This backyard tussle between neighboring counties belonged to Birds over Cats, on a night when three of the four Henderson County teams won convincingly. West Henderson demolished Madison 58-6 on the road. Hendersonville shut out host North Henderson, by 49-0. On this upcoming Friday night, East welcomes North while West is at Hendersonville. Both games start at 7:30 p.m.“All gas, no brakes” is East’s team motto about keeping up pressure on foes. The Eagles under second-year head coach Justin Heatherly did so impressively at home Friday. They scored the first two TDs, then broke open a tight 14-7 contest by scoring four TDs in a row. RHS got one back late. Time and again, the scrappy Tigers went for it on fourth down but were stopped short.
East’s “signature win” in 2017 and biggest pride boost by far was in upsetting Pisgah Bears 27-22 on Oct. 13, Heatherly said. “That shows the younger kids they can win — even against a tough opponent like Pisgah,” Heatherly said. “If we play hard like that and limit mistakes, we can be competitive with most anyone.”
Heatherly is “changing the mindset, to be successful” again as in last decade under Brett Chappell (now Pisgah’s head coach), and as “no-quit” when Heatherly played. The 1998 East grad and Eagle lineman was recently Hendersonville Middle School athletic director and head football coach for six years. “He’s intense, big on character and our becoming leaders,” Korbit Collins noted. Fellow senior Tyler Pace said, “he cares, and reaches out to us.”
Heatherly welcomes input from players during games, on what they see opponents doing, new Eagle Nasiah “Zay” Henderson said. The former North Henderson quarterback burst 38 yards on a TD run Friday, in his Eagle debut. He broke two tackles, to spring loose. He blends power and speed. Henderson ran 20 times for 117 yards, as the starting running back and a new weapon in East varsity green. “Zay was grinding for extra yardage,” Coach Heatherly said.
A familiar standout — Tyler Pace — caught several key passes, including an 11-yard TD. East had a pair of 100-yard senior star receivers Friday. Both have sure hands, and complimentary skill sets with a similar result. Both can get to high passes that are out of reach of mere mortal defenders.
Pace, a wide receiver, is a lanky 6-foot-5 and 175 pounds. His scoring grab was a dandy of a reach. It was the first of those four TDs in a row, and made it 20-7 with 9.3 ticks before halftime. He caught 11 passes, for 110 yards.
Pace prides himself most as a reliable possession receiver “making first downs” such as on curl patterns. He also hustles downfield on deeper routes. “Tyler’s stepped up his leadership,” Heatherly said. Pace said he was “excited” by the opening victory.
Emerging game-breaker Shipman (6-1, 150 sr.) leaps superbly. He soared far above two Tigers, to snatch the ball in the middle of the end zone for a 35-yard TD to open scoring. He seems to channel the spirit of another no. 5 in East green, Steffon Hill (Class of ’13), and HHS Bearcat Tykel Landrum (Class of ’18).
Shipman grins saying how “I’m filling big shoes” of Eagle athletes of over a dozen years. They include Hill and the three Michaels — WR Corbitt and RBs Angram then Robinson (now an East coach).
Adkinson hit flanker Shipman again for a long score. This time, it was on a crossing pattern from left to the middle. After the catch, Shipman sped untouched to the right sideline, then zoomed along it for the score. He finished with 10 catches for 127 yards. No wonder Coach Heatherly says, “I want him to get the ball. Caleb is very quick, and so competitive.”
Shipman proved the most dynamic target of both quarterbacks. He picked off Rosman senior Luke Stewart’s pass, and dashed 45 yards through RHS into the end zone as if on a punt return. Shipman tallied 133 yards on his three scoring plays, and 172 total yards not counting kick returns.
Stymieing Stewart is a feather in the Eagles’ cap. He was third among returning WNC passers in passing yards in 2017. He is stock and strong, but slogs about in big size 16 shoes. East kept pressuring Stewart into breaking from the pocket and hurrying errant throws, and intercepted him three times. His 152 passing yards were barely more than half of Adkinson’s 272, and not much more than East’s 119 yards in penalties (often false starts).
Rosman’s best weapon was David Hall, a stocky runner. He caught a pass, broke tackles and went 18 yards down the right sideline for the first RHS score. Surprisingly, the Tigers did not go to him much in the second half. They also shunned top receiver Samuel Chappell, Brett’s tall cousin, game-long. This made sense as Shipman covered him closely, to win that pivotal matchup.
The 4-3 Eagle defense features aggressive all-Mountain Six linebackers Korbit Collins (6-3, 225 sr.) who made 127 tackles in ’17, and Kenny Pridmore (5-10, 190 sr.) who made 91. “Korbit has good instinct for the ball. He’s a great run stopper,” Heatherly said. So are Pridmore and huge Fortino Gomez (6-7, 356 sr.), among others.
“It’s up to us to step up against big plays,” Pridmore said. He credits challenging fitness training in preseason to game endurance and success. Collins credited the “game plan” and continued “intensity” for the opening conquest.
