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Gahagan-less Knights pierce HHS invincibility armor, in upset for ages

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By Pete Zamplas-North Henderson Knights reversed fortune on Friday the 13th behind their third-string quarterback and a ferocious defense, to beat Hendersonville in football for the first time in a decade.

The Knights (1-2) scored four touchdowns in the final 17 minutes, to crush heralded HHS 26-7. “Amazing” was NHHS receiver Dalton Whitaker’s reaction.

The inspirational performance was magnified by North winning without senior superstar QB Zack Gahagan. He is out for the rest of football and all of basketball, after tearing an ACL playing basketball last week. This set up HHS for over confidence, and North as determined underdog.

The 13th loomed even darker in the opening quarter, as substitute starter Brandon Staton left injured. He was hit while throwing. But as nighttime crept in, it became Knight time.

“We pulled together as a team,” said senior linebacker Garrett Moore. The Knights won at HHS for the first time since 2005, in a 34-13 thrashing under Coach Luke Manuel and a senior backfield of Randy Cox, Justin Lamb and William Harden.

Current Knights face the over confidence bug, in seeking the unofficial Henderson County football crown. They need to beat West Henderson (0-3) Sept. 27 then East Henderson (0-3) Oct. 4, also at home.

The surprise hero Friday was yet another injured QB in Trevor Craft, a lanky 5-foot-11, 158-pound sophomore who also kicks. His left leg was taped for the game, to ease a pulled hamstring

Craft was thrust into the pressure cooker. “Trevor grew up fast,” NHHS head coach Jason Dinwiddie said. After an early lost fumble, he increased poise and consistency. He threw for 210 yards and two scores, completing 14 of 25 passes once turned loose in spread passing to match HHS’ no-huddle offense.

Craft, who moved here from Florida at age 13, said it was a “boost up” to get into passing rhythm and score the first TD.

He was counseled by Gahagan, on sidelines. “I told him to calm down,” the senior said early on. “He’s making good reads. He just has to get up to speed of varsity, and let the others do their job.”

They did, with 6-2 downfield receiver Cory Foster unstoppable. Quick Whitaker scored twice on receptions, covering 14 then 16 yards, in two minutes. His scores sandwiched a prompt fumble recovery. The first TD and Craft’s extra point gave North a 7-6 lead, with 4:28 left in the third quarter. HHS’ Sawyer Heery previously kicked two field goals, and HHS led 3-0 at halftime.

Whitaker called that initial TD a major “confidence boost,” the second one a momentum steamroller. The Knights led 14-6, then 20-6 on a 59-yard “pick six” by Tyler Heaton as the upset heat sizzled. Tucker Garren’s one-yard plunge was the crowning glory. This onslaught reversed second-half prowess of HHS (2-2), in pulling away from West then East last week.

The Knights jousted hard in the trenches, and with fierce defense. They contained swift QB Cole Cleary, and picked him off four times — including by Zach Cannon, Nick Roberts and Moore. Moore made 18 tackles.

Last year, defense was North’s Achilles heel. But defense was its best yet Friday, Coach Dinwiddie told his squad in the victory huddle. “When you do the little things, the result is a ‘W.’” On momentum, he urged to “keep the train rolling.” He told The Tribune “We realized what kind of team we are,” with mental toughness and tenacity to win without their main star. “Our guys stepped up, and hit people.”

Gahagan said he should return for baseball, the sport is landing him a UNC-Chapel Hill scholarship. He said UNC doctors will examine him this week, and guide rehabilitation.

Also last Friday, West fell 21-19 at home, snapping North Buncombe’s 20-game losing streak. East Henderson was off.

This Friday, North hosts running machine Robbinsville. Hendersonville travels to Christ School, in Arden. West is at Mountain Heritage. East plays at Polk County.

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