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HomeHigh SchoolWatauga remains perfect with 63-27 romp over Ashe County

Watauga remains perfect with 63-27 romp over Ashe County

By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. —What started as an old-fashioned, offensive barnburner quickly morphed into a one-sided juggernaut of discipline and multi-faceted power on Oct. 27 at Jack Groce Stadium. The host Watauga Pioneers pummeled the Ashe County Huskies, 63-27, marking the end of the 2023 high school football “regular” season.

For Watauga, it is surely not the end of the 2023 football season as they await their seeding in the NCHSAA 4A West state playoffs and an opponent, almost certainly to be in Boone. For Ashe County, the Huskies’ 6-4 overall, 2-3 in conference play may well not be good enough to make the state playoffs this year.

With big smiles to match the big hands reflecting the 10-0 regular season, Watauga celebrates after its 63-27 win over Ashe County. Photographic image by Jared Everett for High Country Sports.

For Watauga, the win over Ashe County completes the last smear of frosting on the regular season. They remained undefeated against Northwestern Conference opponents (5-0) and now go into post-season play with an unblemished, hard-fought, 10-0 record when you include the early, non-conference slate of tough opponents.

Remarkably, Watauga is now 30-0 after capturing the last of six consecutive Northwestern Conference titles, which speaks not just to the coaching staff assembled by head coach Ryan Habich, now in his 11th season at the helm of the Pioneer program, but also to the buy-in of the student athletes and their parents over the years into the culture that has been created in Boone. It is a blue color program with the acronyms to match.

Photographic image by Jared Everett for High Country Sports

Friday night’s contest was a matchup of differences: Watauga’s “NASCAR” offense vs. Ashe County’s “Air Raid” offense.

The latter is no slouch. In no way do we want to suggest that Ashe County was a doormat opponent, because they are the opposite. If they had not through realignment been thrust into the 3A/4A Northwestern Conference, they might well be competing for the 3A title this year.

In many respects, Watauga had more to fear going up against the Huskies than they did against the more athletic Alexander Central, Hibriten, and  especially Freedom teams in the weeks before.

That’s because Ashe County’s attack strikes at arguably the Pioneers’ weakest position group — except for the fact Watauga overcomes the lack of roster depth by deploying several of the team’s best players on both offense and defense. That 2-way commitment and the high level of conditioning embraced by the players accepting the 2-way challenges provide at least a 1.5X roster multiple.

Maddox Greene (4) intercepts pass in the end zone during Watauga’s 63-27 win over Ashe Country on Oct. 27. Photo by Jared Everett for High Country Sports

Just as the term, “Air Raid” suggests, head coach Brian Hampton, now in his 12th year heading the Ashe County program, has modeled a high-flying aerial attack that can bring up big chunks of yardage, whether in one play or in an entire offensive series. The Huskies ran a whopping 72 offensive plays against the Pioneers, accumulating 388 yards of total offense. All but 51 yards of it was through the air.

Against many opponents at the high school level, controlling possession for 72 plays and rolling up 388 yards would be more than enough to win the day. Senior quarterback Blake Peters completed 35 of 51 pass attempts for 338 yards and two TDs, offset by delivering two interceptions into the poaching hands of Watauga defensive backs Ben Gosky and Maddox Greene.

Because of its high-octane, up tempo, “rule the roads” style, some Pioneer fans have started referring to Watauga’s offensive attack as a “NASCAR” blend, leaning toward a grinding, rushing offense but from time to time interspersing aerial strikes where the wheels all but come off. Now with a maturing quarterback in junior Maddox Greene, in whom Habich and his offensive coaches have been able to develop some effective passing skills to match his running acumen, the 2023 edition of the Pioneers evolved as a multi-headed offensive monster. If Greene, sophomore RB sensation Everett Gryder, sophomore “Swiss Army Knife” back Evan Burroughs, or senior hybrid back Morgan Henry aren’t getting the results you expected, a Greene-to-Jackson Pryor, Greene-to-Burroughs, Greene-to-Henry, or Greene to one of two capable tight ends, senior Grayson Elliott or junior Trathan Gragg are likely to get the job done.

Maddox Greene had a highlight reel game vs. Ashe County on Oct. 27, including this TD run. Photo by Jared Everett for High Country Sports.

Even with a reputation for keeping the ball on the ground, taking time off the clock and keeping opposing offenses off the field, Watauga has at times used its aerial combinations to great effect this year.

Against the Huskies, Greene directed an offense that rolled up 352 yards rushing, but showed balance with 221 passing yards to just two receivers, Burroughs (4 catches, 186 yards, and 3 TDs) and Pryor (3 catches, 36 yards).

Coming out party?

Rushing, of course Greene was a team leader in keeping the ball on the ground. In what has become characteristic production for the explosive junior playmaker, Greene kept the ball 13 times for 189 yards and three TDs, including a 2-point conversion. His longest ramble was “just” 58 yards, but that means the average yards per carry for the other 12 totes of the football was over 10 yards, or almost 11 yards per carry.

Evan Burroughs dances over and past an Ashe County defender on Oct. 27/ Photo by Jared Everett for High Country Sports.

But with sophomore running back Everett Gryder suddenly showing up on the sidelines, on crutches, in the first quarter, it was “next man up” time for the Watauga running back room. Enter fellow sophomore and emerging Pioneer track star, Matthew Leon, who as a freshman last spring won the Northwestern Conference 400 meters event, according to records publicly available at MileSplitNC

It turns out that a sprinter’s speed is useful on a football field, too. In his first night as Watauga’s lead B-back, Leon carried the ball 16 times in a little more than three quarters for 101 yards and two touchdowns. As coming out parties go, Leon’s night was a good debut.

Next up for Watauga will be to see where their unblemished regular season record will land them in the NCHSAA 4A West Football Championship seedings. Prior to Friday night games, Watauga had the No. 2 RPI, behind top-seeded Weddington.

Ashe County awaits their fate in the 3A West classification. With a 6-4 overall record and 2-3 record in conference, the Huskies are likely to be on the outside looking in.

SELECTED TEAM STATS

Courtesy of Jonathan Watson, Watauga High School

  • Total Plays: WAT 51, AC 72
  • Total Offense, Yards: WAT 573, AC 388
  • Passing Yards: WAT 221, AC 337
  • Rushing Yards: WAT 352, AC 51
  • 3rd Down Conversions: WAT 6/6, AC 7/12
  • 4th Down Conversions: WAT —, AC 1/5
  • Turnovers: WAT 0, AC 2
 SELECTED WATAUGA INDIVIDUAL STATS

Maddox Greene

    • Passing: 7/7, 221 yards, 3 TDs, no INTs
    • Rushing: 13 carries, 189 yards, 3 TDs

Evan Burroughs

    • Receiving: 4 catches, 186 yards, 3 TDs
    • Rushing: 5 carries, 26 yards

Matthew Leon

    • Rushing: 16 carries, 101 yards, 2 TDs
SELECTED ASHE COUNTY INDIVIDUAL STATS

Blake Peters

    • Passing: 35/51, 337 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs

Ian Graybeal

    • Receiving: 9 catches 113 yards

Bridger Fairchild

    • Receiving: 6 catches, 71 yards, 1 TD

 

 

 

 

 

 

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