Fruitland – North Henderson Knights are off to a rare 2-0 start, and full of confidence. They stomped Hendersonville 31-12 in the opener, for a 62-point turnaround from the rivalry’s result in 2022. NHHS walloped Rosman 41-14 in week two, also at home.
North Henderson beat HHS in varsity football for the first time since 2015. Finally beating HHS again is “amazing for our confidence,” fierce senior linebacker Ty Stepp said. Fourth-year NHHS head coach Jim Beatty calls the triumph an immense “momentum builder.” Beatty calls it a “sweeter win to beat a cross-town rival.”
Many local fans are eager for league openers on Sept. 15. NHHS hosts archrival and reigning Mountain Seven Conference (M7) champ West Henderson. Fourth-year varsity standout Drake Blackwell said that “it’s always good to beat Hendersonville or West — in any sport.”
Beatty led T.C. Roberson to MAC titles a decade ago. He debuted with NHHS at 4-3 in a pandemic-abbreviated 2020-21 season. The Knights were 3-3 in the elite MAC by beating West, Tuscola, and Enka. They are back in the M7, where their sole win in 2022 was over East Henderson. The Knights were 3-7 overall, but look much better now.
Winning from ‘A’ to ‘Z’
Star back Zion “Z” Fauntleroy-McDaniel (6-1 1/2, 185 sr.) ran for two touchdowns and 83 yards (13.8 YPC) in the opener. The long strider ignited the Knights with a blazing, game-tying 64-yard TD run on a sweep leftward. “I knew I’d break one,” he said. “Our O-line did a great job” in opening holes. “Zion has great vision,” and stays behind blockers patiently, Beatty said.
Gutsy Mason Gasperson (5-11, 205 so.) is also “quick to see a hole, and get through,” Beatty said. Both backs also catch well. Gasperson scored on a 12-yard run against HHS. Beatty touts the future of RB Ayden Berry (5-11, 165 so.).
NHHS has expert “Masonry” with two stars named Mason. Calm operator Mason Fowler (6-1, 155 sr.) succeeds ‘23 grad Jaxson Willis at quarterback. Fowler credits play-calling and sharp team “communication.” Fowler threw for two TDs against HHS.
He connected with senior Keith Payne (6-3, 195 sr.) in full stride for a 28-yard TD, and for a long gain on the other side to set up another score. “Those are great catches by Keith,” Fowler said. One play sends two large, sure-handed and large target down the middle, in Payne and Drake Blackwell (6-3 1/2, 215 sr.). Blackwell was a focal point in practice for that big game, portraying huge HHS receiver C.J. Landrum. Johnny Costley (5-11, 140 sr.) is a “phenomenal athlete,” Beatty said. Landon Hunter (6-0, 155 sr.) also makes key receptions. Tight ends include Eric Cassidy (6-1, 215 sr.).
Coach Beatty trains the offensive line. “We lean on our line” to sustain blocks and open holes, he said. Returning starters are tackles Ty Stepp (6-1, 235 jr.) and Brett Becker (6-1, 230 jr.), and center Zeke Reyes (6-0, 255 sr.). Miles Blanton (6-3 1/2, 288 so.) and Avery Thompson (6-1, 265 jr.) also start.
Esteban Sanchez (5-10, 160 sr.) has a reliable field goal range of about 42 yards.
Defensive coordinator Zach Wilkins returns eight starters in his 4-3 base scheme. He said, “Our linebackers filled the gaps well” to stymie star HHS runner Hezzie Rudisill. Stepp said he is proud that Knight defenders often burst “through their (HHS’) line.” Fellow LBs are pain-inflicting Payne, and Zack McCraw. McCraw “always pressed WR Landrum underneath no matter where he went,” with help mostly from fast DBs “Z” or Hunter, Coach Wilkins noted.
Defensive end Reese Meadows (6-4, 220 sr.), a superb wrestler, is another disrupter on defense. He chased down Rudisill and QB JaRon Ward in the open field. DE Aiden McMinn (6-2, 225 sr.) is also athletic. NHHS can stuff the middle with senior DTs Elijah Ford (6-6, 280) and Jose Hamrick (6’1 1/2″, 312).
Coach Beatty said, “I’m proud of our guys” for their tenacious effort versus HHS and not letting down against Rosman. The Knights are on the radar more than ever, jousting for a shot at the conference championship.