Rocket linebackers Frank Torres (44) and Eli Hembree (4) zero in on a loose ball at the goal line. Hembree is about to snatch the fumbled Asheville punt in the end zone, for the final score of the 35-0 win Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas – A.C. Reynolds shut out arch-rival Asheville 35-0 at home Friday, demonstrating supremacy in a showdown of teams who were unbeaten in Western Mountain action.
Clearly, the only way to possibly slow the Reynolds (7-1, 5-0 WMC) onslaught in its road games is to turn off all stadium lights when ACR has the ball. That might dim a drive only a bit, since Reynolds seems to bash foes while playing with its eyes closed. Further, the “Reynolds Wrap” © defense keeps “foiling” foes and blanked a premier offense Friday. The middle two letters of “Reynolds” in end zones should be a capitalized “No!”
The sign of Reynolds state titles (football in 1999, 2002 and ’09 in 4A) in a corner of the football-soccer field noticeably has room for another state title — this time in 3AA football. “People make us aware of that” pressure, ACR head coach Shane Laws said. He coached ACR to ’09 title, and to a 105-35 mark. He leads 13 returning all-conference stars, in his 11th season as Rocket ignitor.
Superb motivator Laws both tries to keep focus on each game, but also urges improvement for the inevitable playoff run. That is what he meant by telling his troops in the post-game huddle the win over AHS was critical for “down the road.” He said he was quite “proud” of the effort, but “we’ve got to get (even) better” and more mistake-free to realize state title dreams.
Strong-armed quarterback Alex Flinn (6-2, 205 jr.), among others, wants the road toward a state title to again go through Weddington to exorcise demons. That superb-tackling program from near Charlotte KOed ACR from playoffs in the last three years, often taking out Asheville first.
Flinn’s emergence gives Reynolds even more of a downfield threat, due to his rocket Rocket arm to go with his tough running. He zig-zagged and charged left for a 14-yard score on a keeper. Flinn completed 24 of his 29 passes, for 177 yards.
His six-yard scoring pass to Jhari Patterson on fourth down was the most critical play of the night. It opened up a formidable 21-0 lead, with three ticks left on the first-half clock. Sophomore Patterson (6-0, 175) dove in for the score, as ACR reached halftime with much momentum and confidence.
Flinn equates his ball distribution role to that of a basketball point guard, eager to “get the ball to my running backs and receivers.”
Flinn, a rugged junior, was understudy again this year to swift slender senior Nate St. Onge (6-0, 170 sr.). Last year, St. Onge became the QB after starring as a big-play receiver for two years. Early this season, St. Onge switched back to receiver and also lines up at a back after a season-ending injury to Kaedin Robinson (6-2, 180 jr.).
St. Onge periodically takes wildcat snaps in crucial short-yardage situations, and usually runs but has an accurate arm. He zoomed 29 yards on the third play Friday. He got the ball after Flinn tossed it up and slightly ahead, for what could be deemed either a handoff or short shuttle pass.
ACR as usual has much talent and depth in its running. I’dre Bell (5-10, 170 jr.) sparkled as the workhorse Friday. His 100 yards was half of the team’s 203 rushing yards. Kejuan Watkins (5-9, 150 sr.) scored the second TD, on a 30-yard jaunt.
Explosive Reynolds has scored at least 50 points in two of its first eight contests, and at least 35 in all but its lone defeat (29-8 at Shelby). ACR has already beaten three leading WMC contenders. First was a 49-34 win over Erwin, after surging to a big early lead.
ACR QB Alex Flinn charges in for a TD, on a 14-yard keeper. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Star guard Jake Setterlind (6-6, 290 sr.), a preseason all-state honoree and leader of ACR’s massive line, told The Tribune that Erwin played the most rugged and gave ACR its toughest WMC challenge thus far on the scoreboard as well.
The Rockets blasted Tuscola (37-0) then Asheville (35-0), in their last two games. The last of ACR’s three remaining regular-season games is at talented but struggling Roberson (2-6).
Asheville (5-4 ; 5-1 WMC) has also taken out Erwin (by 33-6), Tuscola (30-16) and TCR (23-22) in winning its first five conference games. The Cougars are poised to finish second and possibly host a playoff game — especially if Tuscola wins Friday at West Henderson (6-2; 5-1) to thrust idle AHS alone into second place.
For now, West Falcons are tied with AHS for second. If they get by Tuscola, they can absorb the expected drumming at ACR a week later, and their finale against Asheville at home Nov. 3 looms as a battle for second.
Jhari Patterson (34) dives for a receiving TD, to give Reynolds a commanding 21-0 lead. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
ACR’s five-TD margin and shutout of AHS deserves a “shout out” considering the visiting Cougars have racking up plenty of points themselves. But not on Friday. Cougar rushing yards ended at minus nine. They had a first-and-goal chance to tie it at 7, but were stopped on downs.
“They shut us down” at the line, AHS senior back Corey Clement said. He had averaged 96 ground yards. AHS QB Three Hillier hit periodic big plays, finishing with 245 passing yards but two picks and no scores.
An exciting defensive TD showed fortune was on ACR’s side, on this Friday the 13th. Athletic and fierce inside linebackers Frank Torres (6-3, 220 sr.) and Eli Hembree (6-2, 220 jr.) charged after the loose ball, on a blocked punt. Hembree snatched it in the end zone, for the final score.
“I wanted to score, since I hadn’t this year,” said Hembree, who reached the end zone once in ’16. He said a state title is “in the back of our minds.”