Watauga hosts Hickory

Watauga’s Jake Gragg (left), Jake Watson (5) and Adrion Cassidy make a tackle against Gastonia Ashbrook. The Pioneers host Hickory on Oct. 11.

BOONE — The Hickory nonconference football schedule maker was not kind to the Red Tornadoes this season.

Hickory faced its share of heavyweights in the first five weeks of the season. The Red Tornadoes faced powerful programs such as Statesville, Hibriten, Newton-Conover, Gastonia Huss and Ronald Reagan in the first five weeks of the season.

Not surprisingly, Hickory started the season with a 0-5 record. Since then, Hickory has won its last two games. Showdowns with McDowell and Freedom puts the Red Tornadoes (2-5, 2-4 NWC) into an early tie with Watauga (6-1, 2-0) for first place in the Northwestern Conference.

The battle for the top between Watauga and Hickory is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Oct. 11 at Jack Groce Stadium.

Hickory brings a team coming off a 23-22 win over Freedom on Oct. 4, while the Pioneers blistered Alexander Central 42-10.

Habich said Watauga’s defense will have to contain Hickory’s standout running back Cody Young, who ran for 1,137 yards and 19 touchdowns in just eight games last season. Young scored on an 18-yard touchdown run against the Pioneers last season, but Watauga claimed a 43-23 win over the Red Tornadoes in 2018 after breaking a 14-14 halftime tie.

“They’ve probably got the best player in the conference,” Habich said. “He’s a dynamic player. He can do it by himself. He’s a pretty special player who can do so much with so little space. It’s pretty amazing.”

Habich said the Pioneers must find a way to contain Young, who has excellent speed and the ability to escape closing tacklers.

“This guy is like Superman,” Habich said. “There’s not that many guys like him in this area who can do what he can do. When he lines up, you have to make sure you’re around him, but what makes him so good is how he can change directions. It’s kind of like backyard football. He’s able to stop and get 15 yards, but he has run 40 yards. He’s going to be so much more athletic than our guys on the perimeter. The goal is not to be in situations where you’re not in a one-on-one and that we have three people and make sure to squeeze him down.”

Habich cautioned that quarterback Jason Martin is a good passer and 6-foot-7 receiver Davis Amos caught 31 passes for 293 yards and six touchdowns last season.

“We’ve got to remember to cover their receivers and not let them get wide open,” Habich said. “If you concentrate so much on this super-back that you don’t pay any attention to their receivers, they can get open and make big plays and that’s what they did against Freedom. They can make really big plays in the passing game.”

Watauga’s offense has been producing big numbers so far this season. The Pioneers average 47.6 points per game, which leads the conference. Watauga also allows just 19 points per game, which is also tops in the NWC.

Watauga quarterback Anderson Castle’s 74 yards gained in Watauga’s 42-10 win over Alexander Central leaves him with 995 yards in just seven games. Jaiden Bond picked up 146 yards on just 11 carries against Alexander Central and is second on the team in rushing with 686 yards and eight scores.

Habich said Hickory will play a different game that Watauga’s last three opponents of Gastonia Ashbrook, South Caldwell and Alexander Central, which use more power on offense than the speed Hickory brings. Habich compared Hickory’s open-field running to Reagan’s, which beat Watauga 63-35.

“We had some very physical, power-running type teams,” Habich said. “Now we’re facing a team that likes to spread you out and likes to play in space. It’s a big challenge for our kids, because we didn’t play well against Reagan. We got exposed against Reagan and they do very similar things that Reagan does.”

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