By Pete Zamplas- West Henderson paraded its rushing attack in relentless and record fashion Friday, as strong fullback Peyton Frisbee burst for 304 yards and six touchdowns and swift quarterback Brandon Whitaker dashed for over 100 more yards and another score in running the triple option.
Unbeaten Mountain Heritage, acclaimed as WNC’s top team with a star QB and a half dozen standout runners, topped West 62-48 in a wild see-saw contest in Mills River that evening.
This coming Friday, Heritage starts Western Highlands Conference play by welcoming Hendersonville (3-2) — a team it often has shootouts with. HHS lost 40-17 to Reynolds, WNC’s top team in ’15. Winless East Henderson led 13-10, before falling to Polk 27-13 — also at home Friday.
Coach Paul Whitaker’s West (2-2) was WNC Athletic Conference runner-up in 2015 at 5-2, after winning at usual frontrunners Franklin and Pisgah, and went 9-4 overall. Whitaker, in his seventh year at the helm, is the dean of head football coaches in Henderson County.
This Friday, West opens its WNCAC season by hosting North Henderson (2-2). North was idle Friday. West’s home finale Oct. 28 is versus Franklin, the WNCAC’s usual top dog and another power-running team making West-MHHS a revealing preview.
This was the widest-scaled ground battle since the WWII tank epic Battle of the Bulge. The teams combined to rush for 917 yards on 109 carries, averaging over eight yards. West did not pass. Heritage threw once for a score, also for a two-pointer as it routinely went for two and made most conversions. The teams totaled 110 points — 59 at the half, with MHHS up 38-21.
Frisbee (5-10, 196 sr.) averaged eight yards on 38 carries. His 304 yards is hailed as a West rushing mark — better than West’s 240.8 team average in ’15. He ran for 112 yards in the final four minutes. For a full game, that rate produces a season’s worth of 1,344 yards. Two of his last three TDs runs covered 18 and 16 yards.
Frisbee cut well, in addition to smashing off gang tackling. Once he carried five Cougars for seven extra yards. Though you might catch this Frisbee, try bringing him down. He was a key cog a year ago. Bulked up and now the fullback, he succeeds then-seniors Brendan Goings (in ’14) and Tanner Bullock (’15) as West workhorse power back — or (lead) “bell cow,” as Coach Whitaker puts it.
Frisbee said he felt fine after the game and many hits. He had described the upsets at Franklin and Pisgah as “crazy,” like a dream come true.
Landon Owen (5-9, 175 sr.), among emotional leaders, is normally a key ball carrier. He played defense only, after his ankle was in a protective boot leading to the game, Coach Whitaker noted. Frisbee (6.7 ypc.), Owen (6.4) and Whitaker (4.2) all had healthy rushing averages in ’15.
Jason Wallace (5-8, 180 jr.) replaced Owen as a starting scat back Friday. Other West runners this year include Kyler Stocks (5-9, 175 sr.), Tim Eplee (5-8, 153 jr.), Elijah Nickell (5-9, 171 jr.), Trenton Gasperson (5-7, 180 jr.), and Ricky McKenzie (5-10, 204 jr.) who ran for two scores in the opener. Eplee had a pick in that win, at Madison.
QB Whitaker (5-10, 152 sr.) averaged seven yards per rush Friday. He seemed unstoppable in dashing leftward. He also made big gains up the middle. A week earlier, he was West’s main weapon as he ran for two TDs with one a 56-yard sprint.
Thus Heritage Coach Joey Robinson said his defense keyed on Whitaker, the “biggest threat” on game films, yet ganged up on Frisbee as the game evolved. The coach said West tricked him with various formations.
Coach Whitaker switched the offense a week earlier from double wing back to intricate flexbone triple option of recent vintage. As he notes, two defenders are not immediately blocked. Who they shadow is to dictate who the QB gives the ball to. Thus whenever a Cougar came at him, QB Whitaker promptly handed or pitched it to Frisbee.
If not, he kept it. Then if a defender came at him in the gaps, he can pitch wide. But on this day, he kept it and found seams for many gains. He trained in that option since freshman JV days. He said he was pleased to finally get the green light to run it, a week earlier. “We’re putting a lot on his shoulders,” Coach Whitaker said. He said his son is progressing in reading the defense in the option, and in some spread.
“When we get it going” with various weapons, “we’re tough to stop,” Brandon Whitaker said. Relishing the underdog role, he said “few people in the stands thought we had a chance tonight” to even stay within reach as they did. “We keep fighting.” He said the two huge upsets last year boosted “confidence.”
“Whit’s Pit” is on a student section banner. Both teams’ QBs are sons of the head coach, and prime runners.. Big 200-pound QB Trey Robinson ran for 172 yards (9 ypc.). Better yet, Junior Denton notched 226 of Heritage’s 509 rushing yards with two of three TDs over 40 yards. MHHS routinely went for two-point conversions, making most. After the hard-hitting game, Trey was impressed with how West was “ready to play. (Frisbee) ran hard.”
Dalton Cole (6-2, 182 jr.) is a tall target. Whitaker hit him for a 97-yard TD against Hendersonville. Cole recovered a fumble Friday.
The well-saluted Falcon offensive line includes RT Sam Gentry (6-3, 255 sr.), center Alex Browning (6-1, 235 sr.), Devin Stepp (5-11, 195 sr.), Brandon Lovelace (5-8, 182 sr.), Logan Goforth (5-11, 213 jr.) and big freshman Ian Adams (6-2, 275 fr.).
Strong-legged kicker Kevin Isidro (5-9, 155 fr.) is among two varsity freshmen to go with 22 juniors, 12 seniors and 4 sophomores.
West replaces robo-tackling grads Stephen Perron and Bullock and many others on a defense that yielded merely 16 points a game in ’15. The multiple 50 with 3-5 base front sports DT Gentry. The big two-way star notes how “defense wins championships.”
All-WNCAC Owen (6.1 tpg.) has a “good nose for the football. He’s in the right place, at the right time,” Coach Whitaker said. Owen said upsets over FHS and PHS in ’15 show how West can beat anyone.
West has won many tight games with ball control offense, and turnovers by its defense and special teams. Franklin head coach Josh Brooks said West “made the plays. They blocked two punts for TDs. They capitalized” on miscues. Overall, he said, “we couldn’t run the ball, or throw.”
The Panthers had first-and-goal with a chance to win, but West stuffed them on four downs to prevail. “We dug in, and stopped them,” Coach Whitaker said. Earlier in ’15, Pisgah reached the West five with 10 seconds left. But as PHS (and former East) Coach Brett Chappell noted, “we couldn’t punch it in.”
Coach Whitaker said “to come back and battle and win at Pisgah (by 16-12) and win at Franklin (26-23) the same year was super. It sets the bar for this group” to do even better, by winning the title in West’s final WNCAC season before going to the area’s premier Mountain Athletic Conference. WNCAC title hopes are abundant for West, also Friday’s foe North Henderson.