Hendersonville – The Hendersonville Bearcat defense hunted different predatory Bears than usual — Bunker Hill instead of rival Pisgah — as they easily won their playoff opener 42-14 Friday.
The conquest sets up the Athletic Super Bowl against reigning state 2A champ Shelby Golden Lions this Friday. Seeding of the 16 teams in 2A was by a drawing. HHS drew the first seed. The Cats would be home through round three.
As their head coach, Jim Sosebee told them after the game, “You’re 48 minutes away from playing for the Western regional championship.”
If they beat Shelby, then on April 30, the Bearcats would likely host Mountain Heritage Cougars in yet another Catscratch Classic. The Cougars knocked out HHS from playoffs several times in recent seasons. Heritage won at HHS this year, but HHS lacked its basketball players who were advancing to the state title game.
The Battle of Bunker Hill marked the start of the American Revolution in 1775. Last Friday’s Battle with Bunker Hill launched the football postseason for Hendersonville.
Defense Fierce, Relentless
The Bearcat defense defended Dietz Field even better than colonials defended the Boston area 246 years ago. The Cats swooped in on junior quarterback Carson Elder for several sacks and fumbles and forced seven punts.
“We were able to get to the right spot,” said burly senior Alex Lemmens, who had multiple sacks. Head coach Jim Sosebee noted that Elder “hadn’t been touched all year” until Friday. He is proud of how the defense got after Elder. He called Lemmens an “X factor” with strength and pursuit. “He makes the defense whole and fires on all cylinders.”
The Bearcats were as aggressive as ever, QB Gavin Gosnell said. “We’ve played with a chip on our shoulder since the Franklin (loss). We’re helping them (defense) by scoring once we get into our rhythm.”
Gosnell, Gaines Shine
Bearcat Jay Gaines rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns. The swift senior averaged over 200 yards per regular-season contest.
Gosnell charged up the middle untouched through a cavern-sized hole for a three-yard TD to open scoring. That was after several big Gaines gains. Gosnell and Sosebee praised HHS blocking.
Gaines scored the next TD, taking a pitch and racing wide right for eight yards. The Bears finally responded, scoring on a run with 2:35 before halftime.
Gosnell worked the two-minute offense perfectly. He connected with Triston Peterkin, who sprinted up the middle on a 35-yard TD. HHS thus retook a two-TD lead, at 21-7 with ten seconds before halftime.
Hendersonville quickly went up by three TDs in the third quarter on a 50-yard play, as Eric Rasheed took Gosnell’s screen to the end zone.
Four of Gosnell’s seven completions went to senior Dorian Allen for 89 total yards. Allen blends speed and size. He often is the sole receiver to the left, with three on the right side.
Allen said, “once we get rolling, we’re tough to stop.” He welcomes the challenge of matching Shelby’s athleticism.
Cooper King converted all six HHS extra points.
QB Injured, Christner Subs
Bearcat Nation got very worried after Gosnell left with a left knee injury early in the second half. The star junior QB was crunched in an earlier play, hit several times in the first half, and smashed again on his last play of the game. He said he felt the knee start to give way as he ran to his left. “A few steps after I pulled the ball in, my knee buckled,” he told The Tribune. “I lowered my shoulder, rather than taking another (direct) hit” to the knee. A foe tackled him at the Bear two-yard line, with most of the contact going to Gosnell’s torso instead of the gimpy knee.
Gosnell’s sudden adjustment to avoid more contact to his knee may have lessened its injury. He took an MRI Saturday morning. “As far as we know, he has not torn his ACL,” Gavin’s relieved father Dustin Gosnell said. “That’s what we’re praying for. They looked at the MRI. The radiologist will give a more definitive word on Monday (April 19) afternoon.”
Gavin had a cast on his left leg while laying down beneath the Pardee Hospital medical tent, for the rest of the game. Bearcat teammates and coaches flocked into the medical tent, in the brief break between the third and fourth quarters. One after another, they briefly prayed with him.
“That was a very special moment,” Gosnell said. “Those guys love me, and I love them to death. They had my back, for those moments. And they finished the game well without me.”
Joel Christner, the QB starter a season ago, came in. He ran in for a TD two plays later. Christner did throw a pick but completed two of three passes for 26 yards. He said, after the game, he had practiced much as a receiver for this game. Christner typically splits QB reps evenly in practice with Gosnell, to stay sharp.
Christner is a “mentor,” Gosnell said. “I see how Joel makes reads. I’m still learning a lot from him, about the offense. If I’m not able to play, I trust him to again lead this team.” Coach Sosebee said, “We have full confidence in Joel.”
On facing Shelby, Christner said a key is to patiently “stick to our game plan” of mixing runs with passes. Lemmens said it is crucial for the defense to “get after them,” the offense to keep pace, and to make more clutch plays.