Hendersonville – Hendersonville opened the Kirron Ward era with a 49-6 win at home over North Henderson.
“It’s cool to do it. Individual accolades are fine,” Ward said of his first coaching win. “But I’m going about it for the guys and my staff. I’m a team-first guy.”
This also ushered in the varsity era of quarterback Elyja Gibbs in grand style. He passed and ran very well. He threw for four touchdowns—all covering more than 30 yards—and for 318 of his team’s 424 total offensive yards. Gibbs completed 15 of 19 passes for a 79 percent completion rate.”I’m impressed with his poise and his composure in his first varsity start,” Coach Ward said. “He made great decisions. He distributed the ball. He delivered it. ”
Two of Gibbs’ passing TDs went to senior Eric Rasheed for 36 and 33 yards. Rasheed had 203 receiving yards on nine catches, including a 46-yard gain.
Tayshawn Collins is spiraling up the go-to chart among the four starting receivers. He reached the end zone on two of his four receptions Friday — both in the second half. One was a 61-yard play, snatching a perfect spiral Gibbs threw while rolling to his right. Collins ran about half that distance after the catch. HHS led 32-6. Collins later snared a 34-yard lob to the end zone. He had 119 receiving yards.
“Tayshawn earned his keep. He’s stronger. He’s locked in,” Coach Ward said. “Elyjah trusts him, and I trust him. Tayshawn was our number one receiver on JV when Elyjah was the quarterback” two seasons ago.
Hezzie Rudisill of HHS rushed for 80 yards (5.3 ypc.). Hendersonville had a major edge in total yards at 410-147. HHS yielded merely two yards per carry on 38 Knight rushes.
Hendersonville led 25-6 at halftime and tacked on 17 points in the final quarter.
Senior all-state kicker Cooper King opened the scoring with a field goal, and later made another 32-yarder to go with five extra points. All of his kickoffs reached the end zone for non-returned “touchbacks.” The King of Dietz Field was the first player to score on the new home artificial turf in both football and soccer — a 3-3 tie with North Henderson the evening before.
HHS senior receiver and return man extraordinaire Lennard Benniefield scored on a 51-yard punt return. Rasheed’s two-point conversion made it 11-0. He took a high PAT snap and, under threat of a blocked kick, he instinctively took off running wide right. “He handled it, got out of there and made the play.”
NHHS got its points on a pair of Esteban Sanchez field goals. His first was with 33.4 seconds left in the opening quarter, to make the score 11-3.
Rasheed promptly returned the kickoff 76 yards to the 14. That set up a dynamic TD run by Gibbs, on the next play to open the second quarter. Sprung by Benniefield’s downfield block, Gibbs broke free down the left side. He dove in, holding the ball in front of him as he neared the end zone pylon. HHS led 18-3 after King’s PAT.
HHS’s C.J. Landrum, Lattimore and others delivered sacks for HHS, while Knight linebacker Keith Payne caught up to Gibbs. NHHS recovered both HHS fumbles and lost only one.
North’s O-line often protected QB Jaxson Willis well. Four of his six completions were to Jonathan Costley—for 47 of the 69 NHHS aerial yards. Grayson Fallas-Boyd had the other two receptions. Willis also looked to tall Drake Blackwell, among other receivers. Willis averaged 4.3 on three keepers.
The Knights converted three of 11 third-down attempts, to one of seven for HHS. NHHS averaged a healthy 36.7 yards on six punts. HHS kicker King also punted, and he boomed a 40-yarder.
Relentless rushing worked best for the Knights. They had more time of possession in trying to keep the ball from the explosive Cats. Zion Fauntleroy-McDaniel was the NHHS workhorse with 25 carries for 47 yards. Other carries were by Mason Gasperson and Zquavian Gaines. Those two combined for 255 return yards. Gasperson averaged 47 yards on three kick returns.
HHS’ likely main competition for a league title is Chase, which beat Mountain Heritage 42-0. Chase used many trick plays, starting out with a flea flicker pass to star RB Marquis McCombs for 35 yards, two punt returns, one handoff to the other, and a 65 yard TD.
Hendersonville plays at West Henderson on Friday, Aug. 26, at 7:30 p.m. NHHS is apt to get into the win column, playing at Rosman in a very winnable game.