Sports

Asheville Finishes Third, Makes Playoffs

Tre McGahee (2) snatches a pass, for Asheville against Erwin. He scores on this play. T.J. Williams is no. 19.

Asheville – Star running back Lamarius Jones earned Superman accolades in leading Asheville to two wins last week to secure third place in the league’s regular-season standings and a state playoff berth, as he subbed in at quarterback and other Cougars made spectacular plays.

Asheville (5-2; 4-2 WMAC) stomped rival Erwin (3-4; 3-3) 34-6 at home on Monday, April 5 in a COVID-delayed game. AHS then took out North Henderson (4-3; 3-3) by 33-14 Friday, on the road four days later. The Cougars are in their first year under head coach Cort Radford. He has them playing aggressively and effectively — especially on defense, yielding a WMAC-lease 12 points per contest.

Asheville, the 3AA West sixth seed, opens playoffs Friday at Matthews Weddington (6-0). The Warriors, top-ranked in 3A, ousted Asheville and Reynolds several times each in the past decade. AHS looks to stop Troy Cherry, the Warriors’ standout QB.

Star Asheville linebacker-fullback Vas Paulk said qualifying for playoffs “feels good,” after not doing so last year. Paulk, a third-year varsity star, said, “Our coaches bring out the best in each and every player. They break things down,” in halftime adjustments. “We know what we need to do, to get the job done.”

And they have the tools. Paulk said that this season, “we’re stronger and faster. We have a lot of weapons and depth.” He sees the team peaking now. “Our offense’s stepping upset off” the route Friday. “We ran the ball well. We’re playing the game of football the (hard-nosed) way Asheville usually does.”

Though “we started off slow” last Friday, the team responded to Radford’s halftime plea. “Coach Radford always asks if we ‘have his back.’ We did.”

Four Local Squads in Playoffs

The top two WMAC finishers are A.C. Reynolds (6-0) and T.C. Roberson (5-1). Both are 6-1 overall. West 3A top seed ACR hosts West Rowan. If fifth seed TCR wins at Kannapolis A.L. Brown, it likely gets a rematch with 3AA top seed Watauga. Last Friday, Roberson handed Watauga its first defeat — 47-36.

Ram senior QB Brody Whitson threw for 364 yards and five TDs — three to Rodney McDay —- and ran for two TDs and 81 yards. Whitson has passed for 1,877 yards — 268 per game — and 24 TDs versus merely four picks. The Rams average 41 points. ACR squeaked by Tuscola (2-5; 2-4) 13-7. Carter Lindsay ran for the winning TD.

North Henderson and North Buncombe (also 4-3 overall) and Erwin tied for fourth in the WMAC, at 3-3. Erwin beat Enka (1-6; 0-6 WMAC) 49-0 Friday. Korey Griffith passed for 343 yards and four TDs — three to Johnny Peay. NBHS fended off West Henderson (1-6; 1-5) by 36-22. Caleb Lominac caught a key Hawk TD pass. West Truitt Manuel scored on reception and threw a halfback option TD pass to QB Lukas Cochillo.

Mountain Six champion Hendersonville (5-2; 4-1 M6) hosts Claremont Bunker Hill (6-1) Friday. The Bearcats beat East Henderson (0-7) by 52-0 Thursday. Gavin Gosnell passed for three TDs, including on Dorian Allen’s 52-yard catch-and-run. Joel Christner scored a TD each on a pass, reception and run. Fellow senior Alex Lemmens ran a fumble 60 yards for his first varsity TD.

Owen (4-3) beat Madison 55-7.

Blocked Punt, Onside Kick, Long FG

Asheville Cougars flexed special team muscles at NHHS. “Master Blaster” Liam Boyd boomed a 50-yard field goal with five yards to spare, after hitting a 30-yard field goal earlier in the third quarter. Later, his 57-yard attempt was long enough, but mere inches wide left. Boyd is primed for winning playoff field goals.

Asheville scored the game’s first TD by blocking a Knight punt early into the second quarter. NHHS had the ball at its 14 when punting. Micah Ward blocked it. Kamari Jenkins snatched the bouncing ball, in the end, zone. Coach Radford called this dynamic play “huge.”

Khalil Conley ran six yards untouched on a QB keeper for the second AHS TD. Heff Finley set up that drive, with an interception.

The Knights trailed merely 13-7 at halftime after Jaxson Willis connected with Connor Hunt for a six-yard TD on fourth down with six seconds left.

But the Cougars pulled away in the final minute of the third quarter, by scoring two touchdowns in under five seconds. First, Paulk took a screen pass 31 yards down the right sideline behind a blocking caravan. Paulk said he ran right behind big Kadin Lynch (6-3, 284). Other Cougars joined the mobile blocking wall. “I followed them to the end zone,” and smashed in, Paulk said. His interception squelched the first Knight drive.

After Paulk’s TD, Asheville kicked off from the Knight 15 — due to three unsportsmanlike calls against NHHS totaling 45 yards. That kick had to go at least ten yards, but not 15 to avoid a touchback. A Knight batted the squib kick. Asheville’s Ben Scott recovered, setting up Jones’ three-yard TD run. AHS led 33-7.

The Knights reached double digits with a minute left, on Trevon Hill‘s nine-yard run. He rushed for nearly 100 yards. Knight sophomore QB Willis said the defeat “shows us what we need to work on,” to reach the next level. Senior lineman Dylan Blackwell managed a smile about their winning season. Head coach Jim Beatty expressed immense pride in his Knights.

A week earlier, they lost to Roberson by a mere TD —- at 35-28 — despite the Rams forcing 11 turnovers. Willis passed for two TDs — one to Jaylon Croft on a 66-yard play. Windell Flowers ran for two scores.

Clutch Win Over Erwin

Asheville’s prior game — a win over Erwin — was put off three days to April 5, due to COVID-19 precautions. At least ten Cougars —- including QB Conley and Jenkins -— were still sidelined by game day.

Asheville rolled to a 22-6 halftime lead. Jones, the workhorse tailback, was flawless at QB. He completed 14 of 17 throws, starting with a 38-yarder to McGahee. Jones threw for 264 yards and three TDs and ran 13 yards for the opening TD.

McGahee scored three TDs and rushed for 140 yards (8.8 ypc.). He caught two passes thrown by each team. Jones also made a pick, and Lynch made two sacks. Versus NHHS, McGahee rushed for 90 yards (6.4 ypc.), Jones for 82 (5.9 ypc.), and Conley for 50 yards (5 ypc.) as he was eased back after practicing only the day before.

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