By Pete Zamplas- Hendersonville Bearcats are still on track to win the 2-A portion of the Western Highlands Conference and host their playoff opener, thanks to their earlier win at Mountain Heritage.
But they took a backseat to unbeaten Mitchell County in the overall WHC race Friday, by falling 35-22 to the visiting Mountaineers and their star dual-threat quarterback Ben Young.
HHS (6-3; 3-1 WHC) opened conference play with three decisive victories. They won 42-22 at uber-rushing Heritage Sept. 23. The Cats walloped Madison 66-3 then Avery 66-6 on the road, before falling to the Bakersville Bunch.
Mitchell (8-0; 3-0) hosts arch-rival Heritage (7-1; 2-1), which was off last week, this Friday. If Heritage wins, those two teams and HHS very likely finish in a three-way tie for first just as they did last year.
“Big games are decided by big plays,” HHS head coach Jim Sosebee said, “and they made more than we did.” A dramatic goal-line stand in the third quarter countered a HHS red zone chance, set up by Cole Cochran’s long run on a reception. Freshman Noah Pitman made a pick for MHS, head coach Travis Pitman noted. He said HHS was “on top of us in the first half,” in trenches but later “we finished” drives for scores. Ben Young credited his line, for opening holes.
Young starred with both running and throwing. Number 22 was high-caliber. He tossed a bomb to Brody Smith down the left side, to lead 21-7. After Drew Eudy’s 25-yard field goal for HHS, MHS led 21-10 at the break. The first two MHS scores were on Ben Robinson’s six-yard run, then a trick play s Smith took a pitch then lobbed an 11-yard TD pass to Landon Miller.
The Bearcats struck for the lone score of the third quarter. QB Bud Williford sliced his way on a long run, to get inside the five. He soon scored on a two-yard keeper, to cut the lead to 21-16. The point-after snap was muffed.
Cyrena Bedoian smiles at hearing she is homecoming queen. Her escort, Wilson Goins, grins and checks her reaction. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
MHS scored two insurance TDs on fourth-quarter drives dominated by Young runs — even though all of WNC knew he would be the main man. As MHS head coach Travis Pittman said, that set up periodic Young passing. He drilled a 22-yard TD throw up the middle, to tight end Alex McKinney. On his next drive Young ran 14 yards for a TD, to seal it.
HHS scored on the final play, on a 27-yard TD pass to Tykel Landrum. The late scoring burst is more typical of the series; MHS beat 56-40 at Mitchell in ’15.
It was Homecoming on Dietz Field. Each class had a banner on the school’s original Stillwell building. The seniors’ slogan was “Built to Last,” reflecting hope the structure is still used after a new school is built.
“Amazing” is how Cyrena Bedoian said she felt, to be chosen homecoming queen. “I feel so blessed, to go to such an extraordinary high school.” She has a perfect 4.0 GPA. She is a volleyball setter/playmaker, and Student Body secretary. She plans to study animal sciences, in Berry College in Rome, Ga. She was escorted by Wilson Goins. The homecoming king, James Dillon, turns 18 on Nov. 4.
Leon Cooks (10) hits the brakes, before reversing to his right in front of stunned and immobilized Hudson Boone (70). Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Also at halftime, the HHS Hall of Fame newest inductees were honored on the field. They are Richard Pearce (Class of ’41) posthumously, and Tom and Fran Shipman (both Class of 1969). Tom runs The Cedars. HHS last won state football titles in 1968 and ’69.
The Cats’ two remaining WHC games are at Owen Oct. 21, then home versus Polk County. Their only defeats were to perennial powers Murphy (21-17) in the opener Reynolds (40-17).
This is the final HHS season in the 2-A/1-A, before shifting into an all-2A WNC Athletic Conference. In a three-for-one deal, the WNCAC jettisons 3A West and North Henderson and Tuscola to an all-3A Mountain Athletic Conference.
In WNCAC action Friday, North (3-5; 1-3) fell 26-14 at home to Franklin (4-4; 2-2). North’s Kalin Ensley ran for a TD, and threw for one to Darren Lammons. Brevard (6-2; 3-1) shut out West (3-5; 1-3) 42-0. The Friday the 14th onslaught started with a 25-yard blocked punt TD return. Smoky Mountain (6-2; 2-2) spoiled East Henderson’s Homecoming and hope for a first win, by 48-13.
Pisgah stormed back to nip Tuscola 23-20 in OT, to take first place in the WNCAC. Next year on, HHS revives rivalry (this time with conference marks on the line) with head coach Brett Chappell of Pisgah. He led East last decade, winning the WNCAC outright in his final year (’12) there and now sits alone atop the conference.