By Pete Zamplas
The Western Mountain Athletic Conference football race is topsy turvy up top, after usual contenders Asheville and Erwin both lost their WMAC openers.
Those two schools, who play this Friday in Leicester in an early title elimination game, have rotated as the second-place WMAC team in recent years. The four teams getting off to a winning start in the conference are favorite A.C. Reynolds (2-2 overall), upstarts West Henderson (4-0) and T.C. Roberson (1-3), and Tuscola (1-2).
This past weekend, Roberson shocked the Cougars (1-3) for its first victory on 2019. The Rams poured it on early and often, and held off an AHS comeback to double up the Cougars 42-21. Many coaches in the know call this TCR varsity football’s first victory ever on Asheville’s field. The Rams beat AHS for the first time since prevailing 12-11 at home, three seasons ago.
“Heart and grit” are ingredients to triumphs such as the upset at Asheville, TCR head coach Jason Dinwiddie told his troops in the victory huddle. Lineman Tyson Conner shouted out those two code words — loud enough for all in Skyland to hear — when the coach asked the team what it takes.
Dinwiddie said a “brutal” pre-conference schedule toughened the Rams, for WMAC battles.
Asheville may have felt the stings of an unfortunate Friday the 13th, with four passes picked off and two of them accounting quickly for Ram touchdowns.
Erwin’s game was postponed a day to Saturday night. But it still felt like the 13th as well, for the winless Warriors (0-4). They fumbled the ball away three times, in a 53-0 drubbing at Reynolds.
Eli Carr threw for six touchdowns and 281 yards. Carr is ACR’s motor. He has already thrown for nearly 1,000 yards — with 989 in four games — and for 11 TDs versus six interceptions.
Roberson took advantage of what in recent years has seemed a weakness in the AHS passing game — very wide and thus long screen passes. They can break for long gains but often only short yardage, and carry risk of incompletion and — much worse — interception. The Rams picked off Three Hillier four times in the game.
First, a screen deflected off of Cougar Justin Campbell’s fingers. Zavion Woldu intercepted it at about the AHS ten, and ran to the four. That set up Devin Credle’s second TD run.
Next, Hunter Maddox made a quick pick six near the end zone — off of another screen. Suddenly, TCR led 21 to zip.
Roberson star senior runner Credle scored the initial TD, racing 43 yards untouched down the left sideline.
The Rams led 28-7 at the half. Asheville’s offense got going more, as each team scored 14 points in the second half. Hillier threw to a wide-open Famous Pasley in the end zone, for a Cougar score.
Reynolds is reigning WMAC champ for the past four years, each time going unbeaten in the conference. On Saturday, the Rockets scored four touchdowns in the second quarter to pull away. They led 39-0 at the break.
Markeese Jackson’s one-yard run opened the scoring barrage. Former Warrior Don Mosley scored the next two TDs on passes from Eli Carr, covering 24 then eight yards. Carr was accurate, completing 13 of 18 passes. ACR did not turn over the ball.
Big-play receiver Jhari Patterson took his turn, by scoring on Carr’s next three passing TDs. These scores covered 73, 60 then 21 yards. Patterson had 179 yards on five catches.
Carter Lindsay’s 14-yard TD reception was the sole score of the third quarter. Lindsay, a fast 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior, had 52 yards on four receptions. Both Lindsay and Patterson have each 20 catches thus far, and Mosley ten more. They total nine of ACR’s 11 TD receptions. Patterson leads the way with five — three on Saturday.
Lindsay looked to be Reynold’s QB, in preseason. But he was switched back to receiver, in favor of strong-armed 6-1, 209 senior Carr.
Reynolds’ final TD came with 5:45 to go, as Seth Eberhardt snatched a fumble and took it to the house. He recovered two Erwin fumbles, and Hunter Peterson pounced on another one.
Malakai Ray’s 46-yard interception return set up the second TD.
The defense notched a shutout, and limited EHS to merely seven first downs and 36 passing yards. Total yards were 333-84 and average yards per pass were 15.6-1.6 — both stats favoring the victors. Net rushing yardage was about 50 for each side. Total plays was nearly even, at 47-45.
A huge edge was ACR’s average starting field position. It was the Erwin 48, according to the Go Big Green website. ACR typically had merely half the field to travel.
Erwin managed to block two of Kevin Hernandez’s seven extra point tries, and stopped a two-point conversion run early on.
The Warriors are working in a new QB of their own, in sophomore Jared Penland. This Friday, his counterpart is Hillier who is a senior and third-year starter.
This Friday Roberson hosts North Buncombe (3-1), which lost 35-7 at home to West Henderson last Friday. ACR hosts Enka (1-3), North Henderson (0-2) welcomes Tuscola. West is idle. Games start at 7:30 p.m.