BOONE — The Watauga football team went into its state 3-AA playoff game with visiting Mount Tabor averaging 51 points per game, but facing a Spartans team that has one of the top defenses in the 3-AA playoffs.
Watauga found just enough offense to go with a solid defense of its own and reached the fourth round of the state 3-AA playoffs with a 35-13 victory at Jack Groce Stadium on Nov. 29.
The Pioneers (12-1) play their next 2019 playoff game Dec. 6 at Weddington in a rematch of a playoff game last season. Weddington (14-0), the defending 3-AA state champions, beat Northwest Cabarrus 49-7 after taking a 28-0 halftime lead. Weddington ended Watauga’s season last year 42-14 in the third round of the playoffs.
Watauga, who lost to Mount Tabor in the 2017 state 4-A playoffs, never trailed in the rematch. Watauga got the first of three touchdown runs from Jake Watson on the Pioneers’ second drive of the game. Watson’s touchdown run, a one-yard plunge, capped a 60-yard 12-play drive and gave the Pioneers a 7-0 lead.
“Hats off to their coach,” Mount Tabor coach Tiesuan Brown said. “They did a real good job. We were able to take away the quarterback, but they had other guys making plays.”
Watauga usually is led in rushing by quarterback Anderson Castle or wingback Jaiden Bond in rushing. Instead of trying to match Mount Tabor’s defensive speed on the perimeter, the Pioneers ran the ball inside featuring Watson, who led the Pioneers in rushing with 106 yards on 22 carries.
Bond added 87 yards and Castle finished with 82, giving the Pioneers 282 yards rushing on 53 carries.
“I’ll say it, we were outmanned up front,” Watauga coach Ryan Habich said. “They beat us up front on both sides, but our kids showed the character and the resolve to not give up and get the hard yardage.”
Mount Tabor (9-5) tied the game 7-7 on a Jordan Zertusche three-yard run in the second quarter, but Watauga took the lead for good when Watson scored on a five-yard run with 12.6 seconds left in the first half to claim a 14-7 halftime lead.
Watauga broke the game open after McIntyre scored on an eight-yard touchdown run at the start of the fourth quarter. Watson blocked the extra point and then scored on a two-yard touchdown run with 9:49 left in the game that gave Watauga a 21-13 lead.
The Pioneers got the ball back with 7:37 left sealed the victory with a 13-play drive that included two fourth-down conversions and a third down conversion on a one-yard Watson touchdown run with 36.6 seconds left in the game.
“We had to find a way to get the hard yardage up front,” Habich said. “They were the top defensive team in the whole state of North Carolina. They scrimmaged Mallard Creek and they only scored seven points against them. Reagan High School only scored 14 and we knew going into the game it would be tough offensively, but we had to find a way to score 21 or 28 points.”
Watauga’s defense added the finishing touchdown with a 13-yard interception return by linebacker Eli Towle.
“I just stayed in the flat and he just threw it to me,” Towle said. “There’s not much to it. Just catch the ball and run.”
Watauga’s defense limited Mount Tabor to just 118 yards rushing and 172 yards in total offense. McIntire led the Spartans in rushing with 100 yards on 17 carries. Towle said the Watauga defensive coaching staff emphasized tackling and make sure they had control of the gaps the gaps they were responsible to control.
“We fit our gaps really well,” Towle said. “We kept their running back under control because he ran for some yards last week.”
Watauga 35, Mount Tabor 13
Mount Tabor 0 7 0 6 — 13
Watauga 7 7 0 21— 35
WHS—Watson 1 run (Everett good)
MT—Zertusce 3 run (Trinh kick)
WHS—Watson 5 run (Everett kick)
MT—McIntyre 8 (Kick blocked)
WHS—Castle 2 run (Everett kick)
WHS—Watson 1 run (Everett kick)
WHS—Towle 14 interception return (Everett kick)
Mount Tabor Watauga
First downs 11 18
By rushing 8 17
By passing 3 1
By penalty 0 0
Rushes-yards 29-118 53-282
Avg per rush 4.1 5.3
Passing yards 54 33
Passes 6-12-1 2-4-1
Total plays-yards 41-172 57-315
Avg. per play 4.2 5.5
Penalties-yards 3-30 0-0
Punts-avg. 5-40.0 3-39.7
Time of poss. 18”41 29:19
Third down conv. 3-9 4-12
Fourth down conv. 0-0 5-5
Rushing: Mount Tabor—McIntyre 17-100, Aikens 7-27, Tertuche 2-8, Roberts 2-5, TEAM—1-(-22); Watauga— Watson 22-106, Bond 12-87, Castle 17-82, Best 2-7.
Passing: Mount Tabor—Zertuche 6-12-1 54; Watauga—Castle 2-4-1 33.
Receiving: Mount Tabor— Patterson 3-33, Roberts 2-19, Gemmell 1-2; Watauga—Oliver 2-33.