ACR-AHS Battle: Drama, Defense, Dynasty - TribPapers

ACR-AHS Battle: Drama, Defense, Dynasty

Heff Finley (5) makes a spectacular grab in double coverage, for a long gain to set up Asheville’s sole TD Friday. What looks like a four-legged Rocket is instead DBs Sayvon “Say Hey” Heydon-Gibson (8) and Anthony Lewis (9).

Asheville A.C. Reynolds edged Asheville 13-12 Friday to pass its toughest test for continuing its Western Mountain Athletic Conference dominance, behind a staunch defense and timely big plays on offense and special teams.

Asheville (2-2) led much of this battle, forced pivotal turnovers, and mostly stifled the explosive Rockets. That still was not enough. The defeat stung.

Yet it is also a definitive moral victory. “We can play with anybody,” first-year AHS head coach Cort Radford said after the game. “We proved that tonight.” He called his defensive play “unbelievable” and said, “We played our (power) game.”

Last season, ACR demolished AHS 62-7. Not this time.

Reynolds (4-0) has won 42 conference games in a row — not losing one since 2014, two presidential administrations ago. In that span, the only team within a touchdown of the Mean Green Machine was West Henderson in 2017.

Early this season, Reynolds has already beaten its expected challengers — Roberson, Erwin and Asheville. ACR hosts North Buncombe Friday.

Last season, ACR demolished AHS 62-7. Not this time.

Rocket head coach Shane Laws said “our defense showed a ton of guts. We battled. Asheville played us tough. Our defense bent, but we did not break.”

Lindsay to the Rescue

The close game fueled playoff-like pressure. “We had our backs against the wall. We had a wake-up call,” senior QB-receiver Carter Lindsay said. “We regrouped. We made big plays when we needed to.” He noted it took a while for the offense to get into gear, after “getting the ball rolling” early and often in prior wins such as 63-40 over Roberson a week earlier.

Lindsay fueled the Rocket offense, after relieving freshman Ricky Tolbert late in the first half. He engineered a TD drive in just over a minute — mostly with his field vision and legs. He dashed six then 14 yards. Lindsay was the game’s top rusher with 55 yards (4.6 ypc.).

Lindsay passed to Carter Buckner. Lindsay scrambled to the five. Next, he lobbed a TD pass to backward-leaning Russell Barnett. The chunky sophomore defensive lineman, eligible as a tight end, snatched the ball with 11 ticks before halftime. Reynolds suddenly led 7-6 at the break.

But Asheville struck two minutes into the second half. Big fullback Ben Scott ran one yard through and over Rockets. Earlier, on fourth-and-six, QB Khalil Conley lobbed a deep pass. Heff Finley beat double coverage down the right side, leaped, caught it at the ACR 20, and reached the 14. Lamarius Jones carried the red-zone load. Trey McGahee’s pass for two was incomplete. AHS led 12-7.

Rocket sophomore Russell Barnett — all 6-foot-3, 245 pounds of him — leans back to snatch a catch for Reynolds’ first TD against Asheville. Barnett, a defensive lineman, was an eligible tight end. His score turned around the game, as ACR swiped the lead. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Rocket sophomore Russell Barnett — all 6-foot-3, 245 pounds of him — leans back to snatch a catch for Reynolds’ first TD against Asheville. Barnett, a defensive lineman, was an eligible tight end. His score turned around the game, as ACR swiped the lead.

‘Say Hey’ for Golden Plays

Faster than you can say his name, Sayvon Heydon-Gibson returned the kickoff 71 yards to the Asheville 22. Six plays later, Rocket senior MLB-RB Marc Golden sledgehammered in for the game’s final points — a two-yard TD with 7:19 remaining. Vas Paulk tackled Golden to foil the two-point conversion. That kept the score 13-12.

Thunder-footed Cougar kicker Liam Boyd kicked field goals of 39 then 25 yards in the second quarter, for a 6-0 Asheville lead with 1:35 left in the half. Then Lindsay led the quick TD drive.

Boyd might have gotten his chance to win it, in the final minute. But officials did not penalize Malachi Carter for heaving a Cougar receiver to the ground after a play was whistled dead. That would have moved the ball into Boyd’s range. Instead, AHS was at the Rocket 41 with fourth and 11. Conley threw long going deep, to end it.

Earlier, Carter’s interception at the ACR 15 with 6:31 left punctured the AHS drive following Golden’s TD. Asheville got the ball right back, at midfield with 4:17 left but came up short.

Sparking the opening scoring (field goal) drive was Cougar TE Canter Clark’s 19-yard gain to the AHS 44.

Paulk picked off a deflected Tolbert pass at the ACR 25 and returned it down the left side to the three. But a penalty on the return set back the Cougars. They again settled for a field goal.

Reynolds recovered a fumble deep in AHS territory in the first period. Setting up for a short field goal, ACR faked as holder Lindsay overthrew Golden in the end zone. The game remained scoreless.

Rams, Warriors, Hawks, Cats Sharp

Brody Whitson was on fire as T.C. Roberson (3-1) cruised past West Henderson (0-4) by 62-20, after leading 49-12 at halftime. Whitson accounted for 445 yards (314 passing) and six TDs. He passed for 314 yards and three TDs and rushed for three TDs — including for 68 and 25 yards. Whitson and rival QBs Lindsay and Conley are all lefties.

Rodney McDay scored on passing plays of 67 and 65 yards. Zharius Looper ran for two TDs. TCR’s Tyler Elliott took a pass from each team (one an INT) for a score.

This Friday, second-place Roberson is at Erwin. Erwin dispatched Tuscola, by 49-21. Erwin’s Korey Griffith lobbed a 40-yard TD bomb to Johnny Peay.

North Buncombe beat North Henderson 27-7. Both teams are 2-1 in the WMAC, 3-1 overall. Knights QB Jaxson Willis hit Jaylon Croft for a 35-yard TD strike. It was all Hawks after that. Joe Jones scored on runs of 30, 25 then 51 yards. Enka won its first of ‘21 — by 34-26 over Rosman. Dallas Phillips raced for 277 yards and four TDs.

In the 2A Mountain Six, Hendersonville (2-2; 1-1 M6) roared past Smoky Mountain (1-3) 35-26 on Homecoming while East Henderson (0-4) lost 52-0 at unbeaten Pisgah.

The Bearcats trailed 14–0 at halftime. Then Jay Gaines ran for the five Bearcat TDs, and 130 of his 153 yards. His 43-yard TD sprint and Cooper King’s PAT put HHS ahead 21-20. QB Gavin Gosnell scampered 46 yards, to set up Gaines’ next TD. HHS is at M6 leader Pisgah Friday.

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