HHS starts 2AA playoffs by hosting Brevard at 7:30 p.m., then faces the winner of sixth seed Salisbury or Red Springs. Nearby BHS Blue Devils return to Dietz Field and a sea of red-clad fans merely two weeks after getting thrashed there 43-0, in a Mountain Six (M6) contest. Then, Bud Williford threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 89 (his most in ’17) yards and a score.
HHS (8-3; 4-1 M6) finished second behind unbeaten Franklin (FHS) this year, its first in the conference. Only the M6’s top two earned automatic bids, though five of six (all but East Henderson) are going. HHS is a West Region 2A third seed, behind top seed Reidsville and recent arch-rival Heritage which looms as a third-round foe. FHS (11-0) is not a roadblock, instead competing in 2AA.
Hendersonville has won four straight, and yielded merely one TD in its last two contests. “We’re playing our best football of the year” at the most critical time, Bearcat head coach Jim Sosebee said. He grinned right after his victory ice dousing by players.
Quarterback Bud Williford said “it’s great to get on a roll,” with momentum for the playoffs. HHS is the sole Henderson County team to make playoffs.
Brevard (6-5) is seeded 14th. BHS lost 33-18 at Pisgah (6-5; 2-3) Friday, but wins a tie-breaker with East Henderson (3-8; also 1-4) by having beaten the Eagles. Smoky Mountain (5-6; 2-3) lost to FHS 45-21 Friday, and returns to The Den.
Bearcat QB Bud Williford bounces off an Eagle tackler. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Brevard QB Mitchell Johnson has thrown for 21 TDs and 1,840 yards. Last week, the he 6-1 junior threw for 238 yards and three TDs — two to Luke Ellenberger.
Last week, Hendersonville outscored East by three touchdowns in each half and led 21-0 at the break. Hunt scored on a 21-yard run, cutting right then charging up the middle. The burly junior rushed 31 times. Yet he said afterward he did not feel sore, thanks to rigorous team conditioning. “He’s tougher than a (cheap) $2 steak,” color man and retired Owen coach Kenny Ford quipped on the WMYA MY40 telecast.
Hunt has run for 995 yards (6.9 ypc.) and for more than 100 for four games in a row, along with 12 scores. Instead of building a lead by air then controlling clock, HHS ran early and often.
Another junior, receiver Kalin Ensley, caught two TD passes to total 15 TDs and 919 yards receiving this season. Ensley also ran a yard for his third rushing TD of the year.
Tykel Landrum reached a milestone, as first in WNC to 1,000 receiving yards in ’17; he has 1,044. The swift senior tallied 62 yards, on four catches Friday. He averages 20.1 yards per catch, and Ensley 19.6. The big-play aerial duo has 99 of the 161 HHS receptions. Three other juniors have 60 total catches — Nasir Artis with 27, Justin Starnes 18 and Hunt with 15.
HHS stuck mostly to the ground, for a change. Williford dashed 37 yards to set up his nine-yard rushing TD — his eighth of ‘17. Williford notes he was a fullback, and still runs like one. He is also a “punishing runner,” Coach Sosebee said.
Williford threw merely 10 times, completing eight for 179 yards — with three of them going the distance. Bearcat teammates cheered loudest as unsung sophomore Caleb Green outran the Eagles on a 69-yard play, for his first varsity TD.
Williford is “like a coach out there, making reads” of opposing defenses and adjustments, Sosebee said. Heatherly, who coached him in Hendersonville Middle School (HMS), said that even then Bud was “calm under pressure.”
Williford is among WNC passing yard leaders. He led them all before regular season finales, and now is second with 2,673. His QB rating is a solid 101.2.
The six-foot senior has thrown for 26 TDs — five versus Owen and four in the 51-45 win at Smoky Oct. 13 when he peaked with 400 passing yards. He has tossed merely 13 interceptions (four vs. Pisgah). He averages 16.9 yards per completion; his longest is 93 yards to Ensley in beating Pisgah.
Smoky senior Nate Coffey now leads with 2,868 yards, but FHS likely ends his season Friday. Juniors Alex Flinn (2,646) of Reynolds and Ty Gossett (2,528) of Roberson are next. Flinn is bound to pad stats in a long playoff run.
The Bearcats outgained East 472-131 yards. They “stacked the box” to contain rushing, East’s first-year head coach Justin Heatherly noted.
Still, strong-armed East QB Chris Hemphill often shined. The athletic junior is getting more patient in run-throw options, rolling out far enough behind the line for more time to react to defenders.
Hemphill threw a 23-yard strike to fellow 6-5 Eagle Tyler Pace for East’s score, and set that up with a 35-yard pass play to Caleb Shipman on fourth and five. “Getting Chris more protection” is a chief goal for 2018, Heatherly said. Senior Jake Shattuck was East’s other main runner.
West (6-5; 4-4) and North Henderson (2-9; 0-8) are in their first year of Western Mountain play. Both lost Friday, to end seasons. Yet Coach Paul Whitaker defied odds by finishing in the middle of the elite, nine-team 3A WMAC.
Last Friday, West fell 37-19 to second-place Asheville (7-4; 7-1) at home in the rain. Dalton Cole teamed with Kyle Porter for a nine-yard TD pass, later a 48-yard gain to set up Jason Wallace’s touchdown run.
North Knights came closest to winning a WMAC game, in first-year coach Zach Wilkins’ 2017 finale. They fell 34-31 in overtime at Enka (3-8; 2-6). North led 21-14, on Darren Lammons’ 85-yard kickoff return.
Local teams had signature wins — West over TCR, and North over Swain. East shook WNC by beating Pisgah. “That showed we could beat anybody,” Hemphill said. Eagle play and spirit is reviving. after averaging one win in 2013-16.
Credit 1998 East grad Heatherly for installing extra confidence, discipline, preparation and the HHS spread he ran at HMS. He said of current Bearcats he groomed at HMS, “they’re still my kids.”