Bearcats Zoom by Erwin as Skilled Squads Clash - TribPapers

Bearcats Zoom by Erwin as Skilled Squads Clash

Main HHS rusher Hezzie Rudisill (2) bursts into the end zone on a long run versus Erwin Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Hendersonville – Hendersonville unleashed new varsity quarterback Elyja Gibbs in game action last week, while Henderson County’s other three football squads can rely on experienced stars behind center entering the regular season that starts Friday.

West Henderson senior Lukas Kachilo is stronger than last fall, when he was in the top five in WNC in passing yards with 2,129. He completed 60% of his passes and scored 21 touchdowns.Kachilo said he is much “more comfortable in the (spread) offense” West switched to last fall, after years of Wing T rushing. The West should bounce back from that 3-8 adjustment season.

The veteran head coach Paul Whitaker has a “Dynamic Duo” with Kachilo and versatile junior Truitt Manuel, the baseball flamethrower pitcher. Manuel caught 87 passes for ten scores and nearly 1,000 yards. He totaled 1,778 yards in six categories. Kachilo has other targets. “I have more trust in our guys to make plays.”

East Henderson has brought back junior Joe Justice behind center and several skill players for season two under master motivator Bobby James.

North Henderson head coach Jim Beatty returns with senior QB Jackson Willis for his third Knight crusade. Willis threw for 1,588 yards and 15 TDs. NHHS graduated 1,400-yard rusher Hazahn Collington. The Tribune will cover the openers of all four county teams and review them in-depth in the issue next week.

The regular season opens Friday night, Aug. 19. A marquee contest has the North Knights at HHS. East hosts Rosman, the team it beat last season. West welcomes East Rutherford, then HHS Bearcats in week two.

Impressive Firepower

Much is new at Hendersonville High School at the dawn of the new academic year and fall sports seasons. HHS has an expanded and fully renovated campus, new artificial turf, a new head coach in Kirron Ward, and Gibbs as the dynamic new dual-threat QB. He is also a baseball catcher. He succeeds ‘22 grad Gavin Gosnell, who led WNC with 3,367 passing yards. Gosnell threw 30 TDs versus merely five interceptions, and he ran for another 15 scores.

Yet many are familiar with the Bearcats. They are loaded with proven game-breakers around their new QB. Hezzie Rudisill rushed for 1,064 yards and 16 TDs as a freshman. Receivers include a senior starter in Eric Rasheed. He scored on 19 of his 62 receptions and had 1,212 receiving yards. “We’re locked in. We’re fired up!” Rasheed said.

Lennard Benniefield (42 receptions, 855 yards) and Malik Angram (48, 794) also made big plays. Benniefield feels “excited” for his third and final varsity season. Tayshawn Collins caught 22 passes last fall. He was very impressive against Erwin on Friday, and he is right up there as a dependable downfield option.

Gibbs showed his exceptional speed and strong arm. HHS came from behind to defeat Erwin 28-14 on Friday. That was among four scrimmages at Asheville High, each lasting a half-game and featuring a MAC powerhouse. Gibbs ran for the first HHS TD. Gibbs broke free for 54 yards to set up Rudisill’s 16-yard TD run to tie it at 14. Rasheed ran 44 yards for the go-ahead score.

But Gibbs outproduced his counterpart, Erwin senior QB Ziggy Welch, whom C.J. Landrum came after all evening. Coach Ward stated that he only used 15-20% of his offensive playbook. Erwin made three picks—some on deflections. As with any developing QB, a challenge is perceiving who is where in making split-second decisions.

Another task for Gibbs is deciding when to keep the ball and charge through a large opening, or whether to forego a few sure rushing yards to scramble and give receivers time to get open for a much longer gain. Gibbs proudly said, “I can run the ball a lot” as well as pass. He proved that Friday, two days after sustaining a minor right hip pointer as HHS lost at MAC favorite Reynolds.

Coach Ward leaves it “up to Elyjah” to decide whether to pass or run on those “read option” plays. Ward is confident Gibbs will wisely adjust to the defensive movement. Ward explains, “If the (passing) play’s there, you throw it. If not, tuck it and run. “Get what you can.”

New HHS Turf

Artificial turf is the crowning touch on the three-year HHS campus expansion. The rain-resistant field is a relief to Bearcat athletes in many ways. “We don’t have to worry about rain,” huge HHS lineman Brock Stepp said. “No more slipping!” Also, no more lengthy rain delays or having to borrow East Henderson’s turf for home contests.

Cooper King likes the turf’s “cushiony” feel. The senior is an all-state football placekicker as well as a high-scoring soccer forward. “I can plant my (non-kicking) foot much better without slipping, and deliver maximum power” in kicks. The track similarly gives in to feet pounding on it.

Older artificial turfs are stiffer, such as at Brevard, Landrum said. “They tear you up,” he said, whereas the ones in Henderson County merely “scratch” limbs when landing hard.

Dietz Field also looks much spiffier. QB Gibbs calls it “extravagant” and “beautiful.” There is vivid red on the end zones, a fancy HHS emblem at midfield, huge bear paws, and ten-foot-wide Bearcat eyes in four spots. They are between the 20 and 30-yard lines on each side and the end of Dietz Field. Many fans’ eyes will be on those Bearcat eyes at the seasonal opener Friday.