Watauga faced a formidable roadblock on its way to a second straight Northwestern Conference championship. A loss at Freedom on Nov. 1 would put a Watauga league title in serious jeopardy.
Pioneers quarterback Anderson Castle was not going to let that happen.
The senior, who was named to the North Carolina-South Carolina Shrine Bowl a week earlier, ran for 205 yards and scored four touchdowns in Watauga’s 48-33 victory over the Patriots on Freedom’s Senior Night.
Castle lead Watauga on seven touchdown drives on eight Watauga possessions. He scored touchdowns on the first two drives, one that went for 13 yards, and the second for 14 yards, to give the Pioneers a 13-0 lead.
Castle also scored on a 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and a 25-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. Castle, who attempted one pass that fell incomplete, led the Pioneers to 363 yards in total offense, all on the ground.
“We had a mission,” Castle said. “I told them before the game it was their Senior Night and we had to be tougher. I knew we had to be tougher and we were the tougher team all-game long.”
Watauga also got 143 yards and two touchdowns, including a 60-yard burst in the second quarter from running back Jake Watson. His 2-yard touchdown plunge in the second quarter gave the 27-7 lead.
Castle’s success put him in a duel with Freedom quarterback Jayden Birchfield, who countered with 136 yards and two touchdowns rushing, while completing 10-of-18 passing for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
Freedom also got 150 yards and a touchdown run on 27 carries from running back Chase Young. Birchfield and Young were the only Freedom players who ran the football for the Patriots, who finished with 392 yards in total offense.
“We didn’t throw the ball a lot because we knew we had to score and we had to control the ball,” Watauga coach Ryan Habich said. “We had to make it that we had third-and-two and fourth-and-one. We didn’t want to be in a third-and-10. We didn’t want to have a lot of third-and-longs. We had to be successful on first down and we were successful at that.”
Watauga got a scoring contribution from Jaiden Bond on special teams. After Birchfield scored on a 23-yard run in the second quarter that brought the Patriots to within 27-14, Bond returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown, giving the Pioneers a 34-14 lead. Young responded with a 7-yard touchdown run to leave Freedom behind 34-21.
Freedom had a chance to tie the game when the Pioneers led 41-33. The Patriots, starting from their 9-yard line, drove to the Watauga 42-yard line, but saw their drive stall on three Birchfield incomplete passes, two that were dropped. A fourth-down pass was broken up by the Pioneers, which gave Watauga a key stop.
The Pioneers, starting with 8:13 left in the game, drove 58 yards with Castle gaining 52 of those yards. He scored a touchdown from 25 yards out to give the Pioneers a 48-33 left.
Freedom got the ball back at its 47-yard line and drove to the Watauga 24-yard line, but ended with a Burchfield incompletion.
“We’ve been talking about it all week that we’ve worked so hard and prepared so hard and we weren’t going to back down to the bullies this week,” Watauga linebacker Orlando Leon said. “We just gave it our all today.”
Watauga 48, Freedom 33
Watauga 13 21 7 7 — 48
Freedom 0 21 12 0 — 33
WHS—Castle 13 run (Kick failed)
WHS—Castle 14 run (Everett kick)
FHS—Birchfield 26 run (Velez kick)
WHS—Watson 60 run (Everett kick)
WHS—Watson 2 run (Everett kick)
FHS—Birchfield 23 run (Velez kick)
WHS—Bond 77 kickoff return (Everett kick)
FHS—Young 7 run (Velez kick)
FHS—Dula 6 pass from Birchfield (Kicked blocked)
WHS—Castle 4 run (Everett kick)
FHS—Dula 14 pass from Birchfield (Kick failed)
WHS—Castle 25 run (Everett kick)
First downs 20 20
By rushing 19 14
By passing 0 6
By penalties 1 0
Rushes-yards 41-363 44-286
Avg. per rush 8.9 6.5
Passing yards 0 106
Passes 0-1-0 10-18-0
Avg. per att. 0.0 10.6
Total plays-yards 42-363 62-392
Avg. per play 8.6 6.3
Punts-avg. 1-41.0 0-0
Penalties-yards 2-10 2-20
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Third down conv. 5-7 11-16
Fourth down conv. 1-1 1-4
Rushing: Watauga—Castle 21-205, Watson 13-143, Bond 5-22, Best 1-5, TEAM 1-(-12); Freedom—Young 27-150, Birchfield 17-136.
Passing: Watauga—Castle 0-1-0 0; Freedom—Birchfield 10-18-0 106.
Receiving: Watauga—none; Freedom—Dule 5-45, Caldwell 3-29, Burgess 1-13.