By Pete Zamplas
Erwin Warriors destroyed Alexander Central 48-21 Friday, as quarterback Kendrick Weaver threw for four touchdowns and ran for another score.
The local team most expected to cruise in its football playoff opener — A.C. Reynolds — instead had to battle for a see-saw 35-28 win on a frigid Friday night.
Erwin (10-1; 7-1 WMAC) has beaten everyone thus far but Reynolds (11-1; 8-0), which won at Erwin by 30 at 56-26 on Sept. 7. A week later, Erwin bounced back for a crucial 32-27 victory at Asheville (7-5; 6-2) in what would decide second place in the conference. Erwin tuned up for playoffs by scoring 55, 49, 49, 62 then 43 points. That last win was a shutout over fourth-place Tuscola (8-4; 5-3).
The Warriors reached ten wins for merely their fourth time ever in varsity football — and first since 2010. Head coach Rodney Pruett proudly points out this milestone. They have already outdone their 2017 postseason, which ended in the opener.
Coach Shane Laws’ Reynolds crew is the sole Buncombe County team at home in round two, and among the few in WNC. The Rockets host tenth seed Monroe Sun Valley (10-2) in a rematch of the 2017 state semifinal game. ACR won that 28-25 at home, to advance to the title game.
Reynolds has “unfinished business” — wanting to win it all, Laws said. Sun Valley, on a roll after upsetting Cox Mill by 16 Friday, wants revenge against ACR.
Each side’s star strong-armed burly quarterback is back, for Alex-Sam Bowl II. They are Alex Flinn of Reynolds, and Florida State signee Sam Howell of the Spartans.
If both Reynolds and Erwin win this Friday, then Erwin plays at Reynolds in round three in 3AA in the marquee match of the mountains. ACR is seeded second in the West Region, and Erwin (10-1) sixth.
Meanwhile, Erwin plays at equally fast Mount Tabor (8-4) in Winston-Salem. Tabor is seeded third, despite a worse record than EHS.
Coach Pruett said the defense bent but would not break against a hard-running foe, and Erwin’s athletes on offense made their usual big plays. Erwin totaled 519 yards — over 200 better than the visiting Cougars. Weaver connected three times with star receiver Simeon Thompson for TD pass play, and once to back Rashod Chaffin. Chaffin ran for two TDs, and Weaver for one. The Warriors with superior speed and size outscored the Cougars Friday by two touchdowns in each half.
This area’s most familiar Cougars — of Asheville — lost 32-19 at Parkland (11-1) in an 8-9 matchup. AHS trailed 26-6, but scored a TD to make it 26-13. But a Parkland passing TD reopened the lead. Parkland’s sole defeat so far was to Mt. Tabor, Erwin’s next opponent.
Asheville was the area’s last boys’ soccer team standing, reaching round four. Coach Mike Flowe’s Cougars (23-2-1) lost at home 3-0 on Nov. 10, to Marvin Ridge. AHS notched shutouts in 17 of its 23 wins, including its last five (three in playoffs). The Cougars at 15-1 won the MAC by three games over Roberson and Reynolds (both 12-4). Enka was fourth, at 11-5. AHS swept TCR, and split with ACR.
North Buncombe (6-6), the WMAC’s fifth football seed, lost 56-21 at West top seed N.W. Cabarrus, in 3A. Owen (4-7; 3-2 WHC) lost 49-13 at 2A second seed Reidsville.
In its R.L. Dalton Stadium, Reynolds fended off another seasoned playoff program in Kannapolis A.L. Brown (6-6) Friday. ACR’s quick junior Markeese Jackson ran 46 yards off tackle for the opening score.
Star linebacker Eli Hembree stormed up the gut to block a Brown field goal kick. Seth Eberhardt snatched the bouncing ball. The junior is ACR’s main punt returner, the perfect man to carry the pigskin on the turnover. His return of nearly 50 yards set up the second scoring drive.
Flinn passed to I’dre Bell near the 15, where Bell swiveled past a defender before sprinting into the end zone. This was Bell’s first game in a half-season, since a knee injury in week seven. The senior’s return did wonders against the Wonders. That scoring play was the first of two Flinn TD passes.
Brown, the 15th seed, stayed in the game. Jaron Cooper’s 22-yard run cut the lead in half, at 14-7. Cooper ran for 147 yards overall. But ACR responded. Flinn ran in for a TD, on fourth and two. ACR led 21-20 at halftime then 28-20, but Brown tied it with seven minutes to go.
Reynolds had the last laugh — scoring the winning TD to avoid overtime and prevail. Eberhardt’s interception of Jordan Medley’s bomb at the ACR one sealed victory.
Meanwhile, in Erwin’s John G. Kerr Stadium, the Warriors got the jump on the 11th-seeded Cougars (93) from Taylorsville. QB Weaver scored the first TD four minutes into the game, on an 11-yard keeper up the middle. He stepped left as he faked a handoff, cut upfield, spun counter-clockwise off of the first tackler, then broke two more tackles to surge into the end zone. Weaver ran for 180 yards.
Kenny Wilkes’ picked off a long Lance Justice pass at the Erwin one-yard line, and his momentum carried him into the end zone for a ruled touchback.
The second score was Chaffin’s four-yard run to the right side, on a pitchout. Weaver set up that score with keepers gaining three then four yards. Chaffin’s 40-yard scamper got the drive going.
ACHS made the first long TD, with a 39-yard run up the middle untouched by big Dayente Calhoun. Erwin scouting detected mostly wide runs in the Cougars’ ball control offense; the run up the middle seemed a surprise to the defense.
The pivotal point of the game began as Alexander Central marched into the red zone and threatened to tie the game. But the drive stalled on downs.
Erwin reopened its two-TD lead with a quick bite to the jugular vein. It was vintage Erwin — a short pass reception, broken for a long (84-yard) score. Thompson took a screen left to the house, on the most exciting scoring play of the night. One wonders if the A. in Clyde A. Erwin stands for “Athletic.”
“Simba” went left, then zig-zagged back and forth to break free. He cut back right to elude the first defender, then promptly zoomed back left to race around another foe then two more Cougars down the sideline. Thirty-seven seconds later, it was halftime with Erwin up 21-7.
On the sidelines right after that dynamic score, an elated Weaver raved to his buddy Thompson about how confident he was it would be a TD once Simeon drew mere one-on-one coverage downfield. Thompson nodded repeatedly, in response.
Erwin got the ball first to open the second half, and tacked on a TD to lead by three scores (at 28-7) two minutes into the half. As Pruett noted, Erwin was then firmly in control. Weaver heaved a bomb to Thompson near the goal line on the right side, for the 37-yard score.
Weaver kept that drive going, on third and four, with a 37-yard keeper. Many compare him as a crafty duel threat QB to Seattle star Russell Wilson, the former N.C. State and Wisconsin standout. Pruett said his QB makes big plays both in passing and running, and comes through in pressure situations.
The teams twice traded TDs. Chaffin ran 35 yards for a score, on fourth and three. Weaver later threw scoring passes to Chaffin covering 77 yards, then to Thompson to cap the scoring.
A sack by 300-pounder Dillon Luther was among standout defensive plays. Linebackers Emory Pennell and A.J. Dean and DL Jackson Gouge and Dylan Crook also excelled.
ACHS had thrown fewer than 50 passes all season entering the game, but passed much more than usual in Justice’s first start. Cougar staff said the sophomore has a stronger arm than his predecessor Rhoney Easton, who sustained a concussion in the prior game.