Fruitland – North Henderson excelled in all areas to beat Hendersonville Bearcats very convincingly, by 31-12 at home Friday to open the season impressively.
West Henderson, HHS’ next foe, scored the most points among the four local teams. Coach Paul Whitaker’s Falcons won 54-22 at Newton-Conover. Carson Dimsdale rushed for four touchdowns and 118 yards. Zane McCraw ran for two scores. Truitt Manuel gained 133 (16.6 YPC) yards on eight catches, including a 40-yard TD. East Henderson fell 47-36 at North Buncombe.
NHHS beat HHS in varsity football for the first time since crushing HHS 48-17 in 2015. That was QB Trevor Craft’s senior year. NHHS was 7-5, and 4-3 in a pandemic-abbreviated ’20-21 for its only winning seasons in 20 years. HHS has otherwise won every meeting from 2010 on by an average of 50-14. The Bearcats won 79-35 in 2021, and 49-6 a year ago.
Thus, finally beating HHS is “amazing for our confidence,” fierce linebacker Ty Stepp said. Head coach Jim Beatty calls the triumph an immense “momentum builder. I’m proud of our guys.”
Ward to ‘Beast’
Both teams have new starting quarterbacks — HHS freshman JaRon Ward, and left-handed senior Mason Fowler. Ward connected with double-teamed C.J. Landrum for two scores, opening scoring on a 36-yard play. “Beast” Landrum got open up the middle, caught the ball at the 23, and beat three defenders to the end zone.
Landrum’s second TD was on a 14-yard fade route. That cut the lead to 24-12. QB Ward set it up when he found sophomore Amir Albany for a “bomb” to the Knight four-yard-line.
But Albany was injured when landing. He told officials that his collarbone hurt. He was taken on a stretcher to an ambulance. Word is that he has a severe concussion, and may miss the rest of the season.
Coach Beatty credited defensive coordinator Zach Wilkins’ game plan. “We tried to take (Landrum) away from their offense,” Wilkins said. Landrum often beats double teams. He scored twice Friday. But he was mostly contained by linebacker Zack McCraw who “always pressed him underneath no matter where he went,” with help mostly from fast DBs Zion “Z” Fauntleroy-McDaniel or Landon Hunter.
The Knight defense kept up intensity and group pursuit of Ward and star runner Hezzie Rudisill. Smashing Stepp stepped it up. “Our linebackers filled the gaps well,” Coach Wilkins said. Stepp is proud that Knight defenders often burst “through their line.”
Linebacker Keith Payne also delivered pain with hits. Defensive end Reese Meadows chased down QB Ward and RB Rudisill in the open field, diving to tackle Ward.
Payne and Gain
Fowler connected with senior Payne in full stride for a 28-yard Knight touchdown Payne just inside the end zone’s left line. NHHS led 24-6. Earlier, Payne dove to pull in a “bomb” down the right side to set up a score. “Those are great catches by Keith,” QB Fowler said. Lanky senior Drake Blackwell also made many key receptions. Fowler credited play-calling and sharp team “communication.”
Zion is Spot On
Fauntleroy-McDaniel ignited the Knights with a blazing, game-tying 64-yard TD run, on a sweep leftward. “I knew I’d break one,” Zion said. “Our O-line did a great job” in opening holes to zip through. Coach Beatty said, “We leaned on our line. Our running backs saw those holes, and ran through them.” Gutsy Mason Gasperson scored on runs of six and 12 yards.
Senior Esteban Sanchez kicked a 23-yard field goal before halftime, when NHHS led Coach Kirron Ward’s crew 17-6.
The Knights expanded their lead. The only “close shave” was in a post-win ritual. Knight players had challenged coaches three days earlier to get their heads shaved, if the team beat HHS. Dome-shaved Beatty shaved off his beard. Coach Wilkins, for now, no longer has a full head of hair. Stepp then OL Brett Becker carefully shaved off Wilkins’ hair with an electric razor. Knight players howled. Wilkins grinned, going along with a spirit-boosting stunt.
East Henderson has a sharp passing combo in Lex Burns to Leland Prutzman. He caught all three of the team’s passing scores, including a 52-yarder. He had seven receptions, for about half (163 of 340) of Burns’ passing yards. Tanner Floyd had eight catches for 107 yards.
Burns, a junior, completed 29 of 36 (80%) of passes. He rushed for two TDs. James Robinson ran for 91 yards (9.1 YPC) and a score, and 58 yards on kickoff returns.
New head coach Colton Brackett’s Eagles led 12-0 and later by 11.
This Friday, East is at home versus Andrews. North Henderson welcomes Rosman.
HHS hosts West, also at 7:30 p.m. A pregame ceremony will honor former HHS QB Elyja Gibbs, who died in a one-car crash in February. When captains approached for the coin toss last Friday, Bearcat co-captains Landrum and Todd Lattimore held Gibbs’ number 10 jersey.