BOONE — Western Union County has produced its share of competitive football programs over the past 10 years.
Watauga has played its share of these teams as the Pioneers were seeking their first victory over a Union County program in Cuthbertson on Nov. 15. This time, Watauga turned the tables on Union County football by blasting Cuthbertson 61-21 in the first round of the state western 3-AA playoffs at Jack Groce Stadium.
Watauga has already lost playoff games to Porter Ridge two times, and to Weddington in the 3-AA playoffs last season. Weddington went on to win the state 3-AA championship in 2018.
“That’s the same county where we lost to Porter Ridge my first year here in 2013,” Watauga coach Ryan Habich said. “We had the lead and we weren’t mentally tough enough to win that game and of course there was Weddington and they had a great football team no doubt, although we didn’t play our best. So, this team is from Union County and they’re from that same conference that has Charlotte Catholic and they have good players, but our players didn’t back down.”
Watauga’s victory also spoiled the return of Cuthbertson head coach Trey Kavanaugh and assistant coach Mo Gore to Boone. Both coaches graduated from Watauga with the class of 2011, which was the first class to graduate from the new school.
“You feel a lot of emotions and I knew this would be an emotional game for me and the team,” Kavanaugh said. “We tried to attack and to feed off that, and that is a disciplined Watauga team. We came out with a little chip on us and we wanted to go down swinging as the underdogs.”
Both teams produced plenty of offense. Watauga outgained the Cavaliers 502-446 in total yardage, but Watauga’s defense forced three turnovers that led to Pioneers points. Watauga did not turn the ball over and also did not punt the ball.
Watauga ran the ball 443 yards and had three players rush for at least 100 yards. Jaiden Bond ran for 164 yards on five carries, including an 86-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Watauga quarterback Anderson Castle ran for 104 yards and touchdown runs of 13, 23 and three yards. Castle also found Grant Oliver for a 53-yard touchdown pass with just 28 seconds left in the first half that gave the Pioneers a 26-7 halftime lead.
Watauga added to that lead when, after recovering a Cuthbertson onside kick and driving the ball to the Cavaliers’ 5-yard line. Watauga running back Jake Watson took it from there to score a touchdown and give the Pioneers a 33-7 lead.
Watson, the third Watauga runner to reach the 100-yard plateau, gained 101 yards and scored touchdown runs of five, four and eight yards on 12 carries.
“We’ve got some good players on offense and we have a trigger man who is the best quarterback in North Carolina and probably the best option quarterback in the Southeast,” Habich said of Castle. “He’s making reads and as tough as he is and as athletic that he is, and then you have Jaiden Bond and he’s a playmaker. And Jake Watson has improved at the b-back position.”
Watauga may have surprised the Jack Groce Stadium crowd by opening the game with an onside kick, but it did not surprise Kavanaugh. Watauga’s regular kicker Carter Everett faked kicking the ball and Sebastian Best delivered an onside kick.
It had a high bounce that skipped past the Cavaliers where the Pioneers’ Mitchell Greene recovered.
The kick set up Castle’s first touchdown, a 13-yard score.
“We lost the coin toss and I wanted the ball,” Habich said. “We thought with the playoffs you’ve got to take chances and we felt pretty good about it doing it first against Freedom. (Cuthbertson) knew it was coming, but I think the execution was there.”
Watauga faces traditional 3-A power Kannapolis Brown, a 56-50 winner over T. C. Roberson, which lost 50-21 to Watauga on the first weekend of the season on Aug. 23. Brown is 8-3 overall and has won its last three games, including a 59-21 win over archrival Concord.
Brown finished in a tie for third in the South Piedmont Conference with Central Cabarrus.
Watauga 61, Cuthbertson 21
Cuthbertson 7 0 7 7 — 21
Watauga 7 19 14 21 — 61
WHS—Castle 13 run (Everett kick)
CHS—Eighmy 29 pass from Bernard (Larson good)
WHS—Watson 5 run (Everett kick)
WHS—Castle 23 yards (Pass failed)
WHS—Oliver 53 pass from Castle (Kick failed)
WHS—Watson 4 run (Everett kick)
CHS—Spinner 4 pass from Bernard (Larson kick)
WHS—Watson 8 run (Everett kick)
WHS—Castle 3 run (Everett kick)
WHS—Bond 86 run (Everett kick)
CHS—Colombo 2 run (Larson kick)
WHS—Gragg 6 run (Everett kick)
First downs 25 28
By rushing 9 22
By passing 14 1
By penalty 2 5
Rushes-yards 38-137 37-443
Avg. per run 3.6 12.0
Passing yards 309 59
Passing yards 20-32-1 2-2-0
Avg. per att. 15.5 29.5
Total plays-yards 70-446 39-502
Avg. per play 6.4 12.9
Penalties-yards 15-145 5-50
Punts-avg. 1-11.0 0-0
Fumbles-lost 3-2 0-0
Time of poss. 29:00 18:59
Third down conv. 6/14 2/3
Fourth down conv. 3/4 0/0
Rushing: CHS— Bernard 9-49, Teasley 17-48, Colombo 8-31, Haymore 3-9, Kobziak 1-0; WHS—Bond 5-164, Castle 12-104, Watson 12-101, Best 3-48, Penley 3-20, Gragg 1-6, Everett 1-0.
Passing: CHS—18-26-0 234, Deiulio 1-4-1 68, Colombo 1-2-0 7; WHS—Castle 2-2-0 59.
Receiving: CHS—Colombo 8-81, Spinner 6-78, Kobziak 1-68, Eighmy 3-56, Bockhaus 3-21, Stamper 1-5; WHS—Oliver 1-53, Bond 1-6.