AshevillePete Zamplas

State runner-up ACR’s Jolly Jake and Fierce Frank to play in Shrine Bowl


Reynolds Rockets celebrate their West Region title Dec. 1. They came close in the state title game Saturday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Setterlind the 6-foot-7, 288-pound jolly giant, was added to the North Carolina squad three days before playing in the state title game at Duke on a chilly Saturday night. Rival coaches hail him as fundamentally sound, consistent, and a strong and mobile “climber” for disposing defensive linemen to quickly advance upfield to block others.

“Jake is a big, strong guy. We lean on him” to open running lanes and help motivate, his head coach Shane Laws has said. “Jake has a good sense of if he needs to be vocal and jump on (teammates), and fire them up a bit. Or if it’s better to keep them loose. He recognizes the situation.” Bearded, four-year starter Setterlind said “I pumped up my guys” on the sideline, during the playoffs’ tight moment. He might guide them with quick specifics, or simply reassure them they’ll do better such as by “we’ll get it next drive!”

Setterlind said he is “talking with (reigning NCAA champ) Clemson” and prefers the Tigers. Scouts at the Shrine Bowl will also eye Torres, and Hendersonville receiver Tykel Landrum. The 81st Shrine Bowl starts 2 p.m. Saturday, in Wofford’s Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C. Practice began Monday.

Torres was selected as a Shrine Bowler the morning after the state title slugfest, in which he was the team’s defensive MVP. The fast and hard-hitting 6-3, 220 middle linebacker made about 140 tackles in ’16 and again in ’17. Torres “makes all of the calls and adjustments,” Laws said. Torres and lanky Talon James had the biggest bark, what Laws calls “let the dogs loose” blitzing.

Torres is among ACR vocal leaders. He typically rushes to the end zone when teammates score, to thrust his arms up in the TD ref signal and whoop it up.

“We’re proud of Jake and Frank,” Coach Laws said Sunday. “As much as it hurts” to lose the title game, “we’re very happy for them.” The coach got home 4 a.m. Sunday. After two hours of rest, he was called at 8 a.m. and notified Torres is also a Shrine Bowler. The honor shines on the entire team and coaches, and elite Western Mountain conference play.


State runner-up ACR’s Jolly Jake and Fierce Frank to play in Shrine Bowl

Laws is 112-36 in 11 seasons, winning three of every four games. ACR went 14-2 this year, and nearly won its fourth-ever state football title. The Rockets also reached the state title game in boys’ soccer this fall.

The mountains got a state football title on Duke’s field Saturday — Cherokee’s first ever, by 21-13 in 1A. Braves quarterback Tye Mintz ran wild, making mincemeat of North Duplin.

Rocket players and coaches were disappointed in coming up one win short of a state crown, but proud of their title run.

“The kids played hard,” Laws said. “The effort was there. They played their guts out. When two very good teams play, a couple of plays decide the ballgame. New Hanover made those plays, and we didn’t make enough plays or stops.” Laws saw better drives, in the second half. “We moved the ball, and scored some points.”

New Hanover for the third week in a row turned it on in the second half, outscoring ACR 20-10 after a seven-all deadlock at intermission.

Reynolds QB Alex Flinn ran for a touchdown, and threw for 228 yards. He notched apparent state title game marks — 28 completions and 49 passes. New Hanover head coach Earl Smith told WMYA-TV that ACR was “getting the ball in the flats,” with much room to run.

Flinn averaged 264.4 aerial yards in totaling 1,322 in five playoff games. He led WNC in ’17 with 3,971 yards and 40 TDs passing, and had merely nine picks. The 6-2, 205-pounder ran for eight TDs, including ACR’s first score Saturday.

I’dre Bell, who surpassed 1,000 yards for the season, is another junior to help lead ACR in 2018. He totaled 18 TDs in ’17. In a duel of versatile stars Saturday, Bell out-gained game MVP Wiz Vaughn of New Hanover, 131-124 in scrimmage yards. Bell caught seven passes. But the Wiz was a wizard, in crunch time. The 2,200-yard combo player ran for two scores.

Reynolds struck first in the end zone. Flinn gunned it to Ari Williams for an apparent 20-yard score, on fourth down and eight to go. Williams, facing back toward the pass, backpedaled toward the back line as he secured the ball. WMYA My 40 TV replays showed Williams absolutely stepped one foot then the other in bounds, before he landed backwards with his hind end grazing the end line out of bounds.

