BOONE — For the first time in the Ryan Habich era, Watauga’s football team gets to stay at home for the second round of the state playoffs.
Either in the 4-A days or now in the 3-AA days, staying in the friendly and chilly confines of Jack Groce Stadium keeps the No. 1-seeded Pioneers from having to make a two-hour bus ride off the mountain. Instead, Winston-Salem Parkland will make the trip to the High Country for a 3-AA state playoffs showdown with the Pioneers.
Watauga (12-0) reached the second round in dominant fashion, a 49-0 win over visiting Gastonia Ashbrook. The Pioneers held a 21-0 halftime lead and then put the game away in the third quarter with three touchdowns.
Parkland (11-1), seeded eighth, beat Asheville 32-19 in the first round. Habich said that the Mustangs are the most athletic team the Pioneers have faced this season by a big margin.
“We have to play a very disciplined football game,” Habich said. “We’re going to have to control the football and do everything we can to limit big plays.
“Obviously they’re 11-1 so they’re a very good football team,” Habich said. “Their coach (Martin Samek) has done a really good job over the years building the team to what they are this year.”
Habich said Parkland is not terribly big, but is very athletic and deep. The Mustangs beat Greensboro Dudley 21-7 on Oct. 19, but were blown out by Mount Tabor 49-7 on Oct. 26, the final week of the regular season.
Parkland, which finished second in the Piedmont Triad Conference has also crushed Winston-Salem Carver 54-0 and Western Guilford 48-7 when building its 11-game winning streak stopped by Piedmont Triad Conference champion Mount Tabor.
“They have a lot of good players across the board,” Habich said. “They’re in the same conference with Mount Tabor and Dudley and Southwest Guilford, so they’re from a very good conference.”
Samek produced a turnaround at Parkland, which was 0-11 during his first two seasons. In 2018, the Mustangs are led by “Power Five” conference prospect outside linebacker Lee Kpogba, who has decommitted from West Virginia, and is entertaining offers from Tennessee, Florida State, Purdue and Syracuse.
Kpogba, who is originally from Liberia, will be a handful for the Pioneers’ offense to handle. Habich said that Kpogba is an excellent football player, but the Mustangs have plenty of good defensive players who can create havoc with the Watauga offense.
“They’re really fast across the board,” Habich said. “Up front, they are not as big as some teams we’ve faced. They use their speed and quickness more so than size. There are not huge at linebacker, but they’re aggressive. They like to stunt a lot with their linebackers, so for us offensively, it’s about playing assignment football, doing our jobs, picking up the inside gaps, which is important and not allowing them to penetrate.”
Offensively, Parkland is experienced including sophomore Camian Shell, who looks for standout receivers Zi Russell and Savien Hayes. Habich said the Mustangs will try to run the ball, but the Pioneers must be aware of their wideouts.
“They run the ball really well,” Habich said. “They have three or four wide receivers who are dynamic. We’re going to have to tackle well in space and eliminate the big plays where they score touchdowns because they can score quickly.”
Watauga can also score quickly. The Pioneers rolled up 382 yards rushing and 449 yards of total offense against Ashbrook. Running back Bryce Satterfield gained 175 yards on just 10 carries and scored touchdown runs of 53 and 25 yards.
Quarterback Anderson Castle added touchdown runs of 16 and 13-yards and a 26-yard TD pass to Grant Oliver. Castle finished with 112 rushing yards on just nine carries.
Habich cautioned that Parkland’s team speed on defense could limit Watauga’s big plays, and that the Pioneers will have to put together some scoring drives.
“We have to make sure we block in the perimeter,” Habich said. “With the speed they have, some of the runs where we’re getting 20 or 30 or 40 yards, we have to be happy to get four or five yards. We have to keep the chains moving and keep the ball away from their offense.”