By Pete Zamplas- Darren Lammons-led “Lammon-ators” of North Henderson outscored East Henderson 44-41 in a thriller Friday, for new head coach Zach Wilkins’ inaugural victory in the Knights’ first game on their artificial turf.
Coach Wilkins enthusiastically told his players in the post-victory huddle it was even better for team character to have to “dig in deep” and gut out the triumph, than to win easily. He told The Tribune winning his first game as a head varsity football coach “feels great.” Both North and East are 1-1.
If Wilkins is the Knights’ new king, then the “First Knight” is Lammons. The 5-10, 150-pound senior aptly wears number one. He scored three times covering more than half the field— on runs of 75 and 60 yards and a pass play covering 52 yards.
An even faster (at 4.47) Knight, Quintin Wright (5-10, 150 sr.), ran for three TDs — two in the first quarter. Late in the third quarter, he raced leftward 20 yards. That set up his 25-yard score, as Wright cut right to seize back the lead. Wright and Lammons are also dangerous kick returners.
Another skilled Q quotient — Quann Waters (5-10, 203 jr.) — ran two yards into the end zone, for a 32-14 NHHS lead late in the opening half.
Darren Lammons (1) soars to snare a pass against East’s Zach Adkinson (12), for a 52-yard scoring play. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Also on Friday, Hendersonville had to rally with two TDs in the final three minutes to nip valiant underdog West (1-1) by 29-28 on the road. HHS won it with 12 seconds to go, as Alex Williford lobbed a pass to ex-NHHS quarterback Kalin Ensley.
The next Knight QB was Lammons for the opener, a lopsided loss to HHS. Then the home opener on turf in week two unveiled a new Knight behind center — stocky yet swift sophomore Nasiah Henderson (6-1, 185). He is another adept runner, and passed well when called upon.
North receivers include fast Daquanne Washington (6-1, 153 sr.), Dylan Lynch (5-9, 150 jr.) who made an interception Friday, Javian Croft (5-7, 127 sr.) and top ’16 JV target Alberto Martinez (6-0, 175 sr.).
Lammons and Wright, a transfer last winter from Hendersonville (HHS), were receivers for their first three prep seasons. Now both line up most at running back, at times wide or in the slot to keep defenses from easily shadowing them.
First Knight Darren Lammons grins after scoring a TD. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
North changes from much spread passing to a “run-first” multiple I with option running, to get the ball into its open-field runners’ hands surer and sooner, Wilkins said. “We got Quintin and Darren into open space” in the victory.
Lammons led all WNC receivers last year with 78 regular-season catches, gaining nearly 1,000 yards. He averaged 4.2 yards in a few carries. “He’s an athlete,” Coach Wilkins said. “It’s incredible how strong he is. He’s compact, explosive. His best strength is his vision, for making moves and eluding tacklers. He has 4.5 linear speed. He’s quicker than outright fast.”
Power backs Waters, FB-TB Jacob Owen (5-6, 180 sr.) and FB Brody Mitchell (5-10, 215 sr.) hit holes quickly on option dives, Wilkins said.
He touts the “mentality of being a physical football team, to hold our own in the trenches” in the elite Western Mountain Athletic Conference (WMAC, formerly the MAC). Beyond tactics, “you gotta tackle or break tackles.”
North and East each flashed a handful of athletes in a scoring barrage. They combined for twice a normal load with 33 points and over 300 yards in the first quarter that closed with North up 19-14.
East, which The Tribune will feature next week, was also very impressive. The Eagles ran for over 400 yards, making long scoring plays of their own to stay within reach. They even led for a minute, at 34-32.
Jake Shattuck ran for three East TDs, starting with a 66-yarder up the gut. His second one, a 15-yarder, gave East its brief lead. He made the game’s final score, on a 21-yard burst with two minutes left, to keep East in it. At halftime “we believed we could make a game of it, and we did,” new Eagle head coach Justin Heatherly said. He praised East’s “unbelievable effort” to “keep fighting.” He said of Shattuck, “if he keeps running that well, then we’ll keep feeding him the ball” as lead back. Deijon Gash helped carry the load late.
Athletic 6-5 East QB Chris Hemphill sprinted for two TDs — the longest (83 yards) of the day, and 20 yards for a TD to close the gap to 32-21 just before halftime. Earlier, he passed 13 yards to Tyler Pace for a score.
North’s defense forced several key turnovers — three in the opening quarter, a fumble at its 20 to set up Lammons’ 75-yard clincher, then Jacob Allison’s interception with 48 seconds to go. A would-be NHHS fumble return for a TD was nixed, when an Eagle swiped the ball back into East’s hands. East fans, who overflowed the visitors’ stands, roared.
Lammons was untouched on a double handoff, as he ran 75 yards to reopen a two-score margin at 44-35. Wright lined up left, took the first handoff, and ran rightward toward the center. He handed it in front to Lammons, who met him running leftward. Lammons lined up just right of the offensive line. Such a trick play clicked at the most crucial times for Wilkins’ coaching legend father, Danny Wilkins of Asheville Cougars.
Lammons cut upfield through a huge hole opened by the likes of Curtis Matthews (5-10, 310 jr.), Brock McKee (6-2, 280 jr.), Chris Waters (5-10, 263 sr.), Hunter Rogers (6-1, 235 sr.), and Jacob Allison (5-9, 220 jr.). He then cut right to elude a cornerback, and out-ran the Eagles down the sideline.
Reflecting the fundamentals Wilkins instilled into the Knights, Lammons started described that play by how crucial it was to secure the handoff. So he looked back to Wright and the ball, to “make sure I got it. Then I turned my head forward” to look for defenders. “I saw a big hole,” and sped through it.
North’s defense is again a multiple 3-4 base with some 4-2-5 versus running teams, and utilizes a fast secondary and some blitzes, Wilkins said.
Charismatic Wilkins, 30, takes over the Knights after a year of coaching their cornerbacks. The 2005 Enka grad learned about WMAC wars from the master, assisting his father at Asheville for six years by coaching receivers.
“Zach is a three-dimensional coach” whose players “respond” to his customized motivation, Danny Wilkins observed. “He wants to win as many games as he can. He is also into values. Coaches try to grow men.”
Zach Wilkins said in the WMAC “we gotta win the ones we have to win” versus others also considered lower-level, and “sneak up on a couple” of frontrunners. North’s WMAC season starts at home Sept. 15 versus Tuscola. Sept. 29 is a compelling reunion for the Wilkins family, as Asheville visits Marlow Stadium.
North won merely three times in ’16, but one was 31-28 at power Swain County (now 1-1). North hosts vengeful-thirsting Swain this Friday. East in its home opener faces West, and HHS welcomes Charlotte Christian. Games start at 7:30 p.m.