Leading Falcon rusher Cody Jackson (4) races around end.
This Friday, West (8-4) hosts West Region 15th seed East Rowan (6-6) of Salisbury. The Mustangs edged previously-unbeaten Morganton Freedom 50-49, outscoring the Patriots by three touchdowns to one in the second quarter. The shocking upset keeps the seventh-seeded Falcons at home, in round two.
The West-East Rowan victor next plays at the winner of unbeaten third seed Concord, which K.O.’ed Tuscola 49-7, or sixth seed South Point (8-4).
West Henderson is the lone Henderson County team still in playoffs, after 2-A Hendersonville (7-5) was carved up by Carver (9-2) by 62-31 in Winston-Salem. Carver scored on two kickoff returns and an interception. HHS lost three of four such shootouts totaling at least 89 points, and dropped its final three contests.
Still, the “Aircats” entertained with junior Michael Schmidt throwing for nearly 3,000 yards — with a WNC-seasonal record 1,818 to senior Cole Cleary who is among national prep leaders in reception yards. He averaged 24 yards per catch.
West’s offense also sparkled, surpassing 40 points in three of the last five contests. West averages a win in two of three games. Paul Whitaker has his finest of five years as head coach. He praised the “team effort” Friday, in winning West’s first home playoff held in seven years.
The Falcons churned out 480 rushing yards Friday. That comes out to 10 yards and a first down per minute. They compiled 262 yards in the first half, on 38 carries. They ran 32 more times in the second half, devouring time on a frigid night when hits stung ever more and a lingering deficit chilled the Mountaineers.
West balanced its option-running assault, with a trio of 100-yard senior rushers. Burly Brendan Goings was a workhorse inside on 32 carries for 179 yards, including 108 in the second half. He scored twice in the first half. He notched West’s first TD, on a six-yard grind. His two-yard plunge with 1:22 to go in the second provided a 28-13 halftime lead.
Cody Jackson ran 20 times for 184 yards, with 155 yards in the first half. He routinely cut upfield with his most remarkable timing and precision yet. He broke loose for a dazzling, zig-zagging 19-yard TD. That gave West a commanding 41-13 edge, with 2:54 to go in the third quarter. His three-yard TD run enabled West to seize its initial lead, at 14-7. He ran 30 yards to the two, to set up Going’s second score. Action Jackson leads West with 1,133 rushing yards in 2014.
Dustie Fender turned in 14 carries for 111 yards, with 81 on Fender-benders in the second half. His 19-yard TD run on the right side capped a four-minute, 55-yard drive to start the second half. He zipped through for 33 yards on a run on West’s next drive, and for 22 yards early in the final quarter. Fender twice intercepted passes in the second quarter, snuffing out successive Kings Mountain drives. His second pick was near the goal line, with 16 seconds before halftime.
West quarterback William Crouch scored on a one-yard keeper, as he ran four times for six yards in the first half. The senior only had to pass a couple of times.
The Falcon defense also clicked. Senior Zack Boyd slung QB Brandon Bell to the ground. Sophomore Landon Owen and junior Davis Fisher combined on another sack. Junior Dante Padilla deflected a fourth-down pass. Both junior Stephen Perron and senior Tanner Bullock have already exceeded 100 tackles this season.
The Mountaineers (8-4) scored three of their four TDs due to big plays, once on a kickoff return. Jake Merchant snatched the ball from the West runner near midfield, and returned it for a TD. He caught a 10-yard lob pass for the first score, soon after his team recovered a bobbled Falcon pitchout. The ball bounced 19 yards back to the West 13, amidst a wild scramble for it.
The playoff Friday starts at the usual 7:30 p.m., on a night forecast to drift below freezing.