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North Knights look for encore to county championship crusade

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Ashton Woodring charges on a quarterback keeper. Closing in are TCR Rams Angelo Cogburn (7), Seth Griswold (10) who is WNC’s top returning tackler, and Dayquan Watkins who is 6-6, 328.

Visiting T.C. Roberson, a 4-A power, pulled away to win 34-14 on a night when the lone local victor was West Henderson by 28-26 at Madison.

The most dramatic play in Fruitland was when First Knight Whitaker burst through the coverage, raced past TCR defenders and soared sideways into the end zone. The electric play covered 99 yards — a likely NHHS record. Trevor Craft’s extra point cut TCR’s lead to 17-14, with 8:06 to go in the third quarter.

Whitaker has 4.41 speed. Nearest to him in the end of that kick return was fellow speedster Kam Gilliland. He scored TCR’s first two touchdowns, on runs. Whitaker also scored his team’s first two TDs. The first was on a pass reception. He was hit, spun in the air, but hung onto the ball as he crossed the goal line. That tied the game, at 7.

Whitaker, a senior who caught 43 passes for six TDs last year, made acrobatic leaping receptions last Friday. The aerial radar hones in on him. Whitaker can go deep, leap over taller defenders, snare off-mark throws, and elusively turn screens into long gains. “He’s a great runner and finisher,” third-year head coach Jason Dinwiddie said.

The teams traded scores in the first half, which Roberson led 10-7. North missed a golden chance, with a dropped TD bomb pass. In the second half, the Rams cashed in on turnovers with some deep in North territory.

The Knights finished 3-4 in the Western North Carolina Athletic Conference in 2013. They won three of four games with Trevor Craft (now a 6-0, 181 jr.) starting at quarterback. The first was a 27-6 upset in Hendersonville (HHS), in week three. Two weeks later they opened the WNCAC campaign by thrashing the other two Henderson County teams — West Henderson by 27, then East by 28 points.

The Knights thereby won their first unofficial county crown in 20 years. That feat and the win over HHS felt “awesome,” Whitaker said. Beating East, another recent power, was also very rewarding.

Craft said he got over jitters versus HHS, once the offense was “executing,” and confidence soared. He had the most QB snaps, in the opener Friday. Muscular Ashton Woodring (6-1, 212 jr.) was a force as a defensive end against TCR. He was the QB last year after fellow sophomore Craft was hurt, and took several snaps Friday.

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Trevor Craft passes for the Knights.

Woodring diversifies the offense with QB keepers, which are most useful in the red zone. Heading into the season, Dinwiddie cited Woodring’s “feel” and “mental and physical toughness” and praised Craft’s “pocket poise” in the spread. They combined for 1,746 passing yards and 15 TDs in ’13.

North Henderson returns five of 11 starters, on each side. Two of the merely five seniors are receivers — Whitaker (5-8, 158 sr.) and Johnny Heim (6-2, 177 sr.). He is five inches taller than his brother Nick (NHHS ’11), the former QB. Jacob Garrett (5-10, 163 jr.) and Devon Graham (6-2, 161 so.) are also in the five-receiver spread assault.

New running backs include Austin Vanhoy (5-5, 141 so.) who is “tougher than nails,” aptly- named Lejuan Rush (5-9, 202 so.) who is among “freakishly strong” Knights, the coach said.

The Knight wall up front has RG Eric Reyes (5-10, 256 jr.), center Nic Scroggs (6-0, 260 sr.), LT Damian Murphy (5-11, 262 so.), RT Jacob Freeman (6-2, 200 jr.), and at LG Matthew Fowler (5-7, 231 jr.) or Daniel Dowling (6-0, 208 jr.). Dinwiddie likes their strength.

The 4-4-3 defense features ILBs Cole McCarson (6-1, 211 jr.) and Austin Frickel (5-11, 208 sr.), NG Vanndel Gray (6-2, 271 so.) and CB Ryan Swanson (6-0, 146 jr.) among others. “We hang our hat on being physical and smart,” Dinwiddie said. His prime objective, simply, is to “compete for the conference championship.”

North is off this Friday, has a tough road game at Swain, then hosts Hendersonville Sept. 12 in a widely-anticipated rematch.

This Friday marks two local home openers. West welcomes HHS, and Robbinsville’s rushing machine rumbles into East Flat Rock.

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