BOONE — Watauga’s football team reached the third round of the state playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Actually, the Pioneers reached the Western 4-A state finals before falling to Mount Tabor in 2007. Since then, the farthest Watauga got in the playoffs was the second round, both in the 4-A and 3-AA ranks.
Weddington, which is Watauga’s opponent Nov. 30 in the third round of the state 3-AA western bracket, is a regular when it comes to reaching the third round. The Warriors captured a state championship in 2016, and lost just four players — two starters — from the 2017 edition that finished 10-4 and reached the western 3-AA semifinals.
Weddington (12-1) reached the third round of the 2018 playoffs by beating Central Cabarrus 48-0 in the first round and South Iredell 33-6. The Warriors’ lone setback this season was a 20-0 loss to Charlotte Catholic on Sept. 28.
Watauga (13-0), the top seed in the western 3-AA bracket, is coming off a second straight game where it scored 49 points. The Pioneers beat Gastonia Ashbrook 49-0 in the first round and beat Winston-Salem Parkland 49-26 on Nov. 23.
Watauga head coach Ryan Habich sees Weddington, the No. 5 seed in the bracket, as a disciplined team, especially on defense. The Warriors use a multiple 4-3 defensive front and stay in position.
“They’re going to be particularly good because they are very athletic,” Habich said. “They’ve made it to the third round every year for the past five years and won a state championship two years ago and they still have players who were on that team.”
One player in particular that has several major colleges’ attention is running back Will Shipley, a sophomore who has gained 952 yards on 141 carries. Habich said Shipley is considered as a four-star recruit and has already received offers from Arkansas, Duke, N.C. State and South Carolina.
“They’ve got a four-star running back who has been offered by every school in the country,” Habich said of Shipley. “He’s only a sophomore. They’re talented on offense and on special teams and their kicker can make 50-yard field goals.”
As impressed as Habich is with Weddington’s offense and kicking game, he said the Warriors truly stand out defensively. It presents a potentially interesting standoff between Weddington’s defense and Watauga’s running game, which exploded in the Pioneers’ win over Parkland.
Watauga running back Bryce Satterfield gained 322 yards on just 26 carries and tied a program record by scoring six touchdowns. Satterfield leads Watauga in rushing with 1,587 yards and has scored 22 touchdowns.
Parkland concentrated on stopping quarterback Anderson Castle, who has gained 666 yards and scored 11 touchdowns this season, so much that running lanes up the middle were wide open for Satterfield to run through.
Habich expects Weddington to be more active in stopping those lanes from opening.
“The thing that stands out about them is how disciplined they are,” Habich said. “There’s really not a weakness in any part of their game offensively, defensively and special teams. I think what really stands out the most is the defense. They’re so dominant on defense and that’s the scary point. Their offense is good, but they get so many chances (to score) because their defense is so dominant.”
Habich feels that the Warriors will try to take away Satterfield’s options, which will leave the Watauga coaching staff looking for others. One could be getting the ball to Jaiden Bond, who has gained 1,125 yards rushing on just 71 carries. Bond also has scored 12 touchdowns.
“We’ve got to find something that works,” Habich said. “We’ve got to block better. We’ve got to block along the perimeter and we’ve got to be able to do more things because it’s not going to be like last week. Their defense is so good we’re going to have to find multiple things to attack with.”