Alex Flinn of Reynolds gallops for a long gain, in the win over Sun Valley Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas- A.C. Reynolds held off Sun Valley 22-14 in freezing rain Friday in round two, eliminating the Spartans for the second year in a row for a very happy Thanksgiving weekend.
“We wanted it (even) more” than Sun Valley, ACR head coach Shane Laws said about his team turning it on as the game progressed. He said that at halftime, he simply did a gut check. “I said it’s about who’s tougher, who wants it.” He told his troops in the post-game huddle how “It was wet, and cold. This is mountain weather. I’m proud of you guys. You found away to win.”
Star senior quarterback Alex Flinn said, “We showed a lot. When the pressure is on, it’s easy to lay down. We didn’t. We wanted to win!”
Down 7-0, Reynolds scored the next three touchdowns and a field to lead 22-7. Sun Valley fought back and scored, and had a chance to tie it in the final minutes. The Rocket defense bent, but ultimately held off a well-hyped quarterback.
Last year, these teams clashed for the West Region title in the 3AA state semifinal game. Reynolds won 28-25. This time, also at higher seed ACR, the game was two rounds earlier — in the second round. Reynolds won four rounds last year, after and have now reached the third round for five years in a row.
Reynolds (12-1), the West’s second seed in 3AA, is the sole Buncombe team still playing. The other one in round two — Erwin (10-2) — lost 49-28 at third seed Mount Tabor (9-4), ACR’s next foe at home. Had Erwin won, it would have played at Reynolds.
The weather is forecast to be chilly — in the 40s during the game then freezing overnight — with a chance of rain much less than the continued downpour of last Friday.
Monroe Sun Valley (10-33), the tenth seed, scored on its first possession on QB Sam Howell’s 17-yard pass play. That was the only score of the opening quarter.
Burly Howell last year had the fifth most yards of offense (4,966 with 3,372 in the air) in a season in state history. He is rated by Rivals.com among others as the second best prospect overall in the state, and fourth pro-styled QB in the nation. Howell is on the N.C. roster for the Shrine Bowl next month, and is committed to play for Florida State. Perhaps fierce and fast Reynolds gave him a taste of what it will be like facing athletic Clemson in ACC wars.
Then, it was pretty much all Reynolds for the next two quarters. After stopping Howell short on a fourth-and-six keeper, ACR got into gear for an 89-yard drive. Flinn threw to junior Carter Lindsay, the backup QB. Then Flinn tossed a screen to junior Markeese Jackson. Jackson blazed by the Spartans down the left side for a 48-yard gain, to the 25. Jackson gained six yards, but then a procedure call set ACR back five yards.
On third and ten, Jhari Patterson dashed 14 yards to scored the first of his two TD runs in the quarter. That was midway into the second. Patterson later ran in from a yard out, with 2:39 to go to the half. ACR’s first extra point tied it at seven. The second PAT was not good, due to an errant snap. But ACR led 13-7 at halftime.
The converted receiver, a junior, was pressed into the backfield due to absence of injured senior I’dre Bell. Bell hopes to return any week now. Coby Jones, another senior runner, said he is on track to return from a broken clavicle that sidelined him for five games.
Patterson’s second TD was on a drive that began at the Spartan 44, after a Howell fumble. Flinn scrambled for nine yards, later for 22 yards to the two yard line. Flinn evaded two tacklers as he weaved through the defense, then burst down the left side. East Carolina-bound Flinn very apparently ran for a first down out of bonds on a fourth and five in the first quarter, but the refs spotted the ball just short.
Meanwhile, the Rocket defense snuffed out Spartan drives with interceptions by DBs Malakai Ray and Warren Stotesbury.
Reynolds kept it going on offense, with ten more points in the third quarter. Jackson, who rushed for 135 yards, had several big gains on a 67-yard, two minute scoring drive. Best of all was his spectacular 50-yard run, to get inside the five. He broke three tackles — spinning off the third would-be tackler — before veering left down that beloved left sideline where the home team is amassed.
Flinn scored on a one-yard keeper, bashing aside a tackler to reach the end zone at the 10:58 mark. A sack of Howell squelched the next SVHS drive, and got ACR the ball at its 48.
Sun Valley QB Sam Howell cradles the slick ball, rumbling in a hard rain. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Patterson’s 43-yard run to the five set up ACR’s Kevin Hernandez’ 25-yard field goal. That opened up a two-TD lead, at 22-7 with 3:03 left in the third. The Rockets were bouncing with enthusiasm on sidelines, as their drenched home fans were bubbling.
But Sun Valley fought back in the final quarter, to make it close. It was not “crunch” time, but instead “squish time” on the wet artificial turf. Howell kept running on keepers — 13 carries, including on three of four plays. He and Flinn both bounced off tackles extremely well. Howell’s go-to move is to spin off of tacklers. He did that on two key runs, but far less often than versus ACR a year ago.
Howell ran 14 yards for a TD with plenty of time (10:35) left, to pull to within eight points and a single score and two-pointer. Sun Valley got the ball back, for a chance to tie it. The Spartans steadily moved 71 yards downfield, from their 26 to as far as the ACR three.
But a series of penalties and sacks set them back 33 yards, to the 36. Howell had his chances. He threw into the end zone three straight times. One was nearly caught. One time, he did a Houdini to escape a near-certain sack, circling to his right and still found the end zone with a pass. On fourth down, ACR knocked down his last chance in the end zone with 9.6 seconds remaining.
Overall there were few pass attempts by either side (Howell 18, Flinn 12), since the ball was slick and hard to grip and throw.
Both quarterbacks ran well, as neither reached 65 passing yards. Howell gained 161 yards on a whopping 32 carries, averaging five yards. But no other Spartan ran for more than 51 yards.
Reynolds had much more balance, with three runners gaining 75 or more rushing yards. Jackson (135; 6.43 ypc.) and Flinn (92, 4.84 ypc.) each ran about 20 times. Patterson averaged 15 yards a pop, totaling 75 yards.
The press box’s back row was filled by VIP 2018 grads, from last year’s state runner-up squad. Defensive end Talon James, who plays for Richmond Spiders, is proud of ACR’s tenacity and defensive ferocity. He made key sacks of Howell in the ’17 win. James reminisced more about how fellow ’18 grad Frank Torres “cleaned his clock.”
The other WMAC team that won its playoff opener lost Friday. Tuscola was doused 41-8 at N.W. Cabarrus, in 3A.
Two nearby schools are still in playoffs. Brevard won 21-13 at 2A top seed Randleman, and plays at fourth seed Wheatmore this Friday. Nearby Polk County, a Cinderella 11th seed, is a victory away from KOing the West’s top three 1AA seeds on the road.