By Pete Zamplas – West Henderson scrapped its relentless run-heavy offense early to strike through the air, as the Falcons broke open a close Bird Bowl versus East Eagles to roll 42-13 Friday.
The win was West’s sixth straight over East, moving the Falcons ahead in the series at 31-30-3. Both schools opened in 1960, three months before JFK was elected president. This season, both teams are 2-1 and yet to have a close contest.
Faster-than-usual West went mad at Madison to win the opener 58-6, fell 35-7 at faster Hendersonville, but flew past East in its home opener. This was on Apple Festival opening night, when HHS Bearcats were all over Asheville Cougars. 49-38 in the Cat Scratch Classic.
West head coach Paul Whitaker was pleased how his team bounced back from the loss at HHS to play rather error-free ball, in another emotional rivalry game.
The victory is more significant in that East had scored at least 40 points in its two wins, averaging 244 yards and five TDs from the arm of Garrett Adkinson. The Eagles looked more explosive than West at the onset.
Caleb Shipman continued his Steffon Hill/Tykel Landrum impression. He was open by four yards sprinting downfield as he made a leaping backwards catch on a crossing pattern at the West 36. Shipman promptly regained balance, and zoomed the rest of the way for a 68-yard touchdown. This was his fourth TD in three games.
But West answered, by shunning that imaginary “No Passing Zone” sign at Johnson Field. West often faces many defenders clustered against the run in the “box” near the line, and counters that with play-action fake runs to pass. Or West sheds its run-heavy formations at times, for a multiple-receiver spread.
The Falcons uncharacteristically scored their three of their first four TDs on long scoring pass plays.
West got in gear with Geyer (“Gear”) — Jordan Geyer (6-2, 160 sr.). The quick quarterback was on target with pivotal passes that caught East defenders off guard. Surprise is a start; the QB has to deliver and Geyer did. He threw for 186 of West’s 262 aerial yards, and for two scores.
First, Geyer fired a strike 25 yards to midfield to speedy Chris Roberts who was open by a full stride, up the gut for a 69-yard scoring play. West led 7-6 on Jackson Chandler’s PAT; East had gone for two after its TD, and missed.
The teams again exchanged TDs. East’s Zay Henderson ran two yards for the go-ahead TD, and a 13-7 lead. East would score no more that night, while West kept clicking.
West retook the lead, on Keyaris Cash’s impressive 24-yard TD run and the PAT. Swift Cash burst through Shipman’s bear-hug tackle at the 13-yard line, to reach the end zone.
Geyer connected with wide-open Austin Jenkins up the middle, and Jenkins blazed down the left side for a 40-yard TD. Next, Peyton Dimsdale bulled in from three yards out, in the final minute of the opening half. West led by two TDs, then doubled the final margin.
West was able to “Cash” in on a trick play. Cash grasped a pitch from Geyer, and heaved a bomb to tall Kyle Porter (6-4, 195 sr.) for a 76-yard touchdown to start the second half. Dimsdale ran in for his second TD early in the final quarter, to conclude scoring.
Cash scored West’s sole TD at HHS a week earlier, on a 90-yard kickoff return. This looks like one of West’s fastest squads in years, to go with usual strength and grit.
Coach Whitaker deploys a versatile posse of backs that shares carries. Power backs include Isaac Woods (6-0, 180 sr.), Dimsdale (5-11, 215 jr.) and Tony Ragusa (6-1, 178 jr.). Quick and slashing runners include Roberts (5-10, 156 jr.), Cash (5-7, 174 so.), Jenkins (5-11, 160 jr.) and injured Jacob Burnette (6-0, 172 sr.). Woods and Cash combined for five rushing TDs in the opening win. New talent is from a JV squad in ’17 that was unbeaten.
Blockers are Josh Candler (5-11, 220 sr.), Jeremiah Musser (6-0, 200 sr.), Cole Braswell (6-1, 282 jr.), Graham Hill (6-3, 250 jr.) and Lawrence Whittington (5-11, 205 jr.). Candler said with a grin that of all WMAC foes, more than any “I hate Tuscola!”
Meanwhile, the Falcon 3-5 defense put the clamps on the talented East offense. DL Cody Peck (6-0, 200 sr.) and Ragusa and LBs Alex Hembree (5-8, 170 jr.), Chandler Both (5-9, 180 jr.) and Zach Allison (5-10, 150 sr.) are among standouts. West with pre-snap stunting motion hides its point of attack, opposing coaches note. East head coach Justin Heatherly credited West for staying a step ahead in tactics.
West starts its WMAC season at home Friday, against North Buncombe. The improved Blackhawks (also 2-1) won at reigning 1A champ Cherokee, thrashed rival Madison 46-0, then lost by two to Smoky Mountain.
West (6-5 overall) did well to finish at .500 at 4-4, in fifth right in the middle of the nine-team WMAC, in its league debut. West’s signature conquest in 2017 was knocking off Roberson, by 28-25 in overtime. “It was a great win for us, Whitaker said. “That gave us confidence we could play in the WMAC.” He hopes to again “get a win against one of those top teams.” Geyer called it a “big turning point. It showed we could hold our own in the conference” with ball control and now more passing.
The other three local teams play away Friday — East at Chase, Hendersonville (3-0) at Owen, and North Henderson (0-3) at Tuscola. Games start at 7:30 p.m. Last week, North lost 47-14 at Swain. That was the fewest points North has yielded, and first time the offense got on the board.
Cat Scratch Classic
In a shootout, Hendersonville got the jump on Asheville in a match of explosive offenses. HHS led 21-6 after a quarter, never trailed, and beat last year’s WMAC runner-up by 49-38.
Kalin Ensley scored on four of his five receptions for HHS in the first half — twice covering half of the field. He gained 136 yards on five catches. As Ensley noted, he slipped backwards on his last TD catch. The ball went over Delano Brigg’s hands and to Ensley on the left side of the end zone.
His main cohort, Nasir Artis, caught four passes and has 18 receptions for 296 yards and three TDs in three games. Artis returned a kickoff 81 yards for a score Friday, and another 45 yards to set up a TD.
Woody Hunter threw for 186 yards, and ran for 44 yards and a TD. He has passed for 632 yards and eight TDs with half on Friday.
Ty’rese Hunt rumbled for 164 yards (8.6 ypc.), including 46 yards for the final TD. HHS out-rushed AHS 252-88 Friday, with 165 yards in the second half. Hunt nearly doubled his rushing total of the first two games, now totaling 361 yards to average 120 per game. He injured his left ankle, and had it iced.
The Bearcats will be featured next week, as The Tribune concludes its four-week series on local squads.