BOONE — Trey Kavanaugh has returned home to Boone more than once since graduating from Watauga High School and then from Appalachian State University.
Kavanaugh, who knew he wanted to be a football coach since he played receiver at Watauga, did just that after leaving App State. He brings his Cuthbertson Cavaliers football team into Jack Groce Stadium to face Watauga in the first round of the state 3-AA playoffs at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 15.
“I’m excited,” Kavanaugh said. “I kind of saw how the cards could fall, so we thought we’d get that matchup. Watauga’s a really good team and obviously they are very talented. Coach (Ryan) Habich has done a really good job there. On one hand, I’m anxious to play, but on the other hand, we’re about to play a really good football team.”
Kavanaugh is staying in the family business. His grandfather, Jerry Moore, was the head coach at Appalachian State for 24 years and still advises his grandson on all things coaching. Kavanaugh said Moore rarely misses a Cuthbertson game.
Kavanaugh — whose first coaching job out of App State was as a graduate assistant at East Carolina under Ruffin McNeill and then as an assistant at Audrey Kell High coaching receivers for two seasons, is a first-year head coach at Cuthbertson. He brings a team to Boone that is 5-6 overall and 2-5 in the brutally tough Southern Carolina League.
“You can’t be too, too excited for it, but the occasion is going to be special,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s something you dream about. I remember thinking about it when I was standing on the sidelines in high school knowing I was going to be a football coach and how special it could be.”
Kavanaugh graduated from Watauga in 2011. One of his assistants is Watauga graduate Mo Gore, who was an assistant with the indoor football High Country Grizzlies.
“I’ve been up there for the last couple of App State games,” Kavanaugh said. “I was up there three weeks ago for Homecoming. I visit a couple of times for football games.”
Kavanaugh has a lot of respect for Watauga, which is 10-1 overall and won the Northwestern Conference with a 6-0 record. Watauga’s lone loss was to Pfafftown Reagan, but the Pioneers have won all six of its home games and has won eight in a row.
Watauga had dominated most of its opponents with an offense that averages 52.1 points per game. Watauga rushes the ball for 392.1 yards per game and has scored 67 touchdowns on the ground.
Quarterback Anderson Castle leads the Pioneers in rushing with 1,697 yards and scoring 26 touchdowns this season. Castle has also thrown for 963 yards and 11 touchdowns while completing 70.2 percent of his passes.
Wingback Jaiden Bond has rushed for 1,081 yards and scored 13 touchdowns and Jake Watson added 485 yards and scored 14 touchdowns on the ground this season.
Cuthbertson has seen outstanding teams during its conference season. The Cavaliers lost 49-0 to 2018 defending 3-AA champion Weddington 49-0 on the final day of the regular season. A week earlier, Cuthbertson lost 37-10 to defending 3-A state champion Charlotte Catholic.
Other league losses were to Marvin Ridge, Monroe and Parkwood with wins coming against Piedmont and Sun Valley. All of those teams, except for Charlotte Catholic, are from Union County.
“Really when you look at the 3-AA West and the 4-AA West, those two might be the toughest brackets in the playoffs,” Watauga coach Ryan Habich said. “There are some really good teams in the 3-AA West. You really can’t look at the seed too much because they come from a county that is pretty self-explanatory. They’ve got a lot of good players. Their record could be misleading. They’re bigger than us. They have a bigger roster than us, so what we’ve told our kids is we have to control the controllables.”
Habich said Cuthbertson runs out of multiple formations and has a balanced attack.
“They like to throw a little bit out of the shotgun,” Habich said. “They’ll use the spread and they’ll go under center. They’ve got good speed and they’re really big up front. The water might be different there, but they’ve got some really good length at the receiver and tight end positions.”
Habich didn’t think the weather would be a factor despite the cold that moved through the area. He said temperatures were forecast to be in the 50s toward the end of the week, which will take away any advantage the Pioneers might enjoy from Mother Nature.
“I don’t think it’s going to be too bad Thursday or Friday,” Habich said of the weather. “I don’t think weather will be too much of an influence Friday night.”