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HomeHigh SchoolAnother View: Independence rides past Watauga, 34-14

Another View: Independence rides past Watauga, 34-14

By Zach Smith. BOONE, N.C. – An opening drive touchdown from Watauga gave the Pioneer-faithful hope, but the feeling didn’t last long as the High Country was filled with heartbreak as the clock hit zero. Independence rode on 28 unanswered points to end Watauga’s incredible 2023 season, 34-14.

Junior quarterback Maddox Greene led the way for the Pioneers, earning 245 total yards and accounting for both of Watauga’s touchdowns in the air. Independence sophomore running back Jayden Jones was the star of the night, though, powering his way for 132 yards and three scores.

Watauga received the opening kickoff and scored to begin the game, but Independence went on to score the next 28 points before the Pioneers were able to add on to their early success. Both Watauga touchdowns were results of connections between Greene and senior Morgan Henry, who performed well in his last game for the Pioneers. Henry hauled in three passes for 64 yards, and his final catch for the Pioneers was a 19-yard strike from Greene for a touchdown.

Maddox Greene passes downfield on Nov. 17 in Watauga’s Round 3 matchup vs. Independence. Photo by Flaco Rafael for High Country Sports

Watauga Head Coach Ryan Habich shared his thoughts on the matchup against Independence post-game.

“We knew it was going to be tough, their offense is really good, that running back [Jones] was really good,” Habich said. “Their defense was really quick. We had a hard time blocking, so we really had a hard time running the football the way we wanted to run the football.”

Habich also spoke on Watauga’s ability to defy expectations over the course of the season.
“I think if you talked to me in the preseason, I was hoping to stay healthy in non-conference and have a winning record going into conference play,” Habich said. “I don’t think people realize how hard this bracket is because they don’t subdivide the playoffs. I mean, we’re 1,500 going against 2,000+ enrollment in schools, so it’s tough. But, to go to the third round, something we told our kids is ‘there are only six teams that have made it to the third round in Watauga history.”

Watauga’s historic 2023 season was thanks in large part to the relationships between each player. Habich pointed out that that’s part of what made the season so special.
“What we had this year, we had great chemistry on this year’s team,” Habich said. “I think that’s why we were successful.”

The Pioneers, according to many, overperformed over the course of the season. Their campaign was filled with highlight after highlight. Habich spoke on what his biggest takeaway from the 2023 edition of Watauga football was.

“No regrets, team focus,” Habich said. “Focus on the process, I thought this year’s team did that, and you can’t say enough about the senior bunch. We didn’t have expectations. We lost 23 seniors last year, we had two sophomores in the backfield. We only had three of our starters coming back on offense, three on defense. So to be able to build that team, and the kids come together and accept bigger roles, that’s pretty special. We far exceeded a lot of people’s expectations.”

This year’s chapter of Watauga football has come to an end, but it was filled with countless highlights. Going on the road to defeat A.C. Reynolds, a head coach earning his 100th victory with the team, or pulling off a massive upset in the playoffs would individually be enough for a memorable season. The 2023 Watauga Pioneers accomplished all three of those feats, and are set up for a bright future in the High Country.

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