Rockets blast arch-rival 54-21
Rain forecasted held off during the contest, despite rain for days and Hurricane Juoquin’s oft-steady downpour that helped flood much of the region and most of Charleston, S.C. over the weekend. The AHS defense must have felt “Hurricane Rico” was ripping through it Friday night.
Reynolds has put an apparent “wrap” on the overall Mountain Athletic Conference 4-A/3-A title, after “foiling” its usual top two rivals, to follow the Yellow and Green Brick Road to the Land of MAC Supremacy. ACR doubled up Erwin 35-18 on the road a week earlier, then conquered its arch-nemesis convincingly.
“This is a very big win, a huge step up for us,” Dowdle told The Tribune. “We beat a really good football team. Everyone executed … I love all of my teammates.” He sees the sky as the limit. “We can be state champions. We have the team to do it.” Most agree.
Rico Dowdle outraces the Cougars, on this 49-yard TD run. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
ACR won over any doubters early on Friday. The Rockets exploded for 30 points in the second quarter. They scored twice in 19 seconds, soon after earning a punt return with a safety.
Dowdle zoomed untouched for scores 19 yards up the middle in traffic, then on a 63-yarder as he veered right, cut left then sped up the middle. He soon dashed 49 yards down the left side, to again reach paydirt.
ACR head coach Shane Laws praised blocking of linemen and receivers, for opening holes. Often, Dowdle needed little room as he evaded seemingly sure tackles to make big plays. He did this by using superb vision, moves and acceleration.
For example on third and nine, he scrambled right, somehow eluded the rusher, dashed down the right side to gain 13 yards and a first down. He aggravated his sprained left shoulder Friday, but missed few snaps.
Dowdle has already tallied 33 TDs — 27 rushing and six passing — in six games, to average 5.5 scores a contest.
Reynolds Rockets celebrate winning the Rivalry Series showdown convincingly. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
The halftime score was an outrageous 44-7. This was the most lopsided halftime margin in this premier series. One has to go back over a quarter-century, to 1989, for when ACR scored more points against Asheville and won by the widest margin. ACR scored more points (56) in a half than ever before, two weeks before against Hendersonville.
The Rockets (5-1, 0-1) poured it on, to avoid a big turnaround such as when AHS won 27-14. This was also vengeance extraordinaire. Credit Danny Wilkins’ Asheville (5-1, 0-1 MAC) for winning the prior four matchups. “We hadn’t beaten those guys yet,” ACR defensive end Najae Buchanan said of his senior class. “No way were we going to lose to them again, and at home.” He grinned and called the win “easy.”
ACR finished 7-6 last season, with a younger group. This seems the year of the Rockets’ green and gold glare. They last won the state title in 2009, when still 4-A. ACR is now 3-A.
This was a showdown of two Associated Press top ten-ranked 3-A teams in the state. AHS was third, unbeaten, undefeated in the MAC in 2014 and its 10-time reigning 3-A champ. The game was spotlight by the national Great American Rivalry Series (GARS), for the third time in six years.
Dowdle matched the most TD runs in a game by a Rocket, a mark Darius Spencer set eight years ago. Dowdle’s two longest scoring runs this night stretched 63 and 49 yards, as he found that extra gear in the open field. The muscular, strong (at 6-0, 203 lb.) and uber-fast (4.31) senior quarterback averaged 11.85 yards a carry Friday. He and teammate Jesse Rackley were honored pre-game as GARS scholar-athletes.
ACR rushed for 443 yards — more than double AHS’ output. Tailback A.J. Logan ran for 109 yards (5.7 ypc.). He ran seven yards for the opening score, to cap an 11-play, 83-yard drive. Having two standouts makes it tougher to totally key on Dowdle. Make that three. “Second-half Sean” Jones tallied 89 yards in relief — 11 a pop, and grinned and gestured the most of any Rocket as the congratulatory line formed for the two teams.
Larry Brow is ACR’s offensive coordinator. Asheville defensive coordinator David Burdette said ACR “executed its game plan much better than we did. They didn’t make turnovers, or many penalties.” He called Dowdle a “very special player.”
Though Dowdle’s running was the eye-catcher, this game was also largely won by the rugged Rocket defense. “Our defense is getting better and better,” Coach Laws said. “We’re physical on every down.” ACR’s Andreas Hill, Malik Long and Noah Eberhardt recovered Cougar fumbles.
Rick Roberts’ D-unit contained the vaunted rushing attack’s 1-2 punch of all-MAC tailback Reggie Battle (95 yards) and Ahmad Shivers (135), especially in the first half. The Rockets pressured QB Devon Davidson. He connected on a 39-yard bomb, and 24-yard TD to Makaius Brewer. And they offset heralded, gigantic blocker Pete Leota.
Leota indicated he is likely a USC Gamecock next year. Dowdle said he will visit USC and also Tennessee, among schools.
Rico Dowdle, at left, wears the Rivalry Series game MVP medal. Andrew Moore (14) and ACR head coach Shane Laws are among celebrants. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Ben Counsell sparked the ferocious defense that led ACR to the ’09 state title. “We played physical defense. You could hear the hits,” he said while watching the game while on the Barstool (Sports) Dixie Tour. He was a Shrine Bowler, then outside linebacker for Notre Dame at 6-5 and 245. He graduated this spring. He credits Coach Laws as a confident leader, with strong and calm demeanor who “motivated us and got us ready to play” each week.
Reynolds earned its week off. Asheville is very apt to get back on track, by hosting Enka (1-6) Friday.