HHS Lit Up Burns; AHS Falls in Round Two - TribPapers
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HHS Lit Up Burns; AHS Falls in Round Two

C.J. Landrum (44) snatches Burns star QB Ben Mauney (1). Burly Bearcat Aiden Davis (70) at left like Landrum is 6-3. Davis reaches up to block a pass, in case Mauney got one off.

HendersonvilleHendersonville burned Burns 38-13 in round two of 2A football playoffs Friday, while Asheville lost 13-12 to Mallard Creek in a 4A defensive battle.

HHS (10-2) scored early and often against an opponent with much all-around speed. “Looking at them on film, I thought we were seeing ourselves,” Bearcat head coach Jim Sosebee said with a grin. “It’d be great to hold us to 13 points. So our defense did a tremendous job on them.” He liked how the offense clicked.

Sosebee was also proud the Bearcats avoided penalties by not retaliating against the Cleveland County visitors’ dirty play and verbal outbursts, or when Burns coaches were frequently livid at officials over calls.

“We held our composure,” Sosebee said, “when things got crazy” in antics and intensity. Middle linebacker Paul Orr said Bulldog players often cursed angrily at Bearcats — such as yelling “get the (bleep) off our quarterback (Ben Mauney)!” — right after gun-slinging Mauney was sacked.

Orr praised HHS coaches for in-game adjustments from analyzing video play replays. “We figured how they ran their plays. We stopped their run” and 1,200-yard rusher Jeremiah Norris, Orr said. “We got ahead. They tried passing more. But they started hanging their heads down” in frustration as the Bearcat lead grew. HHS defenders cut off run plays and got to Bulldog ball carriers much sooner than before. Defenders also had a better idea where Burns receivers were heading on routes and stuck closer to them.

QB Gavin Gosnell said HHS coaches adjusted well to the Burns defense during the contest. Burns guarded against deeper pass routes, daring HHS to patiently and steadily move the chains with shorter gains. “They challenged us” that way, Gosnell. “But we made the first downs,” to frequently advance downfield then score.

HHS Bearcat Lennard Benniefield zooms to the end zone on a 52-yard scoring pass play in the round two victory over Burns Friday. He also ran a kickoff back for a TD. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Lennard Burns ‘Em

Burns (8-4) scored the first TD. But HHS responded immediately. Lennard Benniefield ran the kickback 73 yards for the first of his two touchdowns Friday. He zigzagged through the coverage untouched, then sped down the right sideline.

Hendersonville took the lead as Gosnell scored on an 18-yard keeper for his 13th rushing TD this fall. He faked running right, then dashed around the left side. HHS led 13-7 after one quarter.

Cooper King blasted a 40-yard field goal. King was all-state as a placekicker last season, as a sophomore. Benniefield’s interception foiled a likely Burns TD pass. HHS led 16-7 at halftime.

The Bearcats poured it on in the third quarter. Gosnell rolled left then arced a pass over the DB’s head right into speeding Benniefield’s arms, for a 52-yard scoring play. This was Gosnell’s 29th aerial TD, against merely three interceptions in this season. He surpassed 3,000 yards to remain WNC’s leading passer.

Benniefield said adrenalin simmered as he surged ahead of the defender, saw the pass coming to his hands, snatched it, then glanced ahead. “It felt good to see (only) grass in front of me. Not too many people can catch me” from behind.

His TD came merely 36 seconds into the second half. Eric Rasheed ran for a two-pointer and 24-7 lead. Rasheed also made a timely pick Friday.

Burns answered less than a minute and a half later. Jakari Geter made a long run inside the HHS 10, then rushed in for Burns’ second but final TD. The PAT failed. It was 24-13.

Hendersonville tacked on two insurance TDs. C.J. Landrum bulled into the end zone after Benniefield reached the two on a catch and long run. Hessie Rudisill ran in for the sole score of the fourth quarter. That was his team-leading 15th rushing TD. He became a 1,000-yard rusher.

Asheville defenders dove at times to grab and down Mallard Creek ball carriers Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Reidsville Next

HHS travels beyond Greensboro Friday, to fourth seed Reidsville (11-0). The dynastic and athletic Rams won four of the past five 2A state titles and the last three. They demolished Mountain Heritage 35-6 in the 2A title game this spring. Heritage nipped HHS a week earlier. Ram QB Kyle Pinnix, the finals MVP. graduated. His successor is 6-4 junior Landon Denny. The Rams average a 46.5-11 score. They beat Chase (10-2) by 56-24 Friday, for their 31st straight win.

Hendersonville beat Chase more decisively — by 42-9 on Oct. 1. The HHS-RHS winner all but surely will play West top seed Shelby (11-1). Shelby’s 6-3 junior QB Daylin Lee so far passed for 2,751 yards, 36 TDs and no picks. Lee threw for nearly 500 yards in eliminating Polk (7-4) by 42-20 Friday. The Golden Lions face 24th seed East Gaston. Yet Shelby barely beat Burns — the team HHS just thrashed — by 16-14 to conclude the regular season.

Hendersonville upset Shelby in playoffs last season — at home. That triumph gives HHS confidence about beating powerhouses, several Bearcats said. It is “gut check” time to prove themselves again, Gosnell said. Coach Sosebee told the team in the post-victory huddle that as underdogs “it’s time to get locked in, dialed in” to give ultimate effort.

Cougars Ousted

Asheville (9-3) led 6-0 at halftime, and 12-6 after three quarters. But Mallard Creek scored the only points – on a TD – in the final quarter. Its extra-point kick ended up the winning point when Xander White’s 45-yard field goal try was wide.   

Cougar QB Khalil Conley ran for both AHS scores, to total 10 TDs rushing to go with 22 from his passing. He opened scoring with a one-yard keeper up the middle, four minutes into the game. The junior is the MAC offensive player of the year.

Head coach Cort Radford’s Cougars contained such athletic Mavericks as David Lampkin, reigning 4A state 100-meter sprint champ. A handful of tacklers often converged on ball carriers. Star linebacker Otis Walton-Thach made a crunching sack. He departed with a left knee injury.

Mallard Creek (6-4) defenders loaded the box to limit the run.

This season lacks the usual two split divisions within each class. Lumping all 4A playoff schools together punishes smaller AHS. Asheville with 1,200 pupils has one-third as many as some 4A schools. Upscale Mallard Creek near Charlotte has 50 percent more students, and about twice as many varsity players as the Cougars have.

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