HendersonvillePete Zamplas

East Eagles win opener, have exciting athletic ‘pieces’


The East Henderson Eagles (1-2) won 35-28 at Rosman, in Justin Heatherly’s impressive debut as head coach, to match the one victory in the last two seasons. Above, Jake Shattuck (10), East’s workhorse back, breaks a North Knight tackle. Teammates are (88) and Caleb Shipman (5). Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas – East Henderson Eagles offense is taking off with much excitement — led by a tall athletic quarterback, bullish running back and first large front line in a half-decade.

East (1-2) won 35-28 at Rosman, in Justin Heatherly’s impressive debut as head coach, to match the one victory in the last two seasons. “We had excitement going in,” he said, and “we were able to pass and run.” Several Eagles said winning the opener was a huge boost.

Heatherly, a 1998 East alumnus, deploys a spread similar to the Hendersonville (HHS) Bearcat offense since he mirrored HHS’ offense while coaching Hendersonville Middle for the last six years. As an Eagle lineman, he was part of a “tight” prideful unit. He learned from the “great offensive mind” of “The Colonel,” head coach Carl Sanders.

“We have the best coach in the world,” Shattuck said. Heatherly is East’s third head coach, since Brett Chappell went to Pisgah after winning a conference title in 2012.

This season, the Eagles nearly started 2-0 as they fought hard in a 44-41 loss at North Henderson, again scoring at least 35 points . Their balanced offense split 678 yards evenly (339 each) in the air and on the ground, in two games.

Then last Friday on Apple Festival weekend, East opened its home season on its new turf. The Bird Bowl against the fellow 1960 school was close, until West Henderson Falcons (2-1) broke it open to win 51-21.

Tim Eplee ran the opening kickoff 55 yards for a West touchdown. East scored to pull to within 23-21, late in the second quarter. After that, it was all West with four unanswered TDs. Two second-half TD runs were each over 40 yards — by Jason Wallace then Elijah Nickell.

West scored twice quickly off of turnovers, to close the first half up 37-21. An East punt snap sailed 29 yards over the punter to the one yard line, to set up a Dalton Cole keeper. Then Jasper Thomas scampered 10 yards up the middle, on a “pick six.”

Yet East was within two scores, had stormed back a week earlier, and had also struck quickly on Jack Shattuck’s 95-yard kickoff return. QB Chris Hemphill rushed for two early TDs.

“We’re still in this!,” tailback Shattuck said, rooting on teammates at the break. After the game, he spoke of “confidence” going forward.

“We have to put the (talented) pieces together,” and have both the offense and defense shine for a “complete game,” senior Shattuck said.

Coach Heatherly said after the game “our fundamentals are not where they need to be.” Besides the errant punt snap, there were two wild shotgun scrimmage snaps. The first resulted in a safety, a minute in.

Heatherly, who urges focusing on a quarter at a time, fired up his team a week earlier at halftime at North. “We believed we could make a game of it, and we did,” he said after that narrow defeat. He praised East’s “unbelievable effort” to “keep fighting.”

West coach Paul Whitaker said Friday “East fought hard” —especially in the tight first half. He said WHHS “relaxed” after its early lead, then re-ignited intensity. Cole, who hit Mason Lyda for a 48-yard TD pass play, got injured early in the second half. Quick backup Jordan Geyer kept West’s offense clicking, and got to pass on his first play.

West has done consistently best of the four local teams, across all three initial weeks. The Falcons edged Madison 30-28, nearly upset Hendersonville (falling 29-28), then won by 30 at East.

East-West is no longer the regular-season finale and conference game. West, North (1-2) — which beat Swain 34-28 Friday — and Tuscola moved into the all-3A WMAC. Hendersonville (2-1) — which was whacked by Charlotte Christian 63-14 at home Friday — takes their place, in the newly-named all-2A Mountain Six (MSC).

East keeps producing athletes and has two 6-foot-5 QBs, in starter Hemphill (6-5, 205) and backup and fellow junior Tyler Pace (6-5, 165). Pace as a receiver offers a tall passing combo.

Hemphill with his 4.5 speed is quick charging upfield when running. He sprinted for two TDs Friday, and a week earlier at North — for 83 yards, and 20 to get East back into contention.

“Chris is very athletic, with a strong arm,” Heatherly said of the youngest son of state trooper William Hemphill, a Brevard High (Class of ’87) and Mars Hill star D-lineman. Chris’ passing is developing. He has a strong arm, and can see over defenders. West coach Whitaker praised both East’s “athletic quarterback, and tough runner.”

Bullish Shattuck (5-8, 180 sr.) has emerged as the go-to back, with relentless pounding and breakaway quickness. Shattuck was amazing at North. The former running-styled QB ran for three East TDs, starting with a 66-yarder up the gut. His second one, a 15-yarder, gave East its brief lead. His 21-yard score with two minutes left kept East in it.

“Jake is as strong as a mule” with “not an ounce of fat,” Heatherly said. He said after week two “if he keeps running that well, then we’ll keep feeding him the ball.”

Deijon Gash (5-11, 195 sr.) from the extended Gash family of HHS lore also rushes, and he shines at linebacker. Jacob Suber (5-8, 205 sr.), a cousin of former Roberson QB Noah Suber, is due back soon from injury.

East often deploys four receivers at once. Garrett Stiwinter (5-11, 185 sr.) has made many clutch catches. Quick Caleb Shipman (5-11, 140 jr.) also returns kickoffs. An injury in week two has sidelined WR-RB Zack Adkinson (5-11, 170 sr.).

East has four 300-pounders — blockers Trevor Maybin (6-5, 345 jr.), Brett Frazier (6-4, 315 sr.) and Brenden Foushea (6-3, 305 so.) and run-stopper Fortino Gomez (6-7, 360 jr.). Linebackers are Gash, Shattuck, J.J. Wilson (5-11, 195 sr.), and HHS transfer Korbit Collins (6-3, 210 jr.) who made big hits. The base defense is 4-3, the objective all 11 swarming to the ball.

The game Friday marked the third week in a row a Henderson County team opened at home on new turf, with school and county officials dedicating the field. The field absorbed a steady rain from Thursday through Friday mid-afternoon, and was barely moist for a rain-free game. Messer said East’s field required the most drainage work — to remove much clay. Clay caused puddles, which were worst on home sidelines. No more.

Hugh “Pee Wee” Hamilton, who died hours before the game at age 89, was honored with a pre-game moment of silence. He guided East to a 43-26 football mark in 1972-78. He won 145 games in 22 seasons with Andrews, Asheville then East. He retired in 1987.

East hosts Chase Friday, at 7:30 p.m. EHHS opens MSC play Oct. 6 at Brevard, welcomes Chappell and Pisgah Oct. 13, and closes the regular season at home versus Smoky Mountain and HHS.

Hendersonville has the perfect bounce-back chance against struggling Owen, at Dietz Field also Friday at 7:30. North is off. The area can watch West on WMYA “My 40” TV, in a very winnable Western Mountain Athletic Conference opener. The game is Thursday at 7 p.m., at North Buncombe. West won there 38-14 a year ago.

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