Leicester – Erwin follows the blueprint of the NFL champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, by bringing in a veteran quarterback as the key ingredient for becoming a more dangerous contender.
The Warriors reload with their usual array of swift receivers but smaller than usual linemen, in their spread passing attack under fourth-year head coach Rodney Pruett.
Erwin was 5-3 and fourth in the WMAC and 5-7 overall in 2019, but made 3A playoffs instead of Tuscola by winning their game. Erwin closed the regular season with a combined 106-21 score in beating Enka, North Henderson then Tuscola. Each time, Erwin’s defense yielded merely a touchdown. More typical was Erwin’s 10-2 (7-1 WMAC) mark in 2018. The Warriors reached two playoff rounds. Indeed, WMAC coaches collectively picked Erwin second to Reynolds for this spring.
In recent years, the Erwin-Asheville game has been for second in the WMAC. Erwin won 32-27 at Asheville in ‘18, then won 42-30 in 2019. This spring, the game is on April 2 at AHS.
Erwin opened by beating North Buncombe 35-21 on Saturday, Feb. 27.
Erwin’s new quarterback is a dual-threat in strong-armed Korey Griffith (6-1, 196 sr.), who runs a 4.6. He is an instant success. He raced 69 yards for the first score of Erwin’s ‘21 season. He ended the first half by tossing a “Hail Mary” touchdown to Johnny Peay. Griffith accounted for four of Erwin’s five TDs.
Griffith transferred in from Pisgah, which had a more run-based spread offense with longer throws. How well he adapts to Erwin’s spread is pivotal. “He ran a totally different offense. Ours is predicated on timing, and making horizontal stretches” with short tosses, Coach Pruett said. “You throw to the receiver, just before he gets open.”
He said, “Korey has grown leaps and bounds, in his mental approach — making the right reads. He’s still a work in progress.” Griffith watches film with Erwin’s coaches. Griffith became calmer as a QB, Pisgah head coach Brett Chappell has said. “He didn’t feel he had to make every throw, to win the ballgame.” Some area coaches see Griffith as much better running than throwing and passing while on the move instead of staying in the pocket. At Erwin, Griffith replaces Jared Penland, who after an erratic (48.5% completions, 17 TD yet 12 INT) year transferred to Tuscola. Penland’s predecessor, Kendrick Weaver, starred for EHS after coming in from Owen.
Erwin churns out fleet receivers. The most proven one is Johnny Peay (6-2, 184 sr.). The third-year starter “can go,” Pruett said. “J.P. is a big physical target with big hands.” Other receivers include fast “roadrunner” Shyheim “Shy” Stillwell (5-11, 158 sr.), Nolan Lusk (5-10, 178 sr.) and Leighton Reynolds (6-0, 153 jr.) lining up inside. Wide receivers include Tyler Gingras (6-1, 161 sr.) and Mason Eppler (5-11, 164 sr.). Daveyon Rogers (5-9, 141 sr.) and D’Vontae Clayton (5-10, 148 jr.) also get reps. “We’ll line up four or even five wide when we’re goin’ fast,” Pruett said. “I’m tickled about our skill and depth at receiver.”
Landon Taylor (5-9, 211 sr.) and Iggy Welch (6-0, 172 so.) succeed Tristian Brank at tight end. Burly 6-3 Brank caught nine TD passes. He graduated in 2020 along with WR Mikey Gettman and Tre Hutchsion. They caught a total of 115 passes. That trio followed the Thompson brothers — C.J. then Simeon (‘19 EHS grad) — as star Erwin receivers.
Erwin often passes to its backs. Tailback duties are shared by swift Nore Robinson Williams (5-10, 164 sr.) and Jed Dorsey (5-9, 162 sr.), and power runners Daniel Rivera (5-9, 210 jr.) and Sawyer Parker (5-8, 184 jr.).
Warriors up front are returning center Isaac Burton (6-3, 254 sr.) and RG Calven Jones (5-10, 251 sr.). Joining them are RT Austin Gibbs (6-3, 182 jr.), LT Tyquan Littlejohn (5-11, 239 jr.), and LG Hunter Bosma (5-10, 206 sr.). Erwin no longer has “road graders, but (now) our guys can move,” Pruett said.
Kicker Fernando Marin (5-9, 162 jr.) has 40-yard range.
Erwin held run-savvy N.B. on downs near the end zone multiple times in the opener. The base defense is 3-4. Parker and Taylor are ILBs. “Hybrid” OLB-DEs are Dorsey and Rivera. The D-line has Holden White (6-1, 264 jr.) or Omar Zaragoza (5-11, 208 jr.) at NG, and Littlejohn and Gibbs back at DT. Pruett said, “Shy (Stillwell) is our best cover corner.” Safeties include Jagger Pruett (6-0, 151 jr.), the coach’s son. Coach Pruett calls this defense aggressive and “smart.” He hopes for his team to “cash in on big turnovers” — and that happened in the opener.
In the WMAC race, “I like our bunch. We expect to challenge.”