Bearcats Poke Polk; AHS, ACR, West Roll - TribPapers

Bearcats Poke Polk; AHS, ACR, West Roll

Bearcat QB Lennard Benniefield races for a 45-yard TD run. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Hendersonville – Hendersonville raced to a 32-7 lead in beating neighboring Polk County 32-21 on Friday, while Asheville decisively won a pivotal clash with Erwin to set up a MAC title showdown with A.C. Reynolds on Friday, Sept. 29.

Two other local powers face crucial conference contests Friday. Hendersonville (5-1; 2-0 MFC) plays at Mountain Foothills co-favorite Chase (5-0; 1-0). West Henderson (5-0) welcomes Smoky Mountain (4-2) in a battle of unbeaten Mountain Seven squads.

Cats Pour It On

Hendersonville senior Lennard Benniefield sparkled in merely his second varsity start at quarterback. He replicated what he did a week earlier at R-S by passing for three touchdowns and running for a touchdown — this time a dynamic 45-yard sprint.

He set up the first score against Polk on a keeper to the left side, darting to the PHS 20. Benniefield then rolled right and hit Eric Rasheed for a 20-yard TD. PAT holder Rasheed ran the ball in on a fake extra point for an 8-0 lead with 3:00 left in the first quarter.

“We came out firing!,” senior Rasheed said of the offense. The Cats set a daring tone early when facing fourth-and-five from their own 20-yard line. Benniefield made the call for a fake punt, taking the short snap and running for 16 yards.

Head coach Kirron Ward said Benniefield is making such impromptu calls, improving in-game analysis of defensive formations and regularly relaying “what he’s seeing” to Ward when on the sidelines.

The fake punt sparked HHS. On the next play, Benniefield rolled out and passed to big tight end C.J. Landrum. Landrum took it to the end zone for a 64-yard score.

This was the first of three scores in the final 4:30 of the first half. Polk missed a 29-yard field goal a drive earlier, but this time answered with Angus Weaver’s seven-yard TD. Burly Weaver is Polk’s all-time leading rusher. He bulled and dashed for 147 rushing yards in the first half.

HHS then drove in its two-minute offense. Cooper King boomed a 33-yard field goal, 15.3 seconds ahead of halftime. HHS led 18-7.

Lethal Lennard

The next score was on Benniefield’s spectacular 45-yard open-field sprint on a QB draw. Bearcat blockers opened up Grand Canyon-sized holes for runners to run through. Benniefield cut left and raced down the sideline. He said he felt “nervous” early in the game, but not after adrenalin-fueling runs like that one.

Polk’s veteran head coach, Jim Ollis, was impressed with Benniefield’s play at quarterback. “They haven’t missed a beat” with Elyja Gibbs out.

Ward said, “We wore them down with our physicality.” “We stayed disciplined” in blocking assignments, said Eli Kole-Davis, a 285-pound Bearcat senior, said “we stayed disciplined” in blocking assignments.

Both HHS defensive tackles combined for a turnover to help clinch the victory. Landrum crunched the ball out of QB Casey Beiler’s hands. Omirion Barber grabbed the fumble and rumbled ahead. The chunky sophomore grinned about his rare carry.

Benniefield’s 36-yard TD pass to Alijah Ferguson was the final Bearcat TD, with 3:09 left in the third quarter. Hendersonville led 32-7. “Look at ‘em!” Coach Ward shouted to his Bearcats after seeing Polk players hang their heads. “They’re about to quit!”

Not so. Polk (3-3; 1-1) scored the last two TDs. The Wolverines recovered an onside kick with over five minutes remaining. But the Bearcats stopped Polk on downs on an incomplete pass with 3:36 left.

Perhaps HHS will let up. “We need to finish better,” Rasheed said. Coach Ward said in the post-victory huddle, “We need everybody—all hands on deck” giving full effort in practice and in playing Chase. Chase won 55-3 over East Rutherford, the program it pilfered players from a season ago. R-S Central was defeated 44-6 by Brevard (3-3, 2-0).

MAC Monsters

Two Mountain Athletic Conference powerhouses each won by nearly 50-0. Asheville (4-1; 1-0 MAC) defeated usual contender Erwin (3-3; 1-1) by 48-0 at home. A.C. Reynolds (5-1; 2-0) won 49-0 at Enka (1-3; 0-2), as the Rockets overpowered the Jets. The reigning MAC champion AHS Cougars play at usual champ Reynolds at 7 p.m. Friday in the last local high school football game of the year.

Asheville’s Jay Avery opened the scoring when he zoomed untouched down the right side for a 40-yard score on a screen from Meek Slydell. Asheville scored three TDs in the second quarter, to put the game away. Slydell threw 17 yards to T.J. Williams, who hauled it in just before dashing out of the end zone. A two-point conversion made the score 14-0.

The next two AHS scores were short runs up the middle by Nick Williams and Kyheem Plummer. Asheville led 27-0 midway into the second quarter.
Meanwhile, Reynolds’ Max Guest ran for 110 yards (10 ypc.) and two scores — one a 34-yarder. Four of Hayden Craig’s ten completions went for TDs. He tossed it to M.A. Skanes inside the 40. Skanes zipped down the right side, then cut left to score. Duke-bound safety DaShaun Stone’s interception set up the first TD.

T.C. Roberson (3-1; 1-0) opened MAC play by beating winless North Buncombe 45-13. Tyrin Credle neared 200 total yards with 127 rushing and 65 receiving. He scored twice. QB Lex Dinwiddie had a TD and 154 total yards.

Lukas, Truitt Time

Unbeaten Mountain Seven teams (at 2-0) are West Henderson, Smoky Mountain, and Tuscola (5-0 overall). West hosts Smoky on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Tuscola in the regular season finale on Oct. 28. The schedule favors the high-scoring Falcons.

East Henderson spoiled West’s homecoming, 51-0, on Friday. Senior Lukas Kachilo was on fire. He completed 79% of his passes (23 of 29 for 252 yards). He threw for three touchdowns — two to Truitt Manuel, and the first to Cameron Banks. Kachilo ran for a TD against East (2-4; 0-3). Kachilo averages three passing TDs and 259 aerial yards. His five-game passing totals are 1,296 yards, 15 TDs and five interceptions.

Manuel had 120 receiving yards (12 ypc.) Friday. He had 40 catches for 537 yards and nine TDs in ’22. Cameron Banks had 70 yards (10 ypc.) and a TD Friday. Diego Castro made five catches.

Manuel stands out among WNC defenders. He made a “pick six” interception TD return in the past two games—against North Henderson, then racing 56 yards against East Eagles. Two Falcons tipped the pass before “I picked it off on the right side of the field,” Manuel said. “I tried to circle the defense and look for cutback lanes. When I cut back, there was nobody left—and I scored.”

Tayman Howell ran for TDs on two of his eight carries. Howell ran 60 yards down the right side for the second score. He stiff-armed an Eagle to the turf. Carson Dimsdale added 55 yards (5 ypc.) to his season total — now 509. He averages over 100 yards.

SMHS won 39-17 at North Henderson (2-3; 0-2). The longest NHHS score was by Keith Payne. He snatched a Jaxson Willis pass at his 20 on a crossing pattern and raced up the middle for an 84-yard TD. Willis ran for a 16-yard score. Tuscola (5-0) beat Franklin 31-7, rushing for 356 yards. Dark Horse Pisgah is 2-3, 0-1 in M7 play.

Owen lost 49-26 to defending Western Highlands champ Mitchell. Hunter Inabinett made an outstanding leaping catch of an Alex Sanchez bomb in the end zone for Owen.