Malia Easler waves at halftime Friday, as East Henderson’s homecoming queen. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas- West Henderson Falcons grounded Enka Jets 41-0 Friday, while Hendersonville fell in overtime 17-14 at Franklin to start its Mountain Six Conference season.
East Henderson’s homecoming was spoiled by Brevard by 27-0, in an M6 opener. North Henderson (0-7) dropped a 42-7 contest to upstart North Buncombe (6-2), in WMAC action.
West (3-4) hosts North Henderson this Friday, before closing against three of the top four in the WMAC. Hendersonville (4-3) welcomes Smoky Mountain (5-2) in a homecoming, before going to Pisgah (6-1) then Brevard (6-1). East (5-2) is at Pisgah Bears, who are undoubtedly hungry for payback after the Eagles stunned them a year ago.
West was an impressive fifth place last year in the elite, nine-team WMAC. On Friday, West won its first WMAC contest of ’18 to improve to 1-3 (tied with Roberson) and in seventh place. This eased the sting of falling to TCR by one point, 41-40, then getting outscored by Enka 55-33 two weeks ago.
“What goes around…comes around.” Following Enka’s script against West precisely, the Falcons delivered an early knockout punch to Enka by scoring three touchdowns in the opening quarter to lead 21-0.
First, Alex Hembree did a “scoop ‘n score” on a fumble recovery, going three yards, head coach Paul Whitaker noted. Peyton Dimsdale replicated the feat, going six yards with a fumble recovery as West scored three more TDs in the third quarter.
Tyler Pace (11) of East picks off a pass intended for Brevard’s Breylan Owens (2). Pace returned it over 40 yards. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
“Our defense scoring twice was a big help,” Whitaker said.
West scored on four runs of 18 yards or more — by Jacob Burnette (49-yarder) then Keyaris Cash (23 yards), and later a pair by Chris Roberts (26 then 19 yards) in the third quarter. Roberts rushed for 78 yards, Cash 56, Burnett 44, Isaac Woods 39, and Austin Jenkins and Dimsdale a combined 35 yards.
Enka had merely one (Jackson Smith, with 45) with more than 12 rushing yards. Falcon runners as a whole blend the usual power up the gut with extra speed zipping outside. “We make some big runs on the outside,” Whitaker said. “We played hard for all four quarters. We came out of halftime focused.”
Linebacker Austin Laughter is in “concussion protocol,” and missed the last game, Whitaker noted. He said Cole Braswell, a 282-pound lineman, could get medical clearance to play this Friday after breaking ribs in an auto crash in mid-September.
West can be a major spoiler at Tuscola, on Oct. 19. “They came over to this conference (from what is now M6) with us,” Whitaker said.
“We’re familiar with them,” as both teams like ball-control running. “We understand it’s such a big game. We’ll look to correct the little things” in practice for upcoming games.
First, though, is North Henderson at home this Friday. “You throw out our records. It’s going to be a dogfight,” Coach Whitaker said.
Beating West feels like three wins at once for the nearby Knights. “I’m sure their kids will be up for it. These guys played youth football and baseball together. They’re friends off the field.”
Moving up to the WMAC is a two-way challenge.
Other programs have to deal with West and North Knights in various sports such as baseball and basketball. West struck a happy chord for all of Henderson County last Thursday. Its hallowed volleyball program defeated Reynolds in a full five games, for its 10th straight victory.
The Lady Falcons (23-2) handed ACR (19-1) its first defeat, joined them atop WMAC regular-season standings at 14-1, and are 3.5 games ahead of next-best North Buncombe. (North Henderson is fifth of nine, at 6-9/10-11 overall.)
The conference tourney in coming days will decide playoff seeding. Coach Tiffany Lawrence’s crew dropped the first two games to ACR 25-22 then 25-15, before rolling by scores of 25-12, 25-22 then 15-7.
Hendersonville won its first four football games, then dropped its last three by merely five combined points including its M6 opener Friday. Franklin’s The Pit is very noisy and distracting, and FHS won its 12th in a row there at its homecoming Friday.
