Nate St. Onge (12) grins with Andrew Wall (7) behind him, as they hear Coach Shane Laws tell how the Rockets dominated in the playoff win Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas- A.C. Reynolds tossed aside its proven drastic, dramatic comeback script to squash Erwin Warriors 60-7 Friday in the second round of 3AA playoffs, to set up a doubly-vengeful playoff rematch with Weddington at home.
West Region top seed ACR (11-2) won its 11th straight game. Next up are more Warriors — of second-seeded Matthews Weddington (10-3) — in round three, for the third year in a row. The Scourge of Asheville and holiday gridiron Scrooge ended the last two Rocket seasons. First was by 45-18 en route to the 2014 title game, then by 28-21 at ACR. In a fresher rematch, this time both teams have new star quarterbacks and main rushers. These Warriors are 5-0 over ACR and Asheville High in the last three post-seasons.
But the steadily-improving Rockets are eager in this very deep playoff run. “We’ll keep the energy up,” linebacker Frank Torres said, “and keep it going.”
Receiver Kaedin Robinson (10) reverses course, for victorious Reynolds. Closest to him is Erwin’s Isaiah Towe (7). Photo by Pete Zamplas.
There was “no doubt” Reynolds was superior on Friday, ACR head coach Shane Laws triumphantly told his jubilant Rockets in the victory huddle. The adept play-caller and intense motivator said the decisive win “healed an old wound of mine.” He explained to The Tribune it finally offset a lopsided regular-season loss to Erwin (69-28 in 2013) that gnawed at him. Imagine how healed Laws will feel this Friday, if the Rockets avenge back-to-back playoff losses to Weddington.
Reynolds has now won four in a row over Erwin, and is 42-13-1 in the series. “Tonight was our night,” Laws said. “We were prepared. We executed the game plan really well.” Screen passes seemed unstoppable.
Damien Ferguson (2) sprints to throw a pass for Erwin’s sole score Friday, in his Warrior finale. He threw for over 9,000 yards, as WNC’s all-time passer. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Reynolds exerted its supremacy in the Mountain Athletic Conference by going unbeaten for the second year in a row. The closest call was the ‘16 MAC opener at home versus Erwin Sept. 23. The teams combined for over 1,000 yards. Reynolds stormed back with three straight touchdowns in the fourth quarter, to force overtime. The visiting Warriors missed an extra point, to fall 49-48. They finish 7-6, after many exciting plays.
In the rematch, the Rocket barrage was early and often. They scored at least twice in each quarter. And the Reynolds Wrap® heavy-duty defense “foiled” Erwin’s record-setting passer Damien Ferguson, and his fleet-footed fleet of receivers. The senior was limited to 164 passing yards and one TD. He completed merely 15 of 40 passes. Two were picked off — by DBs Kaedin Robinson and Andrew McKay.
Ferguson passed for 3,587 yards in ’16, including 654 in week three, and 9,177 yards in his illustrious career. He is western N.C.’s all-time passer by 1,282 yards. He threw 37 TD passes this year. Yet half (seven) of his 14 interceptions were in his final three games. He rushed for 465 net yards and four more TDs, for 41 total aerial-ground scores.
Both sides agreed ACR was vastly improved by the rematch. “My hat’s off to them,” Erwin head coach Mike Sexton said. Ferguson also graciously saluted the Rockets. “You gotta give it to them.” He praised their tighter pass coverage, and relentless offense. “We couldn’t stop them.”
Laws said his offense is much more versatile and “complete,” with maturation of first-year starting QB Nate St. Onge and big receivers such as 6-foot-2 junior Robinson and 6-3 senior Rmani Lynch. They combined for 158 yards on 10 catches Friday. They join two-way threats Shaqwan “Sean” Jones and Keyal Talbert in the Rocket arsenal, which is more balanced than in ’15 when reliant on running of then-seniors Rico Dowdle and A.J. Logan.
Robinson’s Houdini act typified Reynolds’ recent upsurge in skill. He caught a pass on the right side, zigzagged through four Warriors back and across the field then charged ahead for a first down.
Coach Laws said “Nate’s a better passer” in making decisions, and accuracy. St. Onge is a sharp and swift junior. Last year, he was a starting receiver who sparkled in limited action at QB. This year he shredded Erwin’s defense, surpassing 350 passing yards both times.
Keyon Talbert (11) scores the first TD, as ACR teammate R’mani Lynch (3) sprints downfield. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
On Friday, he completed 16 of 19 passes for a career-best 356 yards (22.3 ypc.) and three touchdowns. St. Onge ran 13 times for 93 yards (7.1 ypc.) and two scores to total five TDs. So far this year, he has thrown for 1,790 yards, run for 1,115 yards and combined for 33 TDs.
St. Onge told The Tribune he is quite “proud” both of the earlier comeback win over Erwin, and the blowout Friday. He noted teammates “trust” in each doing their part — and how blocking, receiving, running and tackling all clicked.
“More (sure) tackling” marked the Reynolds Wrap defense, junior Torres said. The big (6-3, 230), mobile and hard-crunching LB leads ACR with more than 140 tackles. “In the first game, they had their way for a while. Not this time.” ACR recovered two fumbles, to go with two picks. No Warrior reached 55 rushing yards Friday; Isaiah Poore ran for 234 in the earlier showdown.
Senior flanker Talbert started the scoring barrage, a minute and a half in. He took a handoff, and zipped left untouched for a 41-yard run. Reynolds scored three times in the second quarter. St. Onge twice scampered into the end zone from a yard out.
In between his TDs, Erwin closed to 13-7 by scoring on fourth and eight. Ferguson scrambled backwards as he launched a pass to leading receiver C.J. Thompson in the right back corner of the end zone. Thompson had 108 yards on nine catches. He finishes 2016 among WNC leaders with 88 catches for 1,250 yards (14.2 ypc.) and 18 scores.
ACR led 26-7 at halftime, then scored five more unanswered TDs. Tailback Jones took a screen left, and raced for a 58-yard scoring play early on. Jones scored all three TDs in the third quarter — on runs of 19 and six yards, then a 76-yard screen and run. The fast and strong senior ran 18 times for 142 yards. He caught four passes for 166 yards and two more TDs, to total four scores and over 300 scrimmage yards. Reserve QB Alex Finn rumbled seven yards for the final score.
In playoff openers, fifth seed Erwin outscored fourth seed Sun Valley 50-43 on the road. Thompson returned a kickoff 85 yards for the winning score, in the final two minutes. Ferguson threw for four TDs — two to Trey Martin. Poore ran for 107 yards, reached 1,000 rushing yards as a sophomore in ‘16.
Reynolds beat Central Cabarrus Vikings (5-7) by 37-14 at home, in round one. Bowing out in openers were both other Buncombe and MAC teams in playoffs — T.C. Roberson (8-4), the 4-A fourth seed, and 3AA sixth seed Asheville (6-6).