By Pete Zamplas
A.C. Reynolds bowed out of round three of 3A football playoffs, as Kings Mountain beat the local “Mountain Kings” 17-10 on Friday.
The Rockets (11-3), who as the third seed were the West Region’s highest seed, reached double digits in victories for the fifth season in a row. They advanced to the 3AA title game merely two seasons ago.
Reynolds led 10-2 at halftime. But the visiting Mountaineers (12-2), who go to fourth seed Charlotte Catholic (10-3) Friday, are a very underrated tenth seed from a tough conference.
They shut out ACR in the second half, while scoring a touchdown in each of the third and fourth quarters. They out-passed ACR by 163 to 55 yards in the entire game, and held Reynolds rushers to an average of less than three yards per carry. Very revealing was how KMHS made half (six of 12) of its third-down conversions, versus merely one of 12 for ACR.
However, daring Reynolds made it on all three of its fourth-down attempts. The first two set up a field goal, and the third conversion was on ACR’s sole touchdown. Later, a fourth successful fourth-down conversion was negated by a penalty.
Rocket head coach Shane Laws made a very gutsy call in the second quarter. He went for it on fourth and a yard to go — back on his 11-yard line! It worked.
As Danny Wilkins, retired Asheville head coach and last coach to beat Laws in back-to-back seasons, told The Tribune: “Sometimes you go by feel of the game,” for such a high-risk gambit. Wilkins is high school football color commentator for WWNC 570 AM in Asheville.
Coach Laws pulled the punting unit off the field, as he called a timeout ahead of the gamble. He told The Tribune that his message to his troops in the huddle was “stay on your blocks! We’re going for it!”
The Rockets made it. Jhari Patterson ran left briefly, then cut upfield for a healthy gain and the first down. He ran for another first down on fourth-and-one on that drive — gaining two yards, from ACR’s 48 to midfield.
Eli Carr threw to Carter Lindsay for a 19-yard gain to the 31. That helped set up a 33-yard field goal by senior Kevin Hernandez midway into the second quarter, for a 3-2 baseball or soccer-like lead.
Seth Eberhardt’s 47-yard interception return to the KM 23 further ignited Rocket momentum. He veered across the field to the left sideline, on an open-field jaunt that looked like a punt return.
This time, Reynolds reached the end zone thanks to two more clutch short-yardage gains. Don Mosley on third and one ran for a first down to the nine. That set up “goal to go.”
Versatile senior Patterson took direct snaps as the “wildcat” quarterback, on successive plays. He gained a yard up the middle on third down, to the one. Then on fourth and goal, he faked running up the gut again. Instead, Patterson raced untouched to his right, then cut into the end zone as he held the ball up for the world to see. This was 16.1 seconds ahead of halftime. The green-clad warriors led 10-2.
Laws was bold on fourth down again, this time in the fourth quarter when down by a TD. There were not one but eight yards to go. Reynolds lined up for a punt. The short snap went to junior Marc Golden. The star linebacker, the leading tackler in ‘19, had a Golden moment carrying the ball. He dashed to his right, then upfield for a first down and more.
But a penalty negated the play. So on fourth-and-13 Reynolds punted. McCurry punted 52 yards. ACR’s defense jumped offsides on third and three, helping the Mountaineers keep the ball and run out all but the final few ticks of the clock.
“I love you!” Laws told his team right after the game. He kept praising their “effort,” and how they “played hard.” Tears of sadness and frustration flowed on some players’ faces.
“We just didn’t make enough plays,” Laws told the media. “We were just a couple of plays short. That’s all there’s to it.” He called this season memorable and “incredible.”
Laws will be on sidelines one more time this year. He is an assistant for the N.C. team, versus S.C. in the Shrine Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 21. The game, which starts 1 p.m., is at Wofford College in Spartanburg.
Beyond the coaches, Rocket motivators included star blocker Jacob Weaver. While they sat together on a bench and the defense was on-field, he implored his fellow offensive linemen to step up effort so ACR could better sustain drives.
The underrated tenth-seeded Mountaineers drove steadily on their initial drive, but were held on downs. But they stopped ACR, then opened scoring on a blocked punt midway into the opening quarter. James Ussery burst through the ACR line, to block the punt. The ball bounced backwards quickly, through the end zone for a two-point safety.
The ball seemed to bounce viciously off of punter Jackson McCurry’s head, possibly shaking him up though he acted fine right after the play. Laws later said his punter was injured, and that factored into going for it on fourth-down plays
By safety rules, Kings Mountain got the ball right back as ACR kicked off from its 20. But the Reynolds defense held. The Rockets took control, notching the next two scores on the field goal then Patterson TD for a 10-2 lead.
But Kings Mountain held ACR to start the third quarter, and drove well on its first drive just as in starting the game. This time Kings Mountain cashed in with a TD on Rashaard Brooks’ zig-zagging ten-yard run and then a two-point conversion pass, to tie the game at ten with 3:17 left in the third quarter.
KMHS rotating two backs, who contrast in style. Bowling ball Ricaylen Mack did the most damage. But more and more, tiny 1,317-yard runner Brooks slithered through gaps or took screens around end.
King Mountain’s six-foot-four, 220 QB Ethan Reid found big-play receiver Kobe Paysour more in the second half. Both are juniors. KMHS and perennial state contender ACR are apt to advance far again in 2020, and might cross paths again.
In the fourth quarter, Kings Mountain drove to the ACR 29. But on third and six, Brooks took a pitch and was hit hard as he threw a halfback option pass. Anthony Lewis picked off the wobbly duck at the ten, to thwart that go-ahead drive.
But the visitors got the ball back on a punt at the ACR 48 then drove again. Mack rumbled in untouched, for a five-yard TD run. The extra point made it 17-10, for KMHS’ first lead. That lead held up, in the scoreless final 7:26.
Reynolds’ passing game was mostly out of sync. Some deep throws were a bit wide and out of bounds. One catchable long pass was bobbled and incomplete.
Carr finished his senior year passing for 3,155 yards, and 39 TDs against merely eight interceptions. He completed more than two-thirds of his passes, and averaged 225 passing yards per contest.
Patterson has 1,251 yards (18.4 ypc.) on 68 catches, with 17 TDs receiving. Lindsay caught 52 passes for 925 yards (17.8 ypc.), and nine TDs. Markeese Jackson ran for 858 yards and 11 TDs.
Patterson totaled 96 yards Friday — with 43 rushing, 35 receiving and 18 returning a kickoff. Four Rockets surpassed 1,000 all-purpose yards in this season — Patterson (1,769), Lindsay (1,099), and runners Jackson (1,229) and Mosley (1,076).