BOONE — After suffering their second-straight loss, the Watauga Pioneers football team are still trying to get every piece of the puzzle in the right place.
The Pioneers (1-2) are now tasked with avoiding a three-game skid on Friday, Sept. 10, in a home game against Burns (2-1), who themselves are coming off of a 19-14 loss to Kings Mountain.
As they move their way through a tough non-conference schedule, the Pioneers have not yet shown their full potential. Injuries set them back to third-string quarterback Wyatt Keller for their most recent game, a 34-23 loss to Mitchell, and the team is riddled with players getting used to varsity minutes.
In their last two games, against Mitchell and Maiden, the Pioneers have been outscored 81-23, and head coach Ryan Habich said the young Watauga team is developing as it plays.
“These kids didn’t have much of an offseason. They played in the spring, then they went to baseball and track and then we had about 14 practices in the summer,” Habich said. “I don’t think a lot of our guys are physically tough, like we’ve been in the past. A lot of times, in the offseason, you’re able to do that. I think what’s has made us the way we’ve been in the past is the offseason where kids work from January all the way through August.”
Habich added that he is a big fan of the young players stepping up, noting that they have been growing as the season progresses. Of the team’s 40 players, 12 are seniors, but that number does not show that Carter Everett will likely only be kicking this year after an ACL injury and that the team cannot rely on only 11 players for every snap.
After the loss to Mitchell, Habich noted that what sunk the Pioneers were self-inflicted wounds — mistakes symptomatic of young squads still finding their way.
“We’re young, we’re inexperienced and green. When you start losing guys on the field and put new guys out there and they make mistakes, it’s hard to do what you want to do,” Habich said.
A bright spot in the defeat was the Keller to Orlando Leon connection. The third stinger found his all-conference tight end five times for 195 yards and two scores, but the problem is they were the only five passes Keller completed. Looking ahead to Burns, Habich said he expects the Bulldogs’ defense to key in on Leon.
“They’re really good and we know they’re really good,” Habich said. “They have speed and everything else. I’m sure they’re gonna have an eye for Orlando. We’ve moved Orlando around a little bit (against Mitchell) and now they have that game film. Now, we got to have some other players step up.”
While Watauga attempted 12 passes against Mitchell, the most of their three games this season, they still played their game by rushing 42 times. In Burns, they find their opposites, a team that only had 22 rushing attempts in their first two games combined and prefers a passing attack.
However, Habich is focusing on his own team, purposefully setting a difficult non-conference schedule to strengthen the squad before another run at a conference title. Earlier in the season, he pointed to the run of Maiden, Mitchell and Burns as one of, if not the, biggest challenges for the team as all three are competing for state titles as powerhouse programs.
The game against Burns will be one of the final chances for development the Pioneers have before beginning conference play after a non-conference matchup with Ashe County.
Habich said after the game against Mitchell that the status of starting quarterback Carlton Horrine, who is yet to play this season due to injury, is still uncertain. However, he said that Horrine or not, the Pioneers need to cut down on the mistakes.
Watauga’s game against Burns will be played in Jack Groce Stadium on Friday, Sept. 10, with a kickoff time of 7:30 p.m.