarder up the gut — and the last one, on a two-yard sledgehammer. He burst for gains of 13 and 12 yards on the first drive with Parker at QB. He ran for 10 yards to the AHS seven, to help set up his final TD. Swift Khaliq Barnes scooted 36 yards on that last scoring drive.
Dimsdale said after the game that during the trench war, Falcons “pushed each other, to step up” effort. He called beating AHS “tremendous.” Austin Jenkins said “we dug deep” to hold off athletic Asheville.
West’s strong, mobile line is a key to success. Graham Hill, spirited 265-pound senior lineman, said beating Asheville is a great bounce back after losing to Tuscola then Reynolds and it restores confidence.
The kicking game also clicked. Jackson Chandler booted his first field goal of ’19. His 33-yarder snuck over the crossbar. Chandler said it felt “great” to make the kick in the chill. It capped a brisk one-minute drive to put West up 22-20, as time expired in the first half.
Asheville tested West well, in a playoff primer. QB Three Hillier often threw to 6-4 Famous Pasley, who made some acrobatic catches downfield. Vyshonne Franklin ran hard. His TD run gave AHS its first lead, at 14-13.
Coach Whitaker told his troops they responded to his halftime challenge, “executed” plays much better and ground out more first downs to control the tempo.
Next, West has its hands full in the playoff opener. Kings Mountain, though a tenth seed, has an impressive resume. The Mountaineers scorched Roberson 48-0 Sept. 6; West beat the Rams 49-31 three weeks later.
KMHS under Coach Greg Lloyd shined against two powerhouses. They beat Shelby (9-1) by 42-17, and barely fell 40-34 at Big South 3A rival/champ Crest (9-2; 6-0). Crest is the region’s number one seed in 3A. The other KMHS loss was to Hunter Huss (8-2; 5-1). KMHS outscored other Big South teams in ’19, and averages a 45-12 score. West averages 33-21.
Offensive styles contrast. Run-oriented West rushes for s310 yards per game, rotating several backs in thew Wing T. Fullback Dimsdale has bulldozed for 1,172 yards (5.5 ypc.) and 10 touchdowns (one per game). QB Brennan has run for 15 scores and 780 yards (7.9).
Jenkins has rushed for seven TDs and 415 yards (7.2), Barnes for 541 yards (7.6) and two TDs, and Keyaris Cash for six TDs and 448 yards (5.6). Jenkins and receiver Kyle Gaither have caught ten of their 16 receptions for TDs (with five each); Jenkins scored both of West’s TDs against ACR on short pass routes. Jenkin has 252 return yards, an 140 more on his five interceptions. His 1,150 all-purpose yards are within 32 of Dimsdale’s total yardage.
Linebacker Alex Hembree has made 97 solo tackles and 140 total tackles, to pace the Falcon defense. Trey Gilliland has seven sacks, and Lane Johnson six. Gaither and Jenkins each have five picks.
Kings Mountain’s balanced offense averages 181 yards in the air, and 171.5 on the ground. QB Ethan Reid threw for 32 TDs (three per game), and merely five interceptions. The big 6-4, 220 junior ran for eight TDs. His two main receivers are Kobe Paysour and Quintin Davidson, who each average a TD catch per game. Main runner Rashaard Brooks is fast but tiny at 5-6, 144. He ran for 959 yards (7.1 ypc.) and nine TDs, hiding behind a large line.
Overall Falcon athletics are racking up points in the Wells Fargo Cup, that measures how many rounds a school’s varsity teams or individual athletes advance in state playoffs. West’s Madeline Duchesne reached the state cross country meet.
Head coach Tiffany Lowrance’s volleyballers reached the 3A title game, falling 3-1 to Chapel Hill Saturday. West (30-7) won the West Region Nov. 5, in a thriller that went the distance. This was a battle of West Falcons, at regional top seed West Rowan which was unbeaten. Second-seeded WHHS won the first two games — 25-22 then 25-23. West Rowan rallied to knot it. But our local Falcons won the finale, by 17-15.