By Pete Zamplas
“You can’t stop us!”
Auden Brennan, West Henderson’s senior quarterback, shouted that at T.C. Roberson defenders after the undefeated Falcons scored one of several touchdowns Friday in an 49-31 scoring outburst.
West (5-0) is 2-0 in the area’s elite Western Mountain Athletic Conference. Also unbeaten in WMAC play are A.C. Reynolds (4-2; 3-0) and Tuscola (2-3; 2-0). Those two play each other in Waynesville Friday, thinning frontrunners.
“We battled” in compiling nearly 500 rushing yards to defeat athletic Roberson, head coach Paul Whitaker told the Falcons in their post-victory huddle. “We’re on top of the hill.”
West plays likely its biggest game yet this season — at Erwin this Friday. The Warriors (2-4; 2-1 WMAC) were conference runners-up last year, are a perennial contender, and in fourth place early on. They edged North Buncombe (3-2; 1-2) by 21-20 Friday after beating Asheville (2-4; 1-2) 42-30, to stay in the hunt for a WMAC upper seed. Roberson shined in beating AHS earlier, 42-21.
The Falcon secondary will be tested again by pass-happy Erwin. Whitaker compared Erwin to TCR as “another team that spreads it out, and slings it all over the place. They don’t like to play smash-mouth football as much as we do.”
Confidence builds each week for a legit run at the conference title, Falcon senior receiver-DB Kyle Gaither said. “We need these wins. We want to keep the momentum going,”
Hendersonville (3-3) lost a 20-17 see-saw game, at unbeaten Polk County. East Henderson (1-5) lost 48-7, at Mitchell. North Henderson (0-5; 0-2 WMAC) fell 54-6 at Reynolds. Brandon Rhodes scooped up a fumble and scored North’s TD. The Knights share the cellar with Enka (1-5; 0-3) which Asheville demolished 48-6, and host AHS Friday for homecoming.
Falcon catalyst Brennan voiced his bravado shortly before halftime, when West led 21-10. West led by two to three scores for most of the game.
The Falcons rolled up 481 net rushing yards to 75 for TCR, and did not need to pass. “Our O-line ground it out,” Whitaker said. TCR head coach Jason Dinwiddie said, “West pushed us around” up front, opening holes for backs. Rushing extensively is “what we’ve done forever,” Whitaker told The Tribune. “Our backs might not be the biggest or fastest. But we’ll keep coming at you.”
Yet West has more speed than ever in its deep backfield, to go with the usual crunching fullback in Peyton Dimsdale. He smashed his way to 195 yards on 27 carries, making Johnson Field in part Peyton Place.
Quick QB Brennan gained 170 yards on 21 carries. He often bounced off of much larger foes’ hits, in perhaps his most determined game yet. His patriotic stars and stripes sleeving on his left/non-throwing arm kept showing up in the Ram secondary.
Speedy backs Khaliq Barnes and Keyarish Cash also each rushed for one touchdown. Cash took a punt return 45 yards to the house.
Barnes on one play was hit and spun downward, nearly touching the ground, before recovering to zip away then bounce off of another Ram for a long gain to set up a Dimsdale TD run. Barnes ran for 58 yards. Austin Jenkins, who blends size and speed ran for two TDs, and 54 yards.
“Three yards and a cloud of dust’ can quickly turn into nine yards, with speed of our backs,” Whitaker said.
West controlled the line of scrimmage and doubled time of possession — 32 minutes to 16 for the visitors overall — with an edge of 10 to two minutes in the third quarter. West had 25 first downs, and TCR 11. Roberson had as many punts (six) as passing first downs. West had to punt merely once.
Roberson opened scoring with a field goal. West scored on Jenkins’ run, set up by several Dimsdale runs. West went up 14-3, on Cash’s electric 43-yard punt return with 25.3 seconds to go in the first quarter. TCR answered on Zaejohn Mills’ shoestring catch, and the PAT made it 14-10. That was as close as TCR could get.
West led 21-10 after Dimsdale’s five-yard scoring burst, with 1:11 before halftime. Brennan set up that score when he gained 15 yards to the Ram 10, then five more yards. Brennan dashed for 24 yards, to set up the next score — a Jenkins run. Jackson Chandler’s PAT gave West a comfy 18-point lead at 28-10, with 8:43 left in the third.
The teams then traded several TDs, as Ram lefty QB Brody Whitson got into rhythm. He lobbed a TD pass to 6-foot-6 wideout Cameron Phillips, son of former West boys’ hoops coach Billy Phillips.
Jenkins ran the kickoff to midfield. Dimsdale then burst 23 yards to the 27, as West covered three-fourths of the field on those two plays. Cash cashed in from four yards out, and West led 35-16. It was TCR’s turn on Shaq Hill’s “wildcat” TD run.
But West again reopened its lead. Barnes raced around left end for most of the field, and soonafter dashed 15 yards into the end zone. After a TCR score, Gaither’s long kickoff return set up the final score. Brennan on fourth-and-seven was tripped but soared into the end zone, with 1:40 remaining.
Brennan completed all three of his passes. Ram QB Whitson passed for 176 yards, three TDs and one pick.
Over-eager West punt rushers twice hit the punter for a penalized first down, that gave TCR’s offense new life. Once was on fourth and 17. The other time, TCR punted out of its end zone which would give West good field position.
Falcon school spirit is soaring on campus, principal Shannon Auten said. Her husband Chad Auten is principal of Mills River, among elementary schools whose students helped form the human tunnel through which Falcon players charged onto the field Friday.
This season is shaping up as special for the players, and future Falcons for which they are role models.