Rugged Will Johnson Leads Owen to its First Win in ‘23T - TribPapers

Rugged Will Johnson Leads Owen to its First Win in ‘23T

Erwin’s Milky Ray is about to snatch an interception at West Henderson. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

East Flat Rock – Charles D. Owen High School spoiled East Henderson’s homecoming 26-6. A.C. Reynolds lost by one point. Erwin and North Buncombe also fell last Friday. Upsurging NBHS lost its first game of 2023, by 48-0 at Brevard (2-2). Asheville, T.C. Roberson, and Enka were off.

Mountain Athletic openers on Friday, Sept. 15 are Enka (2-1) hosting Erwin (1-3), ACR (1-3) at NBHS (3-1), and TCR (2-1) at McDowell (0-4). Meanwhile, AHS (1-2) is at Dobyns-Bennett (Tenn.).

Warhorse Charge

Will Johnson, Owen’s star running back and inside linebacker, was a one-man wrecking crew at East (0-4). The sturdy, savvy power runner scored all four Owen touchdowns. He rushed for three scores — each covering six to nine yards. The senior ran for 110 yards (9.2 YPC).

He returned one of his two interceptions for a 35-yard TD. He picked off a pass near his goal line, keeping East’s score in single digits. He made a dozen tackles. Johnson is a skilled, clutch player and a fiery leader, Owen head coach Zach Gibson said.

Senior Hudson Minks picked off two passes. Taj Burgin-Edgerton also snatched an Eagle pass. Owen (1-3) led 6-0, then broke open a defensive struggle with a 20-6 spurt starting in the third quarter.

Getting the season’s first victory is “huge,” Coach Gibson said. “This win sets the tone” just ahead of league games. “We faced adversity. We’ve had chances to win earlier games. But we didn’t fire on all cylinders.”

Thus, Gibson switched the offense from the basic, run-based Wing T to the wide-open spread. “We installed it in three days” of practice last week. “We ran (up) tempo, to now no-huddle. It’s a huge transition. I’m proud our kids caught on so quickly. The only flaw on Friday was East’s ‘pick six.’ Our kid misread the next play on his wrist band. He didn’t block their outside linebacker.”

Owen senior quarterback Jakob Knighton has a “strong arm, and we’re getting the ball more into receivers’ hands,” Gibson said of the spread. Seven Warriors on offense “touched the ball” Friday, compared to three a week prior. “We keep defenses off balance.”

Receiver Hayden Burpeau set up Johnson’s first TD run with a 23-yard jet sweep. Owen doubled its lead to 12-0 on Johnson’s nine-yard run. Owen answered East’s lone TD with a 90-yard, six-minute drive. “We were getting chunks” of yards, Gibson said. Johnson capped it with his third rushing TD of the night. His own “pick six” concluded the scoring.

Owen (1-3) opens its Western Highlands slate as an underdog at Draughn (3-1) in Valdese this Friday. Draughn’s Nigel Dula averages three TDs and 124 rushing yards. Strong-armed, mobile QB Elijah Tillery is 6-foot-7. He averages 200 passing yards.

Laws Goes for Win

To his credit, A.C. Reynolds head coach Shane Laws aggressively went for two points and the win against visiting 4A power Watauga (4-0). The Pioneer defense circled the wagons, tackling Tyvon Patterson short of the goal line to win. Patterson had just run a one-yard TD.

Sophomore Patterson and senior Malik Angram have filled in admirably while superstar back Max Guest still recovers from a preseason high ankle sprain. Reynolds frequently matched Watauga TDs, starting with Angram’s five-yard run. He set up the next Rocket TD with a dazzling, zig-zagging screen run.

Down a TD again, senior Daylon Harper recovered a Watauga fumble. Craig threw a screen right to Ty Johnson, who broke a tackle on a 40-yard TD play — his third of 2023. Johnson (15.5) has nearly 300 receiving yards.

Reynolds’ defense had a good tune-up for MAC rival T.C. Roberson. TCR, like Watauga, runs the triple option.

Warriors Start Strong

Clyde A. Erwin lost 40-10 at West Henderson (4-0). Erwin started out wonderfully for a quarter and a half, led 3-0, and had good field position thanks to its three interceptions. Lawson Reynolds returned one 30 yards to the West ten-yard line. Erwin settled for a 25-yard field goal by Daniel Podgayetskyy. Milky Ray and Brandon Phelan also had INTs.

Warrior head coach Rodney Pruett said, “We struggled all night dealing with their (defensive) pressure. Our (fast) receivers had a hard time getting away from their defenders, to get open.”

In the first half, he said, “We played really hard and good. Except for their two big plays that resulted in a touchdown and a ‘pick six’ interception” by star Truitt Manuel.

Deajaha Ray broke free up the middle on a 54-yard TD dash, as Erwin finally scored a TD late in the third quarter to pull within 26-10. The score was merely 39 seconds after a West TD, and when Erwin swarmed to stop Manuel’s two-point run attempt.

Coach Pruett said that, so far, “we are still trying to figure out our identity.”