By Pete Zamplas- Hendersonville busrt open a tight defensive battle with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, to pull away to a 28-12 victory at West Henderson on Thursday for Jim Sosebee’s first victory as Bearcat head coach.
Sosebee, HHS offensive coordinator for four prior years, still runs the spread offense that outscored rival Mountain Heritage 48-44 last year to open the Western Highlands Conference season. WHC coaches pick these two teams as top contenders.
He succeeds Eric Gash, who was 14-11 in two years at the helm. Gash moves up to athletic director, in place of B.J. Laughter who is principal a block away at Bruce Drysdale Elementary.
Sosebee, 48, won three of four games (36-13) at Greenville (S.C.) High in 2005-09. He has coached for 21 years. He was a receiver for South Carolina, where he has a sports administration degree. “The kids think I’m fiery,” he said of his leadership style. “I do have some old-school tough love.” Practicing fundamentals makes the “games go easier.”
The other new local head coach, North Henderson’s Justin Clark, won his first Knights game by 19-14 on the road Friday as Mikey Smithers ran a fumble recovery 94 yards for a TD.
West also ran back a turnover in its opener, edging Madison 17-15 on freshman Kevin Isidro’s 24-yard field goal on the final play. Three of four Henderson County varsity teams are 1-1, while East Henderson is off to a rough start.
In its opener, HHS dropped an exciting, back-and-forth contest by 21-17 to 1-A power Murphy at home. HHS led 17-7 after three quarters. Sosebee said Edneyville native David Gentry’s vaunted squad is “going to win a state title” this year.
The game was postponed a day due to heavy rain, to a Saturday night. HHS had abbreviated preparation for week two on Thursday, in a game televised by WMYA “My 40.”
HHS led by more than one TD against West as over Murphy, but this time it held up. “We had the lead. They (foes) came back” in both games, Sosebee said. But this time “we fought back, and pulled away in the end. We learned how to finish.”
This game seesawed with drastic momentum shifts. HHS jumped out to a 14-0 lead. First, Bud Williford hit two-way superstar Tykel Landrum on a crossing pattern, for a 49-yard score to close the opening quarter. West fumbled away the ensuing kickoff. Soonafter, Williford dashed up the middle to score on a six-yard keeper. West pried the ball away, but only after he broke the plane.
“They spread us side to side, to use their speed,” West head coach Paul Whitaker said. “Their front was better tonight.” HHS ran for 148 yards in the first half alone.
Yet West struck back on a bomb from Brandon Whitaker to lanky Dalton Cole, for a 97-yard score. West notched another breakaway play, to draw close. Tyler Stocks zig-zagged left, then right as he dashed 83 yards for a score. But West’s first extra point missed. So did a try for two to tie the game shortly before halftime. HHS led 14-12.
HHS’ kicking edge was a talk of fans at the game. Soccer standout Tanner Gilliam, a junior, was a football placekicker and punter for the first time in high school in this game, according to position coach Will Roper. He had no chance at practice, in suddenly filling in for usual kicker Drew Eudy who was on mischief leave with two others.
Roper, a recent star kicker for HHS then in college, coached Gilliam in warm-ups as crash-course preparation. Gilliam wears the no. 23 Michael Jordan made famous in basketball. His two extra-point kicks straight through uprights Friday thus made him “Air Gilliam,” and among Bearcat heroes as school started Monday.
The third quarter was scoreless. HHS padded its lead with two more scores, in the fourth. Burly new TB Ty’rese Hunt (5-11, 225 so.) smashed in from 18 yards out. He leaned down and bounced hard off of a tackler, bumped by a second then spun off a third Falcon. Sosebee praised the Cats in the post-game huddle, for “finishing a drive” and the game. Williford ran for three yards for his second running TD of the day with just over a minute left, after a Landrum pick, to seal victory.
Williford, a 6-0, 195-pound junior, ran very well in the two games thus far. The redhead is a “battler” for extra yards, Sosebee said. He threw for 182 yards (14 ypc.) in week one.
“It feels great,” to notch his first win as a QB starter and to “help the team win,” Williford said. He was QB understudy to Mike Schmidt for two prior years. Schmidt, now at the Air Force Academy, was WHC player of the year in ‘15. He surpassed 3000 yards and 30 TDs passing in each of the last two years, setting school marks and pacing WNC passers.
Williford is a “work in progress” passing, Sosebee said. “He has a strong arm, is improving every day in accuracy, and puts a good spin on the ball. He’s smart. He knows the read. He gets the ball out on time.”
HHS’ success on offense stems from its balance. Last year, the Cats rolled up 6202 yards with 3333 in the air and 2869 on the ground. “We return 2,100 yards of receivers,” Sosebee said.
Over half (1217 yards) are by all-WHC Landrum (5-10, 170 jr.). He is best among all WNC returning players in yards and at 19 per catch in ’15, second with 64 receptions, and tied for the most (10) TDs. “Once he finds a hole, he’s gone,” Sosebee said. “And he’s tough. He won’t quit. If you ‘kill’ him (with hard hits), he keeps going.”
Fleet game-breakers Landrum, Demetrius Smith (5-9, 150 sr.) who also runs 4.5, and Quintin Wright (5-10, 160 jr.) are joined by Nasir Artis (5-9, 165 so.). Big targets are Cole Cochran (6-2, 205 sr.) who caught 25 passes in ’15, and Leon Cooks (6-0, 200 sr.). Cook, also a power RB, ran for nearly 200 yards against next opponent East in ’15.
Seven Bearcat starters return on offense, such as four of five on a mobile line pivotal to HHS success. They have “good technique,” Sosebee said. They are RT James Jackson (6-0, 215 sr.), LT Wyatt Holbert (6-1, 260 jr.), LG Dominick Daniels (5-11, 260 sr.) and RG McGuire Hunter (5-11, 195 jr.). The center, Sam Ledford (6-1, 250 sr.), started some on the line in ‘15. “We only gave up a dozen sacks all year,” Sosebee said.
“Our defense pulled us through” Thursday, said Williford, an all-WHC D-lineman in ‘15.
Landrum, the WHC’s top interceptor with 11 in two years, picked off West twice while Smith had one INT. Landrum was all over the field as usual, in making tackles. He had 98 in ’15. All-WHC DT Blaine Sharpe (6-2, 275 sr.) led the team with 107 (8.9 tpg.)t tackles, and DE Shawn Pearce (5-10, 195 jr.) had 92. Sosebee sees the D-line as a major asset. MHS Coach Gentry agrees, saying “they are hard to handle.” There are nine returning D-starters.
Korbit Collins (6-1, 225 so.), a ’15 JV standout, and West import Shaq Rospel (5-11, 210 sr.) are inside linebackers in the 4-2-5 defense, with Cole McMurray (6-0, 190 so.), Taerek Daniel (5-10, 200 sr.) and Cooks in the flats.
Coach Sosebee is determined to “uphold the tradition” of HHS winning. He agreed beating West is a primer for taking on another run-heavy team, Heritage. The Bearcats play in Burnsville, on Sept. 23. They host Mitchell Oct. 14, in a showdown with the other 2015 WHC co-champion. Next year, 2-A HHS goes to the WNC Athletic Conference that will still include East Henderson.
This Friday, Hendersonville hosts East. West plays at North Buncombe. North gets a week off, before welcoming Hendersonville Sept. 9.