By Pete Zamplas
A.C. Reynolds blasted Northeast Guilford Rams 40-0 Friday in round two, making the state’s Elite Eight in 3A football, and is on track to play at home for the next week or two.
Quarterback Eli Carr reached seasonal plateaus of 3,100 yards and 40 touchdowns passing. He passed for two TDs, while Jackson ran for two more and 125 yards.
Reynolds (11-2), which reached the 3AA title game two seasons ago, is now the top-ranked team in the West Region. The Rockets play in R.L. Dalton Stadium this Friday and — if they beat Kings Mountain (also 11-2) — again Dec. 6 for the regional title and a trip to another finals. ACR last won a state football crown ten years ago — in 2009, in 4A.
Third-seeded ACR is now the West’s top dog on paper. This is thanks to upsets of top seed Crest 35-30 by West Rowan, and since Kings Mountain smashed second seed Statesville 38-7. The bracket is working out perfectly for the local dynasty. In the West’s other semifinal ninth-seeded West Rowan plays fourth seed Charlotte Catholic, which won 34-20 at fifth seed Hunter Huss. King Mountain has battled many of these top seeds, falling by six at Crest and by five at Huss.
Very notably, KMHS walloped Shelby 42-17 at home in the Battle of Buffalo Creek. Shelby beat ACR by 58-21, in Shelby. The other common foe is T.C. Roberson. KMHS beat the local Rams 48-0 at home early, while ACR beat them 37-7 on the road to close the regular season.
Reynolds then took the wood to Hickory by 56-7, in round one.
The East Region, in sharp contrast, has its top four teams intact. They are, in seeding order: Southern Nash, Havelock, Eastern Alamance, and Terry Sanford.
Rockets head coach Shane Laws told his squad in the post-victory huddle he is quite “proud” of their preparation, game effort and clutch plays. He told The Tribune the team settled in well, after a shaky start marred by an interception he attributed to a wrongly-run route.
Laws smiled about playing when many families “put up Christmas lights.” ACR already is playing past Thanksgiving, and gets to play in December by winning this Friday. He calls the home-field edge “huge,” but sees each foe here on out (like ACR) a potential state champ.
Laws calls the 2019 Rockets a “very loud and outgoing group,” that is spirited after making big plays and in whooping up victories as they did Friday.
“This year’s group is a different breed,” fiery senior QB Carr said. Carter Lindsay, who also started at receiver last year, said there are even more self-motivators and determined achievers in 2019. He said no one wants to be a weak link, and let teammates down. “Everyone sets a high standard of excellence. We want to do well — on every play,” Lindsay said. “We gotta win every play,” Carr said, echoing the drive for relentless effort and proficient results.
With the two higher seeds gone, Carr welcomes ACR’s sudden frontrunner status. He sees less pressure than opportunity, if the team plays up to its potential. “We can’t overlook anybody,” he said. “We have to bring our ‘A game’ every time.”
Carr is into statistical overdrive. He surpassed 3,000 passing yards this season, by throwing for 150 yards Friday. He has 3,100 yards and 40 TDs against merely seven interceptions.
Carr, a bubbly first-year starter, is confident yet defers to others’ contributions. The one-two receiving punch is from senior Jhari Patterson and junior Lindsay. Patterson has 1,216 yards (19 ypc.) on 64 catches, with 17 TDs receiving. Lindsay has caught 41 passes for 906 yards (17 ypc.), and nine TDs. On Friday, he was by far ACR’s top target with 107 yards (26.8 ypc.) on four catches — with most yardage on a 71-yard score.
Four of the Rocket offense’s destructive missiles have more than 1,000 all-purpose yards — Patterson (1,673), Lindsay (1,049), and runners Markeese Jackson (1,205) and Don Mosley (1,055).
Carr saluted this fast, versatile arsenal. “I can toss a five-yard throw, and (the receiver) goes 75 yards for a touchdown.” He also heaves downfield well. Carr is strong, at 6-foot-1 and weighs 207.
Carr praised the “fast” defense that closes in on ball carriers. “Our defense is our best attribute,” he said. Linebacker Marc Golden, a junior, leads ACR with over 155 tackles.
Reynolds held NGHS Rams to less than three yards per rush while averaging nearly ten yards a pop, and doubled net rushing yardage by 201-103.
Next opponent Kings Mountain is a skilled and very underrated tenth seed. The Mountaineers are very balanced in passing and rushing yardage. Tiny, fast sophomore Rashaard Brooks has run for over 1,200 yards, hiding behind a big line. Bullish Ricaylen Mack pierced West Henderson’s defense, in a 57-7 pounding in round one. West is Western Mountain Athletic Conference runner-up, to ACR.
Six-four, 220 junior QB Ethan Reid threw at will to Kobe Paysour and others deep versus West. The Falcons, though, lack ACR’s athletic secondary. Still, Reid has thrown for about 40 TDs against merely eight picks.
ACR runs less and covers most real estate by air — though often on short and safe passes that explode into long gains.
Friday’s victim, sixth seed Northeast Guilford (10-3), sported 1,500-yard runner Trevon Hester, a 210-pounder, and fast Kobie Perez. But Perez left early, with an injury. Golden said the Rockets “kept hitting” Perez, and the backs’ departure was pivotal.
ACR led 19-0 at halftime, then scored two more TDs to put the game away.
Patterson ran 34 yards for the first TD, with magnificent effort. He stiff-armed away a tackler, cut inside, then sprinted into the end zone.
Next, Carr connected with Sayvon Heydon-Gibson for a 28-yard scoring play.
Jackson then got going. He veered to the left sideline and zoomed down most of the field, to the Ram five. That set up Golden’s five-yard TD burst. Jackson rushed for the next two TDs in a 1:48 span — first on a seven-yard scoot up the middle, then on a 48-yard scamper midway into the third quarter.
Lindsay took a pass to the house, for a dramatic 71-yard play in the fourth quarter for the final TD. “I was waiting for my turn, and it came,” he said with a grin.
Dashawn Stone, a 6-2 freshman, completed a pass as subs played.
Jackson McCurry recovered the lone fumble of the game. He said, “our defense played a heck of a game.”He averaged 43 yards per punt — ten yards above his average.
Buncombe’s other team in round two was Owen (7-5). The 2A ninth-seeded Warhorses fell 18-7 at top seed Mountain Heritage (11-1).
QB Caleb Scott, a 6-2, 225 junior, launched an arcing missile to Shavoy Harding for the game’s final score. Harding, a junior, set up the drive by stripping the ball from MHHS star QB Callin Randolph.