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Rockets shelled by Shelby 35-14 in WNC Super Bowl, but reloaded talent should blast most foes

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Dre Dowdle (5) of Reynolds leaps to snare a pass intended for Shelby all-state receiver Jayden Borders (6) in the end zone Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- A.C. Reynolds lost the unofficial WNC Super Bowl to three-time 2-A state champ Shelby at home Friday, but reloads its firepower as it defends its conference title and seeks a deep playoff run.

Shelby, which led 14-7 at halftime, pulled away for a 35-14 win.  But tenth-year head coach Shane Laws’ rugged Rocket defense kept the game close for three quarters.

Reynolds tied it at 14 nearly midway into the third, after DB Conor Sullivan (6-0, 192 sr.) blocked a punt. ACR quarterback Nate St. Onge (6-0, 178 jr.) ran four yards for a touchdown. Late in the first half, he tied it with a jump pass strike to tall Frank Torres (6-4, 215 jr.) in the endzone, for a four-yard score. Athletic LB Torres made a cameo, at tight end.

Preseason all-state receiver Jayden Borders scored on three Golden Lions pass plays — two in the final quarter, after sitting out the third while dehydrated. Two of his scoring plays each spanned 61 yards — a half-minute in, and in the final minute. His 60-yard gain to the ACR 2-yard-line set up another score.

Borders, a 5-10, 170-pound senior, wears number six. So does ACR’s Sean Jones (6-0, 198 sr.), who missed this game. He was hospitalized for days, according to team sources. Shelby’s coaches said Borders and others felt sick on the bus ride over. Borders made his mark Friday. He regurgitated his pre-game meal, onto Shelby’s sidelines. That was all he fumbled.

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Frank Torres (44) catches a pass for ACR’s first TD Friday

Borders laughed that off, explaining he simply felt “dehydrated.” He routinely took the steam out of the ACR pass defense’s right side. He called it “really big” to again beat ACR. The 56-39 loss to Shelby in ’15 was ACR’s sole defeat, until round two of 3-AA playoffs.

ACR CB Dre Dowdle (6-0, 170 jr.) picked off a fourth-down pass in the end zone intended for Borders, with 6:36 left in the first quarter. That kept the deficit at 7-0. This was deja vu. He wears the no. 5 his brother Rico Dowdle wore. Rico ran for 2545 yards as the QB, threw for 1435 more, and was in on a WNC-record 63 TDs in ’15 alone. He now plays for USC Gamecocks. ACR averaged nearly 50 points.

Still very talented, the Rocket offense is now led by sleek St. Onge. He ran for 95 yards (6.8 ypc.) against Shelby. Once when trapped in his end zone, he escaped and weaved upfield for a long gain. He sees holes and accelerates well. “He’s such a good athlete — an excellent runner who can throw the ball,” Coach Laws said. “He’s intelligent, in picking up the offense and in making good decisions…He has poise to handle negatives.”

St. Onge started at receiver in ’15. He was back there as sturdier Alex Flinn (6-2, 190 so.) rotated in at QB, for many series Friday. Strong-armed Flinn replaced him in the opener’s second half. Against Shelby, each threw for just over 40 yards with one pick. St. Onge was far more accurate at 6 of 8, versus 4 of 10 by Flinn. Throwing accuracy and consistency are keys. Laws told The Tribune after that game that for now, “it’s a strong possibility we’ll keep using both of them” at QB.

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Shelby superstar Jayden Borders charges down the sideline, before cutting upfield for a score. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Fast flanker Keyal Talbert (5-7, 156 sr.) was corralled (2.2 ypc.) in carrying ACR’s running load, in fellow all-Mountain Athletic Conference Jones’ absence. Jones (9.4 ypc. as a sub in ’15) is a “freak athlete” with power and “incredible (low 4.4s) speed,” Laws said.

Reynolds’ huge, strong, veteran line is led by bearded pro-sized all-MAC Jake Setterlind (6-6, 308 jr.) and Kyle McWhirt (6-3, 290 sr.). The quick 4-2-5 base defense sports DEs Will Israel (6-2, 220 sr.) and Talon James (6-3, 215 jr.).

Reynolds (0-2) lost its opener 21-6, at powerful West Forsyth. This brutal non-conference boot camp toughens ACR for initial MAC battles against Erwin Sept. 23, then at Asheville Sept. 30. First, frustration is apt to vent and the score roll up this Friday. ACR hosts rebuilding Owen (1-1), which it crushed 49-7 a year ago.

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