Best Ever: Unbeaten Falcons Win 13th, Three Rounds - TribPapers

Best Ever: Unbeaten Falcons Win 13th, Three Rounds

West’s Jackson Mills (6) leaps trying to block the desperation pass and Tyler Nash (14) approaches, as Robert Waters (54) and Aiden Ostman (10) are about to smear Grizzly QB Anthony Giantasio. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

West Henderson – In its best football season ever, West Region 3A third seed West Henderson (13-0) ground up the Grizzlies of Winston-Salem Oak Grove 45-24 at home.

Coach Paul Whitaker’s Falcons count their blessings before their next challenge — on Friday, Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving. They travel to Hickory. Hickory, also unbeaten, took the switch to perennial power A.C. Reynolds (9-4) by a 61-38 count.

Coach Shane Laws’ Rockets scored first on Hayden Craig’s pass to freshman Zion Ikeme, and tied it 14-14 on Max Guest’s run. But the Red Tornadoes swept to a 47-17 lead. Now, West must contain passing of Brady Stober to swift Jamien Little, and running of 220-pound fellow junior Isaiah Lackey. Hickory is seeded second, and West is third.

West Region top seed Crest escaped with a 30-29 overtime win over West Charlotte, after trailing 22-6. West plays at home again only by winning at Hickory, and if fourth-seeded Dudley upsets Crest.

ACR’s departure foils local fans’ wishes for a West-Reynolds matchup in round four. It also closes ACR careers of such stars as Shrine Bowl-bound linebacker Brandon Guest, strong safety Ayden Hines, QB Craig, receivers Ty Johnson and Wes Rumbough, and back Malik Angram. But returning Rockets for 2024 include runners Max Guest and Tyvon Patterson.

Grisly Grizzly Fate

West (13-0) raced to decisive leads of 21-7 and 31-10 over sixth-seeded Oak Grove (11-2), which scored two late touchdowns. Its offense was mostly stymied all night.

“I’m proud of you!,” Coach Whitaker said of the game effort and historic feats, grinning extra in the post-victory huddle.

“Amazing” is what sophomore quarterback Cade Young termed the team’s records. The prior record of 12 wins was set in 1984 and tied last season, when 2023 grad Lukas Kachillo led WNC in passing statistics. Young’s emergence at QB is a major development in West’s playoff drive.

West beat Oak Grove two out of three in baseball state semifinals in ‘23, en route to the 3A state title. The Falcons made it a grisly Grizzly fate on the gridiron, too. Shrine Bowl-bound receiver Truitt Manuel, linebacker/second baseman Jude Lyda, linebacker/outfielder Jackson Lynn, and 6-foot-5, 250-pound lineman/first baseman Robert Waters beat Oak Grove in both sports. All are seniors.

“It feels great to be part of such an amazing team!,” slot receiver/defensive back Manuel said of the football Falcons. He said that he is signing a letter of intent this week to play baseball for N.C. State, mainly as a pitcher and possibly also as an outfielder.

Personal Bests

Personal feats also abounded. Star Falcons had career games. Young passed for 341 yards. He threw more often (38) than ever, and completed 28 attempts. He said he hasn’t felt nervous since his first start, against Smoky Mountain. Coach Whitaker praised Young’s “composure,” reading of defensive formations and countering them, and his consistently accurate passing.

Young threw four touchdown passes — all to Manuel. He had 16 of the 28 Falcon receptions, for 248 yards. Versatile Manuel also made several long kick returns, and boomed a 52-yard punt.

Young and Manuel ignited the offense with a 55-yard scoring play, 3:45 into the contest. Young rolled left and threw wide to Manuel, who broke a tackle as he cut fully across the field and was gone. They connected twice for long bombs to the end zone’s back left corner — for 36 and 34 yards. Their fourth TD covered 12 yards, as Manuel bulldozed a Grizzly to score.

Manuel, quick senior Diego Castro, burly 6-foot-5 junior tight end Tyler Nash, and swift junior Tayman Howell provide West with a superb receiving corps. Veteran Coach Whitaker deems it his best ever. They are sure-handed, tall, athletic, block well on the perimeter, and gain many yards after catches.

Manuel routinely beats double coverage. He said that when Oak Grove assigned a “spy” to try to follow him around, “I beat their spy” with quick moves. Coach Whitaker said it fools defenses when Manuel shifts around before the snap. “We get the ball to Truitt on quick passes,” which he turns into long gains with his brilliant open-field vision and running.

Whitaker said such short passing foiled the Grizzlies, whose big and fast defensive line hindered outside runs. Manuel said that Oak Grove “tried to stuff the run. That left our passing open more.”

Zane Zings ‘Em

Despite facing a defense keying on the run, big sophomore Zane McCraw burst through and around Grizzlies for 132 yards on 18 carries. He sprinted 20 yards for a TD. McCraw said the game boosts his “confidence.” He touted West’s “next man up” philosophy, whenever there is an injury.

Senior starter Carson Dimsdale scored the second West TD, on a two-yard run. But he left early due to a minor left ankle sprain. He said some Grizzlies played “dirty” and twisted it at the end of tackles.

Dimsdale had an amazing 42 carries for three TDs a week earlier, in a 37-7 destruction of 2022 3A champion East Lincoln. He leads WNC with 2,088 yards, averaging seven yards per carry. Dimsdale has a whopping 33 rushing scores, for 2.5 per contest. The senior blends acute field vision, quickness, elusiveness, and power.

The visitors have a Karson (not Carson) in fast 1,300-yard runner Karson Williams. He ran for all three Grizzly TDs, including for 56 and 65 yards.

West’s large offensive line opened holes. The quick, hard-hitting defense closed them. West stopped Oak Grove on fourth-and-one, to close the first quarter. Senior Blake Phillips picked off a pass in the end zone, right before halftime. Seniors Eben Mann, Aiden Ostman, Jackson Lynn, Gaige Watson and others also made several outstanding defensive plays.

Bubbly Lyda, healing from a high ankle sprain, may get cleared to play on Friday.