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Falcons, Bearcats storm back to win playoff openers


HHS receiver Tykel Landrum breaks free for a long gain. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

West Falcons (9-3) prevailed by 28-21, over Gastonia Forestview Jaguars (5-7) in a 3-A contest. West’s Tanner Bullock bulled in for three of his four rushing touchdowns Friday in the fourth quarter. West, the West Region third seed, went from a TD down to seize a commanding two-TD lead. Bullock scored the tying touchdown on a clutch fourth-and-goal run, bulldozing in from three yards out.

Hendersonville Bearcats (7-5) overcame Friday the 13th misfortune and shifted into overdrive in the second half, to beat Trinity Wheatmore Warriors (5-7) by 48-19 in 2-A action.

Mike Schmidt threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns, with two in a row to lead HHS back from 12 down to the lead mid-way. He drilled a 25-yard scoring pass to Leon Cooks, for a 20-19 edge just before halftime. Schmidt also ran for a four-yard score, and 69 yards.


Tanner Bullock bursts through, for one of his four West rushing TDs Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

“They couldn’t stop us,” Cooks said. The junior is elated about his first varsity playoff victory.

Schmidt, among key seniors, said first-half “jitters” were a culprit but he felt more relaxed in the second half. Also, he said, receivers were “squeezing the ball” to better hang onto it in sub-40 degree chill. Schmidt relied on a hand warmer, not gloves, to be warm enough yet retain better feel of the football.

He credited the defense, blockers and lead back Terrold Gary who rushed for 139 yards and two TDs. Gary finished the regular game as exactly a 1,000-yard rusher, despite time missed due to injury. Team interception leader and two-way playmaker Tykel Landrum picked off a pass, and caught a 16-yard TD pass.

Head coach Eric Gash lit a fire under the team at halftime, Gary noted. “He said to keep fighting. That ‘they aren’t doing anything to stop us. We’re stopping ourselves.’ He said to ‘keep grinding. Keep fighting, and executing our own plays.’”

Coach Gash affirmed his halftime motivation was about what HHS can and will do right. He was “extra proud” of his team, for the tenacity and comeback. “Our defense stood its ground in the second half.” He told his players in the post-game huddle to avoid early lapses next time, but for now “to be proud, and enjoy this victory.”


QB Mike Schmidt (18) rolls out to pass. HHS blockers include Terrold Gary (20), at left, and James Jackson (55). Photo by Pete Zamplas.

The Western Highlands Conference co-champions (at 5-1) are a fourth seed in the West Region. HHS forged a three-way tie with Mitchell and Mountain Heritage at the top, with a wild 48-44 win over Heritage on Sept. 28.

Turnovers Spur Comeback

Meanwhile in the Mills River community, the vaunted West Falcon defense set up quick Bullock scores with turnovers. Stephen Perron blocked a punt, and West took over at the Jag 35 to set up a short tying drive. Davis Fisher partially blocked a punt. Then Tristan Thomas returned an interception halfway downfield to the seven-yard line.

In the final minute, backed up near its end zone, the Falcons pried the ball loose from Syracuse recruit back Moe Neal. Landon Owen recovered, to seal the victory. West’s Shaq Rospel pounced on a Jaguar fumble, early on.

Falcon head coach Paul Whitaker was pleased with such turnovers, and big offensive plays as well. For instance, Peyton Frisbee’s 52-yard scamper set up Bullock’s opening score. Both backs gained nearly 100 yards Friday; Bullock topped 1,000 for this season.


Stephen Perron (in middle) and colleague rush Forestview QB Colton Guthrie (4). Photo by Pete Zamplas.

West finished second in the WNC Athletic Conference at 5-2, a game behind perennial champ Franklin. Yet the Falcons won 26-23 at Franklin on Oct. 30, for one of the most impressive victories in WNC this year. The Falcons also beat next-best Pisgah (also 5-2).

North Henderson (7-5) fell 30-0 at Kings Mountain (10-2), also in 3-A play Friday. But Coach Jason Dinwiddie’s Knights including senior stars Trevor Craft and Ashton Woodring have much to smile about.

They won their first winning varsity football season in this millennium, by winning at Hendersonville and Roberson. They won nine of their last 14 games, going back to 2014. North at 4-3 was fourth in the WNCAC, taking its head-to-head tiebreaker with Tuscola.

East Henderson (1-6) notched its lone WNCAC and overall win over Brevard (0-7), 31-28 on Oct. 5.

This Friday, Hendersonville Bearcats host Mount Pleasant Tigers (7-5) in the Catfight Clash. Coach Gash said the Tigers “do what we don’t like to see — pound the ball” to keep the ball away from HHS’ rhythm-passing offense. The winner takes on explosive Shelby (a 62-0 winner Friday) or else Carver.

West Henderson is at home in round two for the second year in a row. The West Falcon Bowl pits West Falcons versus West Rowan Falcons (9-3), who barely won their playoff opener by a point in overtime. The winner tackles the South Point-Statesville victor. Round-two games start at 7:30 p.m.

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