Watauga football coach Ryan Habich would prefer that the Pioneers practice on Thanksgiving then take the entire day off.
This is not because Habich is the Turkey Day version of the Grinch. He likes the Thanksgiving holiday as much as the next person.
When Watauga has to practice on Thanksgiving, it means the Pioneers are still alive in the state 3-AA playoffs. Watauga will practice in the morning on Nov. 28 and then the Pioneers will have the rest of the day to celebrate the holiday with their families.
The next day, the Pioneers host Mount Tabor in the third round of the playoffs.
“When you get the opportunity to practice on Turkey Day, man that’s special,” Habich said. “Our kids are excited. Our Touchdown Club always does a good job with the kids and we get them out early to be with their families.”
Watauga, the No. 2 seed in the bracket, goes into the game with a 12-1 record. The Pioneers cruised past No. 10 seed Kannapolis Brown 55-21 after rushing for 602 yards and finishing with 659 yards in total offense on the Wonders.
Watauga has won 10 straight games since a loss to Reagan on Sept. 6. The Pioneers average a remarkable 52.1 points and 487.1 yards per game.
Watauga quarterback Anderson Castle has a chance to finish the season with more than 2,000 yards rushing this season. The senior has gained 1,801 yards and scored 29 touchdowns this season. He averages 9.4 yards every time he runs the ball and averages 150.1 yards per game.
Castle isn’t the only weapon who can get the ball into the end zone. Wingback Jaiden Bond has rushed for 1,245 yards, that’s an average of 203.8 yards per game, and scored 14 touchdowns. Bond has carried the ball just 77 times this season, which works to an average of 16.2 yards per carry.
Running back Jake Watson has gained 586 yards and scored 17 touchdowns this season with nearly all of that posted after running back Bryce Satterfield tore two ligaments in his knee the fourth week of the season. Wingback Sebastian Best averages 13.9 yards per game and has scored six touchdowns, while gaining 487 yards on 35 carries.
The Pioneers face a Mount Tabor team (9-4) that goes into the game fresh off a 37-21 victory over Greensboro Dudley. Mount Tabor took a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and outscored the Panthers 13-0 in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Habich said Mount Tabor’s defense may be the best the Pioneers have seen this season. Mount Tabor allows an average of 12.7 points per game, have shut out three opponents and have held three others to just one score.
“Tabor might have one of the best defenses in the entire state in 3-A and 4-A,” Habich said. “They have a lot of team speed and teams don’t score a lot of points against them.
Habich pointed out that Reagan, which beat Watauga 63-35, settled for a 14-7 win over Mount Tabor. The Spartans also beat Kernersville Glenn 6-0, beat Dudley 21-20 during the regular season and lost to Winston-Salem Parkland 6-0.
Habich said the Pioneers won’t make major changes to accommodate Mount Tabor’s speed on defense, but might make some adjustments during practice.
“We’re not going to out athlete Mount Tabor,” Habich said. “Trying to spread them out and throw the ball around like that would not be smart on our part. We’ve got to do what we do. We’ve got to find some things that we can plug away at and find a way to score points.”
“There are teams that are still playing in the 4-A state playoffs who didn’t score a lot of points against them,” Habich said. “They’re definitely known for their defense, they’re a shut-down defense and they have some good athletes on offense.”
Spartans running back B.J. McIntyre finished with 87 yards rushing with two touchdowns in Mount Tabor’s win over Dudley on Nov. 22. He also caught three passes for 85 yards.
The Spartans have a quarterback Colin Smith, who is primarily a runner, and Tyress McIntyre, who is a passing quarterback.
Habich knows that the Spartans can move the ball and get help with the occasional touchdown from the defense.
“Any team that gets to this level is really good,” Habich said. “There’s a lot of good competition, a lot of speed and a lot of good players.”