MATTHEWS — The Weddington football team had two offsides penalties in the first two plays of its 3-AA state semifinals game against visiting Watauga.
The two penalties gave Watauga its first down. Weddington did not give the Pioneers much else the rest of the game.
Weddington used a 35-point lead to cruise to a 49-14 victory over Watauga at Weddington’s field Dec. 6. Weddington (15-0), the defending 3-AA state champion and winner of two of the last three state titles, plays Lee County for a third state championship in four years.
Watauga’s first appearance in a state semifinal game since 2007, ended with a loss that left the Pioneers with a final 13-2 record. It was the second year that the Pioneers’ season ended with a loss to Weddington since the Warriors claimed a 42-14 victory over Watauga in the third round of the 3-AA playoffs in 2018.
“We had to play a perfect game and we didn’t play a perfect game by any means,” Watauga head coach Ryan Habich said. “We didn’t get as many breaks as we needed to stay in the game and make it a fourth-quarter game.”
Watauga won the pregame coin toss, started its possession at its own 20-yard line, and accepted two Weddington offsides penalties. The same Weddington player jumped offsides when Watauga’s offense did a shift that included four players.
Watauga was forced to punt the ball on the possession anyway, and Weddington responded by driving 89 yards on nine plays. Weddington’s standout running back Will Shipley ran for 40 of the yards on the drive and ran 36 yards with a swing pass on the drive’s first play.
Shipley capped the march with a 1-yard plunge to score the first of his two touchdowns in the first quarter. Shipley, a junior who is being recruited by the top college football programs in the country, added an 82-yard touchdown run on the Warriors’ next possession to give Weddington a 14-0 lead.
Shipley finished the game with 169 yards rushing on just 14 carries. He led the Weddington offense that gained 445 yards on 47 plays, an average of 9.5 yards per play.
“Weddington is a better football team this year than they were last year,” Habich said. “They had a few players transfer in, and their defense, their safety (Malik Mustapha) was all over the field. Shipley was a year older and they beat everyone.”
Watauga, which went into the game averaging 51.7 points and 488.1 yards per game, settled for 229 yards on 47 plays against the Warriors. The Pioneers, who have a 2,000-yard rusher in quarterback Anderson Castle and a 1,000-yard rusher in Jaiden Bond, settled for 95 yards rushing.
“They had so many guys in the box,” Habich said. “We tried to go outside with the option and we weren’t blocking the perimeter very well. They’re so fast coming down. I thought we could do a better job on the perimeter, but they’re so good on defense.”
Castle added a 23-yard touchdown run that was set up by a fumble recovery by Jake Gragg.
“Their safeties flew to the ball,” Bond said. “They had a lot of good players and we just couldn’t get the ball outside.”
Shipley gave credit to the Weddington coaching staff for preparing the Warriors for Watauga’s option offense.
“It was a huge week of preparation, especially with how they run their offense,” Shipley, who also plays defensive back, said. “We knew they were prepared and it was helpful seeing them last year.”
Watauga proved to be more effective through the air. Castle completed 7-of-16 passes for 78 yards, but the Pioneers could not convert a Bond option pass that went for 56 yards to Grant Oliver into a touchdown. The play gave Watauga a first down at the Weddington 9-yard, but the Pioneers came away empty.
“We had a chance to score in the red zone on the second drive and little things hurt us,” Habich said. “We had a receiver who lined up wrong and I thought the play could have been open. When we get inside the 10-yard line and we don’t score points, that’s discouraging especially when we knew how hard it was going to be to stop their offense.”
Weddington 49, Watauga 14
Watauga 0 7 0 7 — 14
Weddington 14 21 14 0 — 49
Wed—Shipley 1 run (Williams kick)
Wed—Shipley 82 run (Williams kick)
Wed—Mock 15 pass from Casciola (Williams kick)
Wed—Mercer 6 run (Williams kick)
Wed—Tuttle 60 pass from Casciola (Williams kick)
Wat—Oliver 14 pass from Castle (Everett kick)
Wed—Barsz 11 pass from Casciola (Williams kick)
Wed—Backey 12 pass from Casciola (Williams kick)
Wat—Castle 23 run (Everett kick)
First downs 12 22
By rushing 4 15
By passing 6 7
By penalty 2 0
Rushes-yards 28-95 32-257
Avg. per rush 3.4 8.0
Passing yards 134 188
Passes 8-19-2 10-15-1
Avg. per att. 16.8 18.8
Total plays-yards 47-229 47-445
Avg. per play 4.9 9.5
Penalties-yards 4-20 6-50
Punts-avg. 4-41.0 1-44.0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-1
Time of poss. 23:57 24:03
Third down conv. 3-9 4-5
Fourth down conv. 0-2 0-0
Rushing: Watauga—Castle 15-88, Watson 4-14, Bond 9-(-7); Weddington—Shipley 14-169, Backey 2-30, Gordon 7-27, Parsons 4-27, Mercer 2-5, Mustapha 1-1, Casciola 2-(-2).
Passing: Watauga—Castle 7-16-2 78, Bond 1-3-0 56; Casciola 9-12-1 183, Shipley 1-2-0 5, Brosterhous 0-1-0 0.
Receiving: Watauga—Oliver 8-105, Bond 2-29; Weddington—Shipley 3-66, Tuttle 2-65, Mock 1-15, Backey 1-12, Barsz 1-11, Mercer 1-10, Parson 1-9.