BOONE — If this were 2018, West Caldwell would still be in the Northwestern Conference.
But, it’s 2019 and West Caldwell left the NWC, which left a hole in the Watauga schedule. Instead of playing the Warriors on the final week of the season, and instead of having a bye this week, Watauga scrambled to find Gastonia Ashbrook to fill the hole in the Watauga schedule.
But, the only time Ashbrook could play Watauga was Sept. 21, meaning the Pioneers won’t get a bye until the final week of the season. Trying to get his players a break from the grind of a football season, Pioneers head coach Ryan Habich gave his players a day off Sept. 15.
Watauga went back to the practice field the next day and faces Ashbrook at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 20, at Jack Groce Stadium.
“We had that scheduled well in advance because it was our bye week and it’s a long season,” Habich said. “Our goal is to compete in conference and most of our kids are 15, 16 or 17-years old, so sometimes they need a break. We’re hoping if we give them some time off they’ll come back and focus.”
Habich does not buy into the idea that Ashbrook will be an easy win, even though the Greenwave is 0-3 this season. He also doesn’t think that there will be a repeat of Watauga’s 49-0 demolition of a visiting Greenwave that took place in Boone during the first round of the state 3-AA playoffs.
Ashbrook was decimated by injuries by the time it got to Boone, and had lost seven of its last nine games of the season. This year Habich expects to find an athletic and dangerous Ashbrook returning to Jack Groce Stadium.
“They’re a very athletic team,” Habich said. “I think they are as talented as Reagan. They’re not as good of a football team as Reagan, but they’re as talented athletically.”
Ashbrook did itself no favors with its schedule. The Greenwave lost to Kannapolis Brown, East Lincoln and Clover, a South Carolina team that is 4-0 this season.
“They played a powerhouse team from South Carolina,” Habich said. “They have a lot of talent and they have a lot of players and they run a very unique offense — a double wing. That’s going to be difficult to stop.”
Watauga will be shorthanded with the knee injury to Bryce Satterfield. Jake Watson will move from tight end to running back, and the tight end position will be filled in by a trio of players, including Orlando Leon, Lamon Partee and freshman Isaiah Shirley.
Habich would have like to have had an extra week of practice to get everybody used to their new positions before opening the Pioneers’ Northwestern Conference schedule, which starts Sept. 27 at home against South Caldwell.
“This is the last part of part two of the season,” Habich said. “I’m glad we have this game, but it’s too bad that we have it one game before conference. Not only are we going to have to get Jake more reps at B-back and get these other guys ready to play tight end, but we’re going to have to adjust the defense too. Jake will play defense, but there will be times when he will have to take a break on defense.”
Habich is hopeful that some injured players can return, if not for Ashbrook, then for the beginning of Northwestern Conference play. Wingback Sebastian Best missed the Pioneers’ win over West Wilkes because of a concussion suffered against Reagan a week earlier.
Linebacker Ben Myers has also been out of action for the first four games of the season because of an ankle injury suffered in a scrimmage.
“We’re going to have to kind of move some people around,” Habich said. “We moved Orlando from defensive line to outside linebacker, so that creates an opportunity for somebody at defensive line.”
Ashbrook brings a team led by 16 seniors on its roster, including Shrine Bowl defensive back Trey Byers. Habich feels the Pioneers must execute its blocks on offense and play well defensively to beat the Greenwave.
“We’re not going to matchup with Ashbrook playing as individuals,” Habich said. “We have to work as a cohesive unit to be successful.”