“We open it up, say ‘the heck with it!’ and go for broke,” fourth-year head coach Jason Dinwiddie said of aggressive play-calling.
The Knights have already surpassed last season’s win total at 3-1 behind a strong-armed quarterback, bullish receiver, big line and much-improved defense “getting more hats to the football and gang-tackling.” There were merely three seniors on the ’14 squad. Half of starters are back.
This is NHHS’ first 3-1 varsity football start in eight years. Since the Knights won their last two of 2014, they are on a 5-1 roll. Wins this year are against esteemed programs — at T.C. Roberson 14-7, 20-14 over Polk County, then two weeks later at HHS after a close 28-24 loss to Swain.
The NHHS-HHS game was postponed a day, due to lightning and heavy rains saturating Dietz Field. It did not rain Saturday by game’s end. But the Knights poured it on, for the triumph. “This sure was a big one,” Dinwiddie said.
North led 14-0. HHS scored the next 10 points. But quarterback Trevor Craft bolted 13 yards, as the visitors scored to retake momentum a half-minute before intermission for a 21-10 bulge.
Ashton Woodring snares a 28-yard TD catch, to propel victory. Watching at right are Heritage Coach Joey Robinson and his QB son Trey. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
North is off this Friday, then opens its WNC Athletic Conference season at home versus West Henderson (3-0) on Sept. 25. The winner is frontrunner for the unofficial Henderson County crown. This looms as the biggest varsity football game ever between these two multi-sport rivals.
West blasted North Buncombe 35-16 Friday, and averages 37-12 thrashings. The Falcons play at a fellow rushing machine, Mountain Heritage, this Friday. East Henderson (0-3) is at Polk.
HHS (1-3) has lost two of three lopsided games — by 42-14 to West two weeks ago then 48-17 Friday. “They killed us,” HHS head coach Eric Gash solemnly said. The losses sandwiched a 42-8 win over East Henderson.
HHS is at powerhouse A.C. Reynolds this Friday, then begins its Western Highlands Conference season hosting Heritage Sept. 25. Heritage won a wild 46-43 game over HHS last year, blocking a field goal in the end. Head coach Joey Robinson and his son Trey, the QB, beamed when scouting HHS in person Friday.
Craft is a Bearcat slayer, with multiple wins on Dietz Field. He emerged there two years ago as a sophomore emergency fill-in, as North pulled off a huge upset by 27-6. HHS got payback, by 34-7 at North last year.
This time, both teams came in with plenty of firepower and hopes. Knight confidence is soaring this season, Craft said. “We’re fighting hard.”
Craft threw for three touchdowns Friday. He ran 17 times for 54 yards and a TD, and threw for 154 to total 208 yards. All-WNCAC talent Craft (6-1, 180 sr.) and his coach both credit his weight training for an even stronger arm, enabling him to better lob the ball with touch and accuracy. He has often been sensational.
“He’s a fierce competitor,” Dinwiddie said. “He throws a good ball. His accuracy is better. And if teams blitz, we can take advantage of it. Bring it.” Above all, “we’re retooling his footwork, to help with his accuracy” and as a strong and fast (4.63) runner. “He has freedom to ‘tuck and run,’ if the pass isn’t there.” Craft is also the placekicker.
His first two TD passes were to swift Darren Lammons on slants, for five then 23 yards. Lammons wears number one. The sophomore grew up with many current Bearcats, sweetening this victory. He said “we were talking back and forth” ahead, about which players have more “explosiveness.”
Darren Lammons (1) leaps over Colin Mesa (13). He caught the first two TD passes Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
The sole third-quarter TD was Craft’s 28-yard TD pass to Ashton Woodring at the goal line. They also teamed for a finesse-power dandy. Craft lobbed the ball to Woodring, former fellow QB. Facing the pass, Woodring reached and snared it. He came down swiveling upfield, smashing and stiff-arming down the charging defender for a key first down. He “Gronked” a foe, like brutish tight end Rob Gronkowski of the Super Bowl champ New England Patriots. Those two have similar facial features, and are jovial. Woodring was animated, in recreating his big play after the win.
“Manchild” is a “big (6-2, 220 sr.), strong, tough kid with good hands,” as a “weapon, on the short side of the field,” Dinwiddie said. Woodring caught four passes for 83 yards (21 ypc.) Friday. He helps replace graduated Dalton Whitaker.
New standouts include slot receiver Lammons (5-7, 145 so.). He caught five passes for 124 yards (25 ypc.) Friday. As the punter, he is a threat to run on fakes. North spreads three main receivers, such as WRs Devon Graham (6-2, 161 jr.) and quick Miguel Lammons (5-8, 150 jr.). A back or two might line up wide.
North notched four rushing TDs with late ones by Drew Mitchell (5-7, 170 sr.) for five yards, Jacob Garrett (5-9, 180 sr.) for four and Colby Thomas (5-6, 145 jr.) for 30 yards. Austin Vanhoy (5-5, 150 jr.) is also “tough as nails” as a runner, Dinwiddie said, and returns kicks.
The Knights’ larger roundtable typically has RT Damian Murphy (5-11, 270 jr.), RG Daniel Dowling (6-1, 250 sr.), center Matthew Fowler (5-8, 225 sr.), LG Brandon Johnson (5-11, 220 sr.) and LT Eric Reyes (5-9, 245 sr.).
HHS scored on two electrifying plays — a 92-yard pass play from Mike Schmidt to Michael Cook (followed by a successful onside kick), and Bud Williford zipping 29 yards on a fumble return.
North had three interceptions to HHS’ pair. “Our defense played well” to stifle HHS’ “dangerous” offense, Dinwiddie said.
The 4-3 base defense features all-WNCAC MLB Cole McCarson (6-2, 225 sr.). He made 87 tackles (8 tpg.) in ’14. The “cover two” secondary is led by CB Garrett (63 tackles) and tough free safety Vanhoy, with 73 tackles and a “nose for the ball,” Dinwiddie said. “We’ve been ‘read and react.’ We’re be more active (shuffling) up front, and ‘gap-exchange’ them.”