Mills River – West Henderson Falcons stayed unbeaten with a spectacular 56-42 win over another “West Falcons” team — visiting West Rowan — as sophomore Tyler Nash returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown to clinch victory in the final two minutes.
The 2022 Falcons (12-0) match the 12-1 squad of 1984 for most football victories and for going undefeated for the furthest into a season in the program’s 60 seasons. They look to win a third playoff game in a season for the first time since statewide playoffs began 50 years ago.
They are the 3A West Region’s second seed, earning another home game on this Friday, Nov. 18. The kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. Look for another likely scoring fest, this time against Eastern Guilford (8-4). The Wildcats outscored Erwin 62-42 last Thursday, as Jaiden Evans ran for 400 yards on seven TD runs alone.
Hendersonville Bearcats (9-3), the 2A West Region’s 15th seed, lost a close 21-16 contest at second-seeded East Surry (12-0) last Thursday. Game film indicates that officials erred when they overruled their correct call that a Bearcat was down on contact at the 25-yard line before fumbling away the ball.
They instead awarded the Cardinals the ball in the final half-minute. “They definitely snatched it away from us,” HHS head coach Kirron Ward said. “We were the (overall) reason we lost. But they should allow us to control our fate, for a chance to win the game.”
The Superior Lukas
West Henderson outscored West Rowan 27-10 in the second quarter Friday. WHHS head coach Paul Whitaker said that the defense kept up its intensity. In the post-victory huddle, he said that the defense played a “hell of a fourth quarter” against a strong offensive line, standout runner, and strong-armed passer. “You outworked them, and outhustled them.”
The home team proved itself as the even better “West Falcons,” with the superior quarterback named Lukas. Lukas Kachilo threw four touchdown passes — three to Truitt Manuel — and for 245 yards for WHHS.
Kachilo leads WNC public school passers with 3,176 yards and 41 TDs versus merely eight interceptions. He completed 14 of 18 passes. Kachilo ran for 82 yards and several crucial first downs on Friday. He has nine rushing touchdowns.
Manuel set a WNC single-season record with 24 receiving TDs. He shrugged off that feat after the game. Instead, he said, “The big deal is we’re moving on, after a tough win.” He gained 123 receiving yards on Friday to extend his lead in WNC to 1,334 yards.
The offense sparkled with long gains, registering five TDs covering more than 35 yards. WHHS balances its tremendous spread passing with outstanding rushing by two swift backs. Sophomore Tayman Howell ran for 101 yards and two TDs — for 52 and 19 yards.
Carson Dimsdale scored on a 42-yard run and later on a 38-yard reception after lining up as a wide receiver. Dimsdale went over the 1,000-yard mark and has 1,023 yards and six TDs rushing. The star junior said, “These are high stakes. There was such back and forth” in scoring. But he was confident the home Falcons could keep scoring as needed.
Nash Clinches Win
Tyler Nash said he is elated to “put the game away” with his interception return for a touchdown. West Rowan got the ball with 2:21 left and a chance to drive for the winning TD, after WHHS missed a 33-yard field goal and still led by merely six points.
West Rowan has its own Lukas at quarterback, in Lukas Graham. He tossed the ball 20 yards downfield. Nash is 6-foot-5. He used his superior reach to intercept the ball at the West Rowan 40. The outside linebacker caught it while twisting in the air and reaching up. The receiver fell down, leaving no tacklers near Nash. He beelined to the end zone, where Eben Mann and other teammates mobbed him. Jude Lyda added a pickup ten seconds later, with 1:40 remaining.
Gut Check Time
Graham threw two TD passes to Tanner Poole that covered 31 and 68 yards. But he threw a game-clinching interception near the very end.
Rowan led 19-7 after the first quarter, scoring 16 points in a 2:18 span. Braxlyn Barger ran nine yards for a TD. The visiting Falcons blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety. But they failed to recover it for a TD before it went out of bounds. They promptly scored another TD on Poole’s first TD catch, after getting the ball back on the post-safety punt.
