Tough task ahead

Watauga offensive linemen Sterling Sauls (50), Adrion Cassidy (52) and Dakota Silvers (75) have a tough task on Sept. 6 when they line up against Reagan’s defensive line.

BOONE — When Watauga football coach Ryan Habich arrived in Boone in 2013, he eventually wanted to increase the strength of the Pioneers’ schedule.

Habich will get his wish Sept. 6 when the Pioneers play at 4-A Ronald Reagan in Pfafftown. The game replaces Avery on the schedule. Avery dropped the series with the Pioneers when the Vikings went through some changes in their program.

The move left Habich scrambling for a replacement. He found out that teams in the area either did not want to play the improved Pioneers, or did not have a corresponding opening in their schedule.

Reagan (2-0) squeezed the Pioneers (2-0) in and will host Watauga at 7:30 p.m.

Reagan, which finished 8-5 last season, beat Western 4-A Regional finalist Mount Tabor 14-7 on Aug. 23, but did not allow an offensive touchdown. Mount Tabor scored its TD on a fake punt.

Reagan added a 42-0 win over North Forsyth.

“They’re a good football team,” Habich said. “I don’t think they knew how good they were going to be, but we didn’t have a choice. It was one of those things where nobody within a 60-mile radius would play us when we had to reschedule games. It’s one of the games we had to play, but it’s good for us. This is the type team that you’ll face in the fourth round of the playoffs.”

Habich feels Reagan’s speed will be difficult for the Pioneers to contend with. The Raiders’ 400-meter relay team is all on the team, and give Reagan an element of speed that could give Watauga fits.

Reagan quarterback Gabriel Hollingsworth is a three-star recruit by 247sports.com, stands 6-foot-3 and is a Columbia recruit. He threw for 1,413 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.

One of his favorite targets is Tazhae Woods, who caught a 64-yard touchdown pass against North Forsyth. Reagan also uses running backs Daniel Moyer Jr., and Sanchez Reddin when the Raiders turn to their running game. Habich said the Raiders will use a lot of run-pass option plays to get the running game in space.

“They’re one of the fastest teams in the state,” Habich said. “Their offense uses a lot of RPOs. Their quarterback throws well, but he’s also an athletic quarterback who can run the ball. They’ll empty the backfield and he will run the ball.”

Habich also said the Pioneers must tackle well in the open field.

“For us, one mistake and it’s a touchdown,” he said. “We can’t take a bad angle or have a missed tackle. At Ashe County, we can miss a tackle and still miss a tackle downfield. Here, these guys will score a touchdown.”

Watauga is coming off a two-game period that saw the Pioneers outscore T.C. Roberson and Ashe County by a combined score of 104-35. Watauga opened the season with a 52-28 win over T.C. Roberson and followed with a 56-7 win over Ashe.

It’s no surprise that the Pioneers have used their running game to pile up both yards and points. Watauga ran for 480 yards against Ashe County and rushed for 473 yards against T.C. Roberson.

Running the ball against Reagan, especially against the Raiders’ front four, will not be easy, according to Habich. He compared Reagan’s front four to Greensboro Dudley’s front when the Pioneers lost the eventual 4-A state champs 55-20 in 2016 playoffs.

“We won our first two games rather handily,” Habich said. “We moved the ball kind of at will, but this is like a fourth-round playoff game where we’re going to get stiffened a little bit and we’re going to have to find ways to move the ball and keep the ball, because we’re not going to be scoring every series like we’ve done.”

Habich wants the game to be close late in the game to give the Pioneers a chance of winning. Watauga fell behind Dudley by three touchdowns, but cranked out a 80-yard, 19-play drive that ate up more than eight minutes of clock and ended in a touchdown.

Watauga ran 61 plays compared to 39 by Dudley, but lost the game because of giving up big plays.

“It reminds me of the Dudley game where we’re going to have to keep the ball and be optimistic and make it a second-half game,” Habich said. “We want to be close in the fourth quarter and let them make mistakes.”

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