Referees debated whether he sufficiently attained possession by then, or was still wrestling for the ball. The TV angle indicated he had possession, though it was close. One official signaled a TD, another that it was incomplete. They conferred with the head linesman, who then ruled it incomplete. That gave the ball to New Hanover, with 1:40 left in the opening quarter.

High school refs cannot check any instant replay. Replays on TV and the stadium big screen showed a likely TD. “You have to deal with that kind of stuff” and focus on next plays, Laws said. “We definitely felt that was a touchdown.” It had impact “momentum-wise,” he said. “Anything that pushes the game one way or another certainly is an issue. We’d love for that first one to have counted. There are (typically) six plays that separate the winner from the loser. That was one of those plays.”


Jake Setterlind is a Shrine Bowler. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

With roles reversed in the final quarter, referees again ruled in New Hanover’s favor. Wildcat fast senior Vaughn made a crucial catch on fourth and six. Yet the slow-motion replay clearly showed his feet were out of bounds before he secured the ball.

The early TD snub could have given the Rockets a Hanover hangover. Instead, they hung in. New Hanover scored on Vaughn’s three-yard run, with 4:30 to go to halftime. The short drive was set up at the ACR 22, by an interception.

Yet Reynolds tied it at seven on a two-minute drill scoring drive, capped by Flinn’s dynamic 10-yard keeper to the left side. Senior receiver Ari Williams delivered a big block, near the goal line.

Flinn’s screen to Bell gained 15 yards. Flinn then made his gutty TD run, with 1:12 left in the first half. An earlier, pivotal pass play was a 20-yard gain by swift senior Nate St. Onge, to the Wildcat 25. He veered wide left, out of the slot, on his pattern while the wide receiver cut inside to trade zones. Refs agreed St. Onge barely got one foot in, while snaring the pass at the left sidelines.

The Rockets seized their first lead at 10-7, on a 29-yard field goal by senior Ethan Blakey. Bell ran for 17 then 16 yards, to start that initial second-half drive. Two plays later Flinn faked to Bell, and gained 16 yards to the eight. Flinn lowered his shoulder, to out-smash the last tackler. This was among plays that Setterlind overpowered foes out of the way.

New Hanover quickly retook the lead, on a 75-yard pass play. Cole Tanner caught the ball at the 50, then went untouched. The game see-sawed; it was 14-10.


Jake Setterlind, at right, blocks far ahead of runner I’dre Bell (7, at left), in ACR’s state semifinal win. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

The Rocket offense launched into full orbit. ACR scored on an athletic trick play, to lead 17-14 5:08 left in the third quarter. St. Onge, swift receiver-back and another Shrine Bowl-caliber talent, was the QB in ’16 and early ’17. This year, he ran for nine TDs and caught 12 more. To close this drive in the red zone, he was “wildcat” QB versus the Wildcats.

St. Onge on third down stepped forward, leaped and hurled an eight-yard jump pass to the chest of 6-4, 220 tight end Talon James. St. Onge returned he kickoff 35 yards to the ACR 45, to ignite the drive.

Flinn advanced ACR downfield with a 34-yard pass play to Williams, and a deflected pass on third down. Bell snared it, then zig-zagged to gain nine yards to the eight. On fourth and one, St Onge got two yards on a QB keeper. Two plays later, he executed the jump pass.

But New Hanover scored two TDs, on QB Blake Walston’s keeper then Vaughn’s phantom two-yard score. Vaughn appeared stopped a yard short. This was after the refs awarded Vaughn the disputed fourth-down catch. That drive took up the first half of the 12-minute final quarter.

Still, ACR had six minutes to score twice, and came close. Reynolds reached the Wildcat 25, before foiled by a pick in the end zone. A last-gasp drive reached the eight, but a fourth-and-six pass was incomplete with a minute to go.

Much senior skill and leadership will be missed. But QB Flinn, RBs Bell and injured Kaedin Robinson, LB Eli Hembree, and blockers E.J. Elmous (who is 6-7) and Kyle Duncan are juniors. They and sophomores WR Jhari Patterson, DB Seth Eberhardt and OG Jacob Weaver are bound to lead another long playoff run in 2018.

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