BOONE — When Watauga faces A.L. (Kannapolis) Brown in the second round of the state 3-AA football playoffs, the Pioneers face the Wonders themselves and the tradition that comes with them.
A.L. Brown visits Jack Groce Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. showdown on Nov. 22 in a game between the second-seeded Pioneers (11-1) and the 10th-seeded Wonders.
A.L. Brown has a tradition that makes the Wonders one of the state’s “blue bloods” of prep football. Over the years, the Wonders have won 24 conference championships, three state championships and were state runner-ups three other times. The Wonders have an overall record of 451-148-3 and have reached the second round of the state playoffs 29 times.
Watauga coach Ryan Habich is very aware of the Wonders’ history. He is looking forward to taking on the Wonders, especially in the chilly confines of Jack Groce Stadium.
“It’s neat. They’re a team we haven’t played since I’ve been here,” Habich said. “We’ve been in the same bracket, it seems for the past five years, but never got the opportunity to play. They’re a historic program and a tradition-rich program. They’ve got a lot of good players and our players don’t know much about their tradition, but they’ll watch film. From a playoff perspective, it’s neat to play these teams you don’t usually play.”
Both teams scored big points in the first round of the playoffs. Watauga is coming off a resounding 61-21 victory over visiting Cuthbertson on Nov. 15, while Brown (8-3) outlasted T.C. Roberson 56-50. Brown outscored Roberson 20-7 in the fourth quarter to beat the Rams in Asheville.
The Wonders and the Pioneers like to run the football. Brown rushed for 403 yards, but also threw for 168 yards against Roberson.
The Wonders turned to running back Jakhiry Bennett, who churned out 322 rushing yards and scored four touchdowns on 28 carries.
The Pioneers ran for 502 yards in total offense and ran for 443 yards against Cuthbertson. The Pioneers used a committee of three runners — Jaiden Bond, Anderson Castle and Jake Watson — to rush for more than 100 yards each.
Bond, a wingback, was the top gainer against Cuthbertson by gaining 164 yards on just five carries. Bond gained 86 of those yards on a touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Castle, the Pioneers’ quarterback, added 104 yards on 12 carries and three touchdowns, while Watson gained 101 yards on 12 carries.
Bennett is at the top of Watauga’s list when it comes to players they need to stop. Habich doesn’t expect to stop Bennett completely, but the Pioneers will need to force some stops during the game if they want to win.
“We’ve got to find ways to get stops,” Habich said. “We don’t have the personnel to line up and stop a team like A.L. Brown. They have a size advantage on us and they have a speed advantage on us. We have to be opportunistic and do what we do. The key thing is to neutralize the run, but they can run the ball and throw the ball a bit.”
Brown, coached by Mike Newsome, finished fourth in a tie for third in the tough South Piedmont Conference. The Wonders beat a Davie County 43-40 team that beat Pfafftown Reagan 49-42 on Oct. 18. Reagan handed Watauga its only loss of the season, having beat the Pioneers 63-35.
“We can’t give them the big plays,” Habich said. “We’ve got to find a way to keep them out of the end zone if we can’t consistently score. That’s going to be a challenge for us and we have to be ready for that, but they are up there with Reagan as far as athletes. They might have more size than Reagan as far as a team.”