Jubilant West students from the packed Johnson Field home crowd flooded midfield on the new turf to celebrate the exciting see-saw victory.
“Amazing” is how running back Jason Wallace termed knocking off athletic TCR, Western Mountain Conference (WMC) coaches’ preseason pick as second behind only juggernaut Reynolds.
The Falcons stayed unbeaten at 2-0 in the WMC, and 4-1 overall. West’s only defeat thus far was a one-pointer — 29-28 versus Hendersonville a month ago. This time, a close finish went the Falcons’ way.
Elijah Nickell, another senior Falcon runner, called the last-minute, tying march “the biggest drive of our season — and our lives.”
The season is shaping up as an ode to 2015, when another unheralded West squad notched upsets at both Franklin and Pisgah. West finished second in its former conference — then the WNCAC. It is now fitting a West squad led by a left-handed quarterback is twisting the direction of the WMC it has newly joined.
“You had to dig down. You got it done,” West head coach Paul Whitaker told his troops, in the post-victory huddle. “That was a team win.” He told The Tribune West “fought hard and didn’t quit,” and did a “great job” of connecting on most passes in the two-minute drill after hardly passing before then.
Isaac Woods, a transfer from Roberson, told huddled Falcon teammates how they are “tough” and close-knit. He led a chant of “Who’s house is it? Our house!”
Drama heightened, into the extra play. Each team got the ball at the ten-yard-line. West’s defense held TCR to a 33-yard field goal. “I knew we’d score and win,” Jason Wallace said. Cole sensed “we had it,” and said the key was West “kept fighting” all night.
Cole reasons the OT format favors a running team such as West, over the spread offense of TCR which is geared more for a big play than grinding out yards. Yet TCR’s Shaq Gist ran 26 times for 109 yards, but not enough in OT.
West QB Dalton Cole cuts, as Rams Barshia Young (1) and Jordan McNeill (84) and others converge on him. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
The Falcons gained eight yards in two rushes, to get close to a winning score. Then on third down, Cole finished off the Rams with a three-yard keeper. He darted right, reversed course, surged ahead, and broke linebacker C.J. Minton’s tackle to reach the promised land. Cole ran for two TDs. He leaped to catch a long halfback pass inside the 10.
Cole passed for 101 yards. About half of his aerial yardage was in the game-tying drive, as he completed five passes in a two-minute drill.
The pivotal play was when “Lefty” rolled left and fired to 6-foot-4 Kyle Porter by the left sideline. Cole credited Porter’s soaring catch as a catalyst for getting West past midfield, and on a roll. “Our confidence shot up,” Cole said.
Athletic 6-4 Cole triggered that tying score by dashing right then 11 yards upfield on a rollout, to set up first and goal. Shaken up by the tackle, the lanky senior rested one play with Jordan Geyer subbing, then went back in. Geyer’s cameo was in crunch time. He calmly made a handoff. He was confident West would “put it in.”
Indeed, newly-nicknamed Trenton “Last Gasp” Gasperson plunged in from within a yard out with 15.6 seconds left in regulation. He also scored the opening TD, on a three-yard run to finish a grinding 83-yard, 17-play drive.
West had its usual backfield balance. The trio of Gasperson (50 yards), Nickell (46) and Wallace (37) each had about a dozen carries. West ran for 152 yards, and TCR had 158.
Credit West’s pass rush for pressuring TCR’s strong-armed QB, Ty Gossett and sacking him at critical times. Gossett threw for two TDs but merely 176 yards — with over half on one momentum-shifting play. The hardest hit was 165-pound T.J. Hobbs on Gist.
West led by a TD and was knocking on the door again, but was stopped on fourth down. On the next play from his five, Gossett tossed a short pass to ace receiver Barshia Young. Young ran 95 yards for TCR’s first score. The extra point failed, and West led 7-6 at halftime. TC took the lead at 12-7 as Gossett hit Jordan McNeill for a 30-yard score, but failed on a two-point pass.
West grabbed back the lead at 15-12 on Cole’s one-yard TD run, and Gasperson’s two-point run. West started at TCR’s 29, after the over-daring Rams were stopped on fourth-and-one deep in their territory. TC tied it on Colson Graham’s 32-yard field goal, with 4:36 left.
West’s kicking game had two goofs in the fourth quarter. Kevin Isidro, also a sophomore kicker, missed a go-ahead field goal. Then a high snap caused a hurried punt, which went wide right and out at West’s 22. That set up Gossett’s one-yard keeper, for a 22-15 lead with 1:24 to go. Gasperson’s one-yard run and Isidro’s extra point tied it, to force OT.
Kyle Porter (48), who made the biggest Falcon catch of the night, goes up against TCR’s Deonte Ellison (21). Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Roberson’s 158 yards on 19 penalties precisely offset its rushing yards. West was assessed 100 yards on eight calls, as Sept. 22 seemed an extra Flag Day.
TCR aided West’s late, tying drive as a cornerback’s blatant late hit moved the ball halfway to paydirt, to its 15. The Rams had several unsportsmanlike calls, with one player tossed out. Head coach Jason Dinwiddie termed such SNAFUs as “self-destruction.” Talented but snake-bit (or Falcon-bit) TCR (1-5; 1-2 WMC) has lost twice by one point and now also in OT.
The last time West won in overtime was in 2005, by 6-0 in triple OT on a Hurricane Katrina-drenched Pisgah field, Daniel Holbert said. The WHHS linebacker coach was a Falcon player then. He recalled it was very windy, and poured rain so hard sinkholes formed on Pisgah’s field. Zach Corliss threw the winning score.
West, North Henderson and Tuscola moved into WNC’s elite conference this year. Only Tuscola was given a chance to compete with the four usual powerhouses. WHC coaches as a whole rated West last.
Instead, so far West is Best nearly every week and unbeaten in the conference to tie favorite Reynolds and also Asheville and Tuscola. One will fall out of that tie Friday, as THS (4-1; 3-0 WMC) hosts ACR (5-1; 3-0).
Fresh off of knocking off one of the big boys, the Falcons (4-1; 2-0 WMC) take on another usual frontrunner suspect with a visit to Erwin (1-4; 1-1) this Friday at 7 p.m. Erwin reloaded its usual spread passing, but features rugged runner Isaiah Poore. Nickell is prepared for a “slugfest in the trenches.” Whitaker said the focus needs to be “week by week,” in the formidable WMC.
Elsewhere last Friday, East Henderson (2-4) beat Madison 38-29 at home, as QB Chris Hemphill ran for TDs of 20 and 17 yards.
North Henderson (2-3; 0-2 WMC) lost 49-0 at WMC favorite Reynolds. Hendersonville (4-2) rallied with three second-half TDs, but fell 28-22 to unbeaten Heritage. MHHS’s QB, Trey Robinson, set the WNC career total yards mark. Both HHS and East are off this week.
This Friday North hosts head coach Zach Wilkin’s former team, Asheville (3-3; 3-0) also at 7 p.m. AHS has already beaten TCR and Erwin.