“We could have folded our tents then,” Coach Whitaker said. “But we didn’t. We buckled down our boot straps. It’s a great win.”
Defensive coaching adjustments worked against Rowan’s deceitful, imbalanced formations. Whitaker said that Rowan started out running plays but instead threw the ball. “We helped our cornerbacks on their underneath routes.” Receiver-DB Diego Castro said that “we fight to the very end” of games. Castro, among others, delivered many hard hits on defense.
West Rowan drove on its first possession, but WHHS stiffened in its end zone. The visitors settled for a 27-yard field goal.
West Henderson countered by reaching the end zone on Howell’s 19-yard run. Kachilo passed to Manuel and then got another first down on a keeper to set up the score. Irbin Villafuerte converted the first of his five extra points.
But West Rowan scored two TDs and got a safety by blocking a punt. The ball went out of the end zone instead of the visitors recovering it for a TD. That saved the home team five points. Still, those other Falcons led 19-7 after one quarter.
West Henderson owned the second quarter by scoring four TDs. Kachilo launched a 48-yard pass to Manuel in the left side of the end zone, to open the quarter. After a Graham TD pass, Dimsdale dashed 42 yards around the left end to score. Rowan managed merely a field goal.
Kachilo connected with Manuel for two more TDs in the quarter’s final 5:38. The first was a 37-yarder to the right side. The next one was a short pass. Manuel ran wide left and out-ran the visitors into the end zone 23 seconds before halftime. The two-point try was stopped short. WHHS led 34-29 at intermission.
West Henderson outscored West Rowan by two TDs to one in the third quarter. Howell blazed 52 yards up the middle. RB Dimsdale lined up wide left and caught a Kachilo pass for a 38-yard TD. In between, QB Graham scored on a keeper. West Rowan scored on another run, to trail by merely six at 48-42 with 9:04 left. WHHS devoured the clock but missed the field goal with 2:21 remaining.
That set up Nash’s heroic “pick six.” Kachilo tossed a pass wide right to Manuel for a two-point conversion and a healthy 14-point lead. That 56-42 tally was the final score. A Falcon frenzy of a celebration ensued after the pick six, and the game’s conclusion.
The win is deferred vengeance for WHHS losing 41-19 to West Rowan by 41-19 in 2015 in round two.
Hendersonville sustained a heart-wrenching defeat, but was in it to the end. Alijah Ferguson scored the first HHS touchdown on a 90-yard kickoff return down the left sideline. HHS again matched an East Surry TD with an exciting score. Lennard Benniefield scrambled on “play action.” He threw to Eric Rasheed in the end zone. All-state kicker Cooper King’s PAT tied the game at 13 just before halftime.
King’s 37-yard field goal gave the Cats their only lead at 16-13 late in the third quarter. The Cards scored a TD. HHS got the ball on a punt, at its 18 with nearly two minutes to go.
“Our hurry-up offense moved the ball effectively,” Coach Ward said. He countered East Surry, keeping safeties back deep to guard against long routes. “We threw (mid-range) to the middle of the field.”
Ferguson caught such a pass and gained 25 yards to the Cardinal 15. Video indicates that he went down just before losing a fumble. The sideline judge ruled Ferguson down. Ward called timeout with 17 seconds left to plan the next two plays.
Meanwhile, the officials conferred then reversed the call. “I hear their crowd go into a big roar,” Ward said. “The announcer said, ‘Cardinals ball!’” The Bearcats were stunned. Ward said that officials told him that Ferguson “was never tackled” before losing possession. “But to me, he was very much down. He hit the ground on his head and knees before the ball bounced out.”
Ward was going to unleash a surprise play that HHS did not run in a game in ‘22, with four of five receivers on one side. He was very confident that “we’d get two receivers open in the middle, for the (go-ahead) touchdown” — especially if blitzed.
Coach Ward reflected on his first season as head coach. “I’m beyond proud! We fought through adversity (injuries) throughout the year. It’s incredible to still win nine games. The kids didn’t make excuses. We all worked hard and well together.”