Dante Padilla leaps for joy, after his Falcons beat the Knights Monday night. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Hendersonville (2-4) was Packer-like on offense in winning a wild 48-44 see-saw game over Mountain Heritage (4-2), also at home Monday night in a (Western Highlands) conference opener on a damp field.
These two local games were rescheduled from Friday, with a rainy weekend forecast coming true. It drizzled in the first half. The fourth Henderson County team, East (0-5) lost 54-0 at Pisgah (4-1) Friday.
West (4-1) made five interceptions — two each by Landon Owen and Dante Padilla. “Our defense stepped up,” Falcons head coach Paul Whitaker said. Knights head coach Jason Dinwiddie said the old cliche was very true — how turnovers decide a game.
The most pivotal play was the first big gainer — Falcon Tristan Thomas’ 70-yard return of squib kick to ignite the second half. The kick “kept bouncing. I ran back to get it,” he said. He followed his blockers. “I found a crease, up the middle. I took it the distance.” This set West up at the 15. Peyton Frisbee then slithered right for a touchdown, to draw first blood.
Thomas’ interception return to the North 26 set up Tanner Bullock’s eight-yard bulldozing TD run for a commanding 14-0 lead with 7:18 left. Burly Bullock grinned in saying how much he enjoyed slugging it out in mud, and settling a war of boastful words. “Both sides were talkin’ a lot about this one.”
Tanner Bullock (35) bulldozes eight yards for the clinching TD. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
A muddy field from days of rain favored West’s running game so much so, it seemed the Falcons arrived not by bus but by Noah’s Ark. West converted on half of its third downs. As usual, a half-dozen Falcons took turns moving the ball effectively. Together, they totaled 234 rushing yards on 49 carries. “We kept our backs fresh,” Whitaker said. North’s Jacob Garrett led all rushers, with 87 yards, while QB Trevor Craft ran 16 times for 47 yards.
Dinwiddie praised West for seeing that “we never got into a rhythm,” especially passing on the wet field. “They’re a good defensive team.” He shouted out congratulations to the victorious Falcons after the contest.
He was pleased North (3-2) recovered a West fumble on its one, to stymie a drive with a minute to go in the opening quarter. That kept the game scoreless, and his team in the “defensive battle.” Whitaker credited North’s sturdy defensive end Ashton Woodring with stuffing the “strong side,” prompting West to often run the other way.
Both sides had good pursuit, and sure stops such as by their tackling leaders — Stephen Perron of West and North’s Cole McCarson. Garrett smashed head-on, to cap a long run and set the smash-mouth tone in the fierce rivalry.
West has already beaten Hendersonville (HHS) and North this season. The Falcons host historic rival East in the regular-season finale, for a chance at an unbeaten mark against the other three local teams. Coach Whitaker told his players after their win Monday they are within grasp of the unofficial county championship.
West QB Brandon Whitaker (3) throws on the run. Kyler Stocks is 11. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
First, they focus on Smoky Mountain (2-3) at home this Friday, in another WNC Athletic Conference game. North’s homecoming is Friday, versus East. HHS is at winless Madison (0-6). HHS demolished the Patriots 68-21 in 2014.
The Bearcats got redemption for a lackluster start this season, by winning their WHC opener Monday. They avenged a similarly high-scoring close (46-43) defeat to Heritage a year ago.
The Bearcats scored the first two TDs. Heritage reeled off the next 30 points. But the Cats clawed back, to have the last laugh on Leon Cooks’ five-yard run.
North QB Trevor Craft sprints, as West’s Landon Owen (23) approaches. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
QB Mike Schmidt surpassed 5,000 varsity career yards, by throwing for 237 to total 5,211. Nearly half (110) of his aerial yards went to Tykel Landrum, who scored on two pass plays.