Jim Sosebee’s Bearcats scored first on Kalin Ensley’s one-yard run, but managed merely one more first down in the first half and trailed 14-7 at the break. HHS scored the sole TD of the second half as Cole McMurray bulled in from three yards out, with just under six minutes left. HHS got the ball back, and drove to the FHS 16 in the final two minutes.
But a low snap foiled the field goal attempt, the second one HHS missed that night. Kicking was the difference, as Franklin (5-2) drilled a 17-yard field goal to win in OT. Woody Hunter threw for 205 yards for HHS, with nearly half (98) of yardage going to Ensley on five catches.
Meanwhile in East Flat Rock, Brevard led East merely 13-0 at halftime but doubled up its lead early in the second half. Both squads have much skill. Brevard is also huge across its lineup, moved well on offense, and contained East’s power running.
An Eagle highlight was Tyler Pace’s dazzling interception return, shortly before halftime to prevent further BHS scoring. He picked off Mitchell Johnson’s pass at East’s four, zoomed down the right sideline, then at the 15 cut left across the entire field. Long-striding Pace eluded several Blue Devils, and ended up crossing his 40 on the left sideline.
East is among schools that held homecoming Friday. The queen is Malia Tesfanesh Easler. The senior class president told The Tribune she plans to go to East Carolina, and double-major in English and dance. She is on East’s dance team. Easler is V.P. of the school’s National Honor Society chapter. She is also active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
East and varsity football head coach Justin Heatherly have much to be proud of already this year, at 5-2. That is the best mark among the four public high schools in Henderson County. Even if East dropped its other three games, it finishes 6-5 and thus above .500. Already, East with five victories has two more than in the last two years combined.
One more win gives East the program’s first winning season since winning the conference in 2012. A shot at a winning record is a tremendous motivation and source of pride, for players and coaches. Heatherly calls it and the progress thus far an immense “confidence booster.”
Heatherly said ahead of the BHS game that the Eagles were “excited” about the 5-1 start. “East is no longer the overlooked team. Others have to be concerned.” Yet he cautioned “we know we have a lot of work to do,” and moreso after the BHS defeat. “We can’t make stupid mistakes.”
He said 6-6, 365 center Trevor Maybin, who missed the BHS game due to injury, is expected back against Pisgah. That is crucial, to have a chance in the trenches. East’s “signature win” in 2017 by far was in upsetting Pisgah Bears 27-22, Heatherly has said. “That shows the younger kids they can win — even against a tough opponent like Pisgah. If we play hard like that and limit mistakes, we can be competitive with most anyone.” That has happened more often than not in 2018.
East’s best chance for that sixth win may be Oct. 26, at Smoky Mountain. Yet Smoky nearly upset mighty Pisgah last Friday barely losing 13-8, and beat North Buncombe and 1A reigning state champ Cherokee. Heatherly foresees “four more weeks of conference wars. We have to play our best games. All six teams are pretty lethal.” First, East has a brutal two weeks at Pisgah then with Franklin at home. East’s finale is at Hendersonville, Nov. 2 after the Smoky game.
Turnarounds by East and North Buncombe this year and West’s bounce-back a half-decade ago all can inspire North Henderson’s hopes for a reversal of fortunes in the near future.
Athletic senior Alberto Martinez debuted as starting Knight QB Friday, at homecoming. He threw for 180 yards, with over half (94) going to Connor Hunt on five receptions. NBHS ran wild. Skylar Jutras rushed for 220 yards and three second-half TDs. QB Caden Higgins ran for 98 yards, and both NBHS scores for a 14-7 halftime lead. The Blackhawks have a large team and gritty runners, opposing coaches note.
North Knights finish the year at home against Enka (0-8), which is also winless. That looms as the best chance for either side to storm into the win column. Give the edge to Coach Zach Wilkins’ Knights, at home.
Looking beyond Knights sports, North Henderson hosts its inaugural Medieval Festival and Chariots of the Future Car show Saturday afternoon, Oct. 20. There will be Medieval-themed games and booths. The senior project is a major fundraiser for various school clubs and athletics.