Meanwhile, East’s Adkinson (6-1, 173 jr.) completed 19 of 30 throws overall — and for three scores. Pace said of Adkinson’s passing, “I trust him — even more” after Garrett’s varsity debut.
Eagle flanker Mason Green (5-8, 150 jr.) caught four passes. East often deploys four receivers. WR Luis Garcia (5-10, 161 jr.) caught a pass for a two-point conversion. Garcia also made a fine long catch in the right corner of the end zone. Officials ruled it out of bounds. But the Rosman baseball head coach was near the play, and among those figuring it was a good catch.
East showcased its aerial chops early and often in the first half. As Heatherly noted, the Eagles went to the air in the first half as “Garrett and Caleb made big plays,” then the ground in the second half to control the clock. This also “got our ground game more confidence,” for upcoming contests.
Collins got in some runs, and bulldozed 18 yards for a score in the final quarter. Henderson (6-1, 190 jr.) is quick, and he and Collins have size and strength. Jose Jose Hernandez (5-8, 195 jr.) is another strong-running option, who also will “run you over,” Heatherly said. He noted Collins will play RB sparingly, as he plays the entire way on defense. East out-rushed Rosman by 198-83.
East’s quickest back seems Pablo Santamaria (5-9, 160 sr.). He won East’s running back gig in the preseason, got hurt, but is expected back in about two weeks. The star soccer scorer has “very quick lateral moves” in football, too, Heatherly noted. He said East varies its spread between one-back and two-halfback sets, often by what defensive formations “give us.”
Where the Big Birds up front open up holes is a good direction to go. Heatherly opts for the “five meanest guys, who’ll fight every down” as blockers. The initial ones, at least, are LG Brenden Foushee (6-3, 315 sr.), center Trevor Maybin (6-6, 365 sr.), LT Daniel Moss (5-10, 182 sr.), RT Nathan Johnson (5-11, 250 jr.) and at RG Grayson Parker (6-1, 205 jr.) or David Knox (6-1, 215 jr.).
Foushee said he is learning such technique has “where to place hands” legally for best leverage, and developing more mobility. He cites “pride” of Eagle linemen, to do their part.
Once Santamaria returns, Heatherly has interesting options with his skill starters. He said though Henderson was pressed into RB duty, once Santamaria is back then Henderson has a chance to quarterback the team. He and Adkinson were “neck and neck” in the preseason at QB, Heatherly said. He said both likely start “somewhere on offense.”
Henderson has evident running ability, as a RB or QB. Yet Adkinson showed up well Friday in running, and breaking tackles and zipping through the defense. He rushed 11 times for 54 yards, averaging five yards and getting some key first downs. On the opening scoring drive, he gained six on third-and-five, and on fourth-and-three scampered for a first down. Then on the next play, he passed up the gut to Shipman for a TD.
“Garrett is very elusive,” Coach Heatherly said, echoing Garrett’s elder brother Zack Adkinson (Class of ’18) in assessment.
Adkinson, who piloted junior varsity in ’17, was mostly on target in passing as he guided East to the 40 points. He took a huge step forward. Still, Heatherly said in preseason it seemed “Nasiah has an even stronger arm. Both are accurate throwers.” The coach likes their intangibles. “Garrett is calm under pressure. He’s played lights out. Henderson wants it. He can be more fiery.” Ultimately, Heatherly concluded, “the battle is about who runs the offense best.”
Henderson quarterbacked North for most of 2017, before getting injured. He thus has varsity experience, and in the elite WMAC that North and West Henderson entered a year ago joining Reynolds, Erwin and Asheville. Henderson liked the WMAC challenge to “show my ability, in making plays” and team-wise how “we have athletes, too” and “we can compete.” He said “you gotta bring it” weekly in the M6, too. Zay said he enjoys “using my legs to make big plays” as a running back, and also all-around tasks as a QB.
Henderson smiled about playing his former team next. Last year, North edged East at home in a 44-41 shootout. He said that ahead of the game, he and other newer Knights “were told (by teammates) that East is not good.”
This time, East has to guard against over confidence by not putting too much into North’s opening loss to explosive HHS. The Knights assuredly will be eager to redeem themselves, in a winnable contest. Several Eagles and Knights alike have said they are eager to beat other Henderson County teams. The unofficial county crown is important.
Kicking can decide close contests. East gets a major coaching boost for kickers with arrival of the Ropers (East alum Chuck and son Will, recent star HHS kicker) from Hendersonville. Nester Lopez, East’s kicker last year, recently returned to the squad. The senior had to sit last Friday, but will kick this Friday, Heatherly noted. Chuck Roper likes Lopez’ “confidence,” and sees him progressing. “Give us four games” working with him. “You’ll see.”
The Eagles are still enthused by the win over Pisgah in ‘1. Pace said “It’s definitely an eye opener,” Collins said. “It shows what we can accomplish, when we work together.” Justin Wells, a senior linebacker, said “we play together so well.”
Coach Heatherly said of M6 play, “We can be competitive every week, and pull out a couple (upset) wins in this tough conference.”