East QB Preston Owens (1) sprints out to pass Friday, beyond reach of HHS star Blaine Sharpe (99). East’s no. 64 is blocker Dalton Mills. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas- East Henderson fans turned out en masse last Friday, staying to the end of the game at Hendersonville despite the lure of the festive Apple Festival within a few blocks.
Eagle dedication was further evident, after the game ended in HHS’ favor by 69-13. East huddled and had its team prayer. Head coach John “Mac” McMillan then extended a firm handshake, before calmly discussing potential and challenges ahead. “Our guys fought,” said “Coach Mac.”
The third-year EHHS head coach said staff will review film and make adjustments in this off week, and players try to restart the season fresh at Polk County Sept. 15. Polk is talented but has had ups and downs, and looms as more vulnerable than other Eagle foes.
Miscues and misfortune set back East (0-3). The first punt return was fumbled. The first punt was blocked. The football kept bouncing loose to HHS, often deep in East’s end. A screen pass was deflected by HHS’ Shaq Rospel. DE Samuel Lucas snatched it, and ran in for a “pick-six” and HHS’ third score.
Credit the Bearcats (2-1) for making big plays on defense and special teams, to go with offensive flair. “When you play hard,” HHS head coach Jim Sosebee said, “good things happen.”
Bearcat DE Sam Lucas (15) returns a pick for a TD. Shaq Rospel (1) in red deflected the pass by Preston Owens (1 in green). Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Eagle quarterback Preston Owens confidently spoke of good moments the team can build on. “We were moving the ball” well on some drives, then taking it in for two late scores, he said. “That shows what we’re capable of doing. We have to put the pieces together,” and gel as a team.
Indeed, East has ingredients with several skilled new starters. They are emerging here and there, early in the season.
Owens (6-2, 170 sr.) is a lanky lefty East QB, like Seth Owen but with an “S” at the end of his surname. Owens often showed strong poise and mobility, in early games. He connected on a few key pass plays Friday, and threw for two touchdowns. He also plays free safety. Player number one has the top GPA on the team, Coach Mac said, adding. “Preston is a natural leader.”
Running backs include shifty Hunter Rogers (5-10, 165 sr.) and Zack Adkinson (5-10, 160 jr.) who are quick to the outside. Strong Dejion Gash (5-11, 200 jr.), Jake Shattuck (5-10, 170 jr.) and Gavin Anglin (5-10, 170 sr.) “get tough yards, between the tackles,” Mac said. Gash, East’s leading junior varsity rusher in 2015, is related to HHS’ star Gash family of the Eighties. He made several power runs. On a kick return clash, he was stopped by Bearcat junior Savon Gash on a brutal Gash-on-Gash hit.
Hunter Rogers (5) eludes East Rutherford tacklers, in the opener. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Daniel Parker (6-2, 210 sr.) caught a 33-yard TD bomb from Owens as time expired versus HHS. This was his breakout game, blending strength and speed. “He’s very talented; we’ll try to get him the ball more,” Mac said. Beau Shealy (5-11, 140 sr.) is swift and elusive. Receivers in the spread also include fast Dekel Robinson (5-9, 135 sr.), Garrett Stiwinter (5-10, 205 jr.), and two big targets in Chris Hemphill (6-4, 210 so.) and TE Luke McCall (6-5, 225 sr.).
McCall is a three-way standout, as a punishing blocker and the punter. Hemphill is versatile enough to play QB. His father William, a Brevard High star D-lineman, played with Coach Mac at Mars Hill College.
Mac coached the O-line at his alma mater. That unit at East has one returning starter, in center Marshall Frank (5-9, 230 sr.). New starters include seniors Trace Garren (5-11, 250 sr.) and Adrian Gonzalez; the Big Bird is listed at 6-4 and 375. East has much more size up front since Mac got here such as with nose tackle J.T. Thompson (6-2, 290 jr.) in the 3-5-3 defense, and developing linemen Brett Frazier (6-3, 285 jr.) and Brendon Foushee (6-1, 270 so.). Overall, 15 of 37 Eagles weigh 200 or heavier.
East QB Preston Owens (1) cuts upfield, approaching HHS star Tykel Landrum (7) Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Bearcat Bud Williford threw for five TDs and 246 yards, completing 13 of 16 passes. He also ran for a score.
HHS led 28-0 after a quarter, and 49-0 at halftime. An added reason to come at East with such gusto is memory, from when players were young. This was the county’s premier rivalry for nearly a decade, in the last decade. The rivalry was hands down the biggest in his career in ferocity, edgy determination to outdo the other and combined skill, longtime HHS head coach B.J. Laughter noted.
Similarly, West Henderson QB Brandon Whitaker recalls when East kept getting the better of West, a half-decade ago. Thus he still considers the regular-season finale against East a major rivalry game.
Michael Robinson is among heralded East alumni runners from the recent heydays. He coaches EHHS defensive backs, and is a symbol of Eagle pride.
Hendersonville next goes to North Henderson, in an intra-county showdown. HHS has already beaten West. Beating North secures HHS the unofficial county crown. But if North wins, it could win that honor by beating West or West could forge a three-way tie. West (1-1), coming off of its bye, plays at North Buncombe Friday.
Setting the stage for this coming Friday, North Henderson (2-1) pulled off the formidable feat of winning at Swain County, by 31-28. Super Soph Kalin Ensley ran for one TD and threw for three. Darren Lammons grasped a screen, and dashed 34 yards for the winning score with 2:48 to go. He had 131 receiving yards, and two TDs. North’s Colby Thomas rushed for 114 yards. Austin VanHoy ran a kickoff 99 yards, for a 21-19 lead.
Ensley knows many HHS players growing up, and is eager for the challenge Friday. The game starts at 7:30 p.m.