HICKORY — The last time Watauga football traveled to St. Stephens, the Indians rallied in the fourth quarter for a 26-21 upset victory.
This time, the Pioneers didn’t let St. Stephens come close to an upset.
Dominating with a 617-195 yardage advantage and a seven-touchdown performance from quarterback Anderson Castle, Watauga routed St. Stephens in a 67-14 road victory.
The win is the sixth straight for Watauga, who moves to 8-1 overall and 4-0 in the Northwestern Conference. St. Stephens falls to 4-4 overall and 1-2 in the NWC.
Castle accounted for 443 yards of offense, going 6 of 9 passing for 268 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 10 times for 175 yards and four more scores.
“Ever since Bryce (Satterfield) went down, we had to adjust our offense a little bit and Anderson (Castle) and Jaiden (Bond) are carrying the football a little bit more … as we close the conference, we just want to try some things we’re working on during practice,” Watauga head coach Ryan Habich said. “We did some things from the shotgun and some things that I was real impressed with.”
On defense, Jake Watson accounted for 9.5 tackles, seven of which were solo. Orlando Leon got the Pioneers’ only sack of the game on a fourth-down situation for St. Stephens, and Adrion Cassidy returned an Indians fumble 27 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Ty Southern also notched a fumble recovery as well.
“Anytime you have an offensive lineman or defensive lineman score a touchdown, that’s real big,” Habich said of Cassidy’s touchdown.
Jaiden Bond hit the century mark in receiving and rushing, going for 121 yards on five rushes and two scores, then adding 105 yards receiving on two catches plus a touchdown. Sebastian Best only had two catches on the night, but both were touchdowns, accounting for his 126 yards receiving.
“We did a good job offensively, (we had) a lot of big plays against them, we thought that going in that we had some advantages on the perimeter ... we got some good skills guys and made plays on the perimeter,” Habich said after the game.
The tone was set from the first play from scrimmage as Bond ran around the right side and dashed 68 yards for a touchdown. After an Indians punt, it took the Pioneers three more plays to find the end zone as Castle found Sebastian Best deep for a 53-yard touchdown to make it 13-0 quickly.
“They were worried about our speed,” Habich said. “They got out there, but we got one guy to miss and it was hard to catch up to us.”
St. Stephens was able to grind out a 14-play, 64-yard drive that took 6:55 off the clock and ended with a four-yard Zak McLauchlin touchdown to make it 13-7.
The next drive was a little bit longer for Watauga, four plays, and ended with Castle finding the edge and going 44 yards to give the Pioneers a 20-7 lead early in the second quarter.
After forcing a three and out, Watauga’s offense went back to work, going seven plays with Castle running it in from 10 yards out in 2:15.
The Indians ground out their second and final scoring drive late in the second quarter, going 15 plays in 5:29 to make it 26-14 with 48 seconds left.
“They were a little bit more physical than we were as far as our defense in the first half and they controlled the clock,” Habich said.
But just like the last minute of the first half versus Hickory, Castle was able to drive down the field in a short amount of time. In a five-play, 43-second drive with no timeouts, Watauga re-established a three-score lead as Castle scrambled in from 10 yards out with five seconds left.
“Getting that score before halftime, just like last week, was huge,” Habich said. “We go in there, and they score right after halftime, and it’s a one-score game.”
After giving up two long touchdown drives in the first half, the Watauga defense showed up in the second half, with Leon sacking St. Stephens quarterback Connor Williams on 4th and 2 from the Watauga 37 to give the offense the ball back.
“We felt felt pretty good about our offense, but it was key for the defense to get that stop there,” Habich said of the sack.
Following a delay of game penalty, Castle only needed one play to score as he ran it in from 61 yards out to give the Pioneers a commanding 40-14 lead, but there was more to come shortly.
The WHS defense forced a three and out, then three plays later, Castle found Bond for a 70-yard catch and run touchdown. Then on the ensuing kickoff, Lucus Towle forced the ball out and Jayden Robbins recovered it.
Two plays later, Bond lit up the scoreboard again with a 43-yard touchdown run, making it 54-14 early in the third quarter.
“I really enjoyed watching our players come out in the second half and playing (with) a little more intensity on defense,” Habich said.
When it rained, it poured on the Indians as three offensive plays later, Cassidy forced a fumble by Matthew Hancock, picked it up and ran it 27 yards to pay dirt. It was the fourth Watauga touchdown in just over four minutes, giving WHS a 61-14 lead and instituting a running clock for the rest of the game.
The Indians’ next drive got to midfield before St. Stephens punted, then the final score of the game came early in the third quarter as Castle found Best deep for a 73-yard touchdown to make it a 67-14 scoreline.
Going forward, WHS is two wins away from the Northwestern Conference championship.
“We don’t talk a lot about championships, we talk about working to win and developing championship habits,” Habich said. “We focus on each week.”
Next up for Watauga is the senior night versus McDowell on Friday, Oct. 25, at Jack Groce Stadium in Boone. The Titans are 1-7 overall and 0-4 in the NWC, having been blanked 63-0 by Alexander Central.
“It’s one of those games that you got to get ready to play each week,” Habich said. “Our goal each week is to go 1-0. It’s a home game at Jack Groce stadium … a lot of these kids are three-year starters and they love playing at home.”
Watauga 67, St. Stephens 14
St. Stephens 7 7 0 0 — 14
Watauga 3 20 28 6 — 67
WHS— Bond 68 run (Kick failed)
WHS— Best 52 pass from Castle (Everett kick)
SSHS— McLauchlin 4 run (Yang kick)
WHS— Castle 44 run (Everett kick)
WHS— Castle 10 run (run failed)
SSHS— Williams 1 run (Yang kick)
WHS— Castle 10 run (Everett kick)
WHS— Castle 61 run (Everett kick)
WHS— Bond 70 pass from Castle (Everett kick)
WHS— Bond 43 run (Everett kick)
WHS—Cassidy 27 fumble return (Everett kick)
WHS— Best 73 pass from Castle (kick failed)
St. Stephens Watauga
First downs 15 17
By rushing 11 11
By passing 3 1
By penalty 1 0
Rushes-yards 36-121 21-349
Avg. per rush 3.4 16.6
Passing yards 74 268
Passes 15-21-0 6-9-3
Avg. per att. 4.9 44.7
Punts-avg. 4-34.8 1-34
Penalties-yards 4-25 8-80
Fumbles-lost 5-3 1-0
Time of poss. 28:17 19:23
Third-down poss. 5-12 1-2
Fourth-down poss. 2-3 0-0
Rushing: Watauga— Castle 10-175, Bond 5-121, Best 3-37, Penley 2-11, Watson 1-5; St. Stephens— McLauchlin 13-56, Brown 7-39, Hancock 13-31, Williams 3-(-5)
Passing: Watauga— Castle 6-9-3 268; St. Stephens— Williams 15-21-0 74
Receiving: Watauga— Best 2-126, Bond 2-105, Oliver 2-37; St. Stephens— Lee 7-50, Hancock 3-14, McLauchlin 1-7, McPherson 3-7, Millsaps 1-(-4)