The exciting victory reversed a one-point loss (at 12-11) at TCR a year earlier. The teams tied for second at 4-2 along with Erwin — which Asheville upset 44-25 two weeks later — in the Mountain Athletic Conference (now nine-team Western Mountain).
“We didn’t want our first losing season in 30 years” in 1987,
Second-year head coach David Burdette said. “I challenged the kids to finish well.” They responded then, and again last Friday to beat the team many picked to finish behind only two-time reigning conference champ A.C. Reynolds (ACR).
“We got one (contender) out of the way,” Burdette said. The conquest puts Asheville (1-3, 1-0 WMAC) in strong contention for a top two Western Mountain seed and home playoff opener. This Friday, AHS plays another showdown — at Erwin. AHS is at ACR Oct. 13.
“We came out hungry,” said workhorse senior tailback Corey Clement (5-10, 184 sr.), who rushed for 117 yards and a score. “We needed this win, to get Asheville back on track where it belongs.”
Corey Clement (1) charges upfield for a TD, as Dana Campbell (behind him) and tight end Andrew Leota (19) watch. Asheville blockers include Marvin Pearson (57) and Kaliq Moore (73). Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Star wide receiver Campbell (5-8, 163 sr.) went beyond his usual role as the Cougars’ most established and dangerous open-field runner, to also be their most versatile performer. He totaled 185 yards.
Campbell dashed 50 yards for the initial touchdown Friday, on a direct “wildcat” snap on fourth and short. He rushed for 84 yards, averaging 9.3. He returned two kickoffs for 37 yards. He caught three screens for 10 yards early, and picked one off late. He completed two of three passes for 54 yards and the winning score in the fourth quarter.
Most dramatically, Campbell tossed a bomb to TreVon Robinson (5-10, 160 sr.) after rolling left to give Robinson time to sneak through the defense downfield. Robinson wears number seven. That is appropriate, since he seemed alone for the entire seven miles between the two schools.
Campbell wisely lobbed the ball, with no danger a defender would intercept. “I put enough air on it, for him to see it” easily, he said with a grin right after the victory.
Robinson caught it at the Roberson 13, and jogged in to complete the 67-yard scoring play with 5:50 to play. The shocking site of him turning around and waiting several moments to grasp that pass silenced Rams on their sideline, as they braced for fate to strike with hurricane-like impact.
Robinson focused on the pass so much, he did not realize he was wide open. “I thought I was covered. I kept my eye on the ball, to make sure I made the catch.” He caught four passes for 110 yards. He stressed that “we all did this together.”
That includes the kicker. West finally got to try an extra point when it was tied late, at 22. He made that clutch kick, for the final and decisive point.
Playmaker Campbell got his hands on the ball regularly as he relieved sophomore Three Hillier (5-8, 165 so.) behind center in much of the second half. He sealed victory on third and 11 late, by running for a first down. His shift to QB propelled athletic tall target Famous Pasley (6-3, 171 so.) into a bigger role at receiver.
Campbell also shined on defense. His interception in his own end zone thwarted TCR’s effort to go up by two scores, and set up the winning drive. As a Ram player said on the sidelines, “we’re keeping them alive.”
Clement, a star 200-meter sprinter, can cover the football field in a hurry with a steady leg turn to “pull away,” Burdette noted. Clement burst eight yards for the second AHS score. Campbell ran in for the two-pointer, and a 16-6 lead. After the first TD, kicker Holland West (5-10, 134 so.) tossed to Robinson for two.
Roberson (0-4) responded each time with Ty Gossett long TD passes — to Kobe Miles for 46 yards then to Barshia Young for 59 yards — to trail 16-14 at halftime. TCR missed an extra point; Shaq Gist later ran for two points.
The Rams took their only lead on Gist’s one-yard run; Gossett’s toss to Deonte Ellison made it 22-16 favor TCR. Gossett passed for 283 yards, completing 25 of 38 passes. Both teams had about 300 total yards on offense. But AHS was much more balanced, and out-rushed TCR by 165-26 yards and an average of 4.6 to one yard per carry factoring in 34 yards in sacks.
Burdette told the Cougars in the post-win huddle they “maintained composure and found a way to win” amidst a see-saw second half. He said missed tackles and other mistakes will be corrected in practice and upcoming games, that there is room for improvement. But he praised effort for “all four quarters.”
He told The Tribune “we blocked good up front,” unlike a year ago when TCR star pass rushers Greg Johnson and Jordan McNeill dominated the trenches. Burdette wants to run two-thirds of plays, “behind a better offensive line. But when people crowd the box, we’ll throw the ball.”
Campbell is a useful option at QB, and in wildcat formations. As a receiver he is “our big-play guy,” Burdette said. But the coach emphasized Hillier remains the starting QB. A top priority is to get Hillier going again as a “cocky gunslinger” rather than be hesitant — for this year and beyond, as a potential three-year starter.
Hillier was on target for eight of 20 passes for 68 yards Friday, with one pick. He mishandled some snaps and defense reads, according to Burdette. Whereas he will encourage more bravado, the coach earlier forecast that Hillier might “press too much to make big plays. We have to reel him in. But he’ll make plays. He won’t back down because he’s afraid of mistakes. He’s a Brett Favre-type gunslinger.”
Best of all is “he has a ballistic missile for an arm — the strongest I’ve ever seen on a young quarterback” Burdette said.
Hillier wears number three. He officially goes by the first name “Three,” instead of the more formal Bill Hillier III. Three is the AHS baseball catcher, who throws out runners with that rifle arm.
He is also sharp. His father Bill manages Cougar baseball, and lets Three call the game. Similarly, Burdette said, “We’ll run many RPOs (run-pass options). He’ll have several reads. He can hand it off, or get the ball to a receiver outside. He’s starting to ‘own it.’” He is used to big games in elite travel baseball.
Gossett, a burly junior, threw two picks with one by Kodi Codrington (5-7, 129 sr.). Gossett overthrew wide-open Ellison on fourth and seven, missing a chance to one-up AHS’s TD lob. This foiled a drive that began at midfield — the first of three TCR possessions in the final four minutes.
AHS has its own fierce pass rush, led by senior Andrew Leota (6-3, 220 sr.). He is a N.C.-S.C. Shrine Bowl finalist, and set to go on to Northwestern. Leota said he is eager to get AHS back up the ranks. Relentless with 4.5 speed, he gets by most blockers. “Nobody can block him,” Burdette said. “He gets held every play.” One Ram was called for a slew of holding penalties. “You’re killing us!,” TCR head coach Jason Dinwiddie scolded him.
Inside linebackers Keith Mosely (5-11, 202 jr.) and Taquandre Bates (5-11, 194 sr.) are among leading AHS tacklers.
Erwin (0-3) is paced by TB Isaiah Poore. Poore ran for nearly 200 yards against ACR Friday, scoring on jaunts of 78 and 45 yard in a respectable 49-34 loss. The Warriors want payback versus Asheville, which wants to keep rolling.