BOONE — A pair of High Country rivals take the field this Friday night when Ashe County travels to Watauga to take on the Pioneers.
The Huskies are coming off of a 22-19 victory over North Surry that saw the offense struggle at times, but got a big time performance from the defense.
Watauga is the second of four quality non-conference opponents that the Huskies will play this year.
“We’ve just been working on getting better at what we do. To me, that’s what the first four games are for,” said Ashe County head coach Brian Hampton. “Yes, we want to win them, but we need to use them to get better at what we do to get ready for conference play.”
On the injury front, the Huskies will still be without starting running back Skye Sullivan. Both wide receiver Judd Price and lineman Will Taylor are listed as questionable for the game.
For the Pioneers, they are coming off of a tough loss to Alexander Central, 46-35.
“Our biggest theme this week is to do the little things right. When you’re a young football team like we are, that’s important,” said Watauga head coach Ryan Habich. “We lost a lot of leadership from last year’s team and we’re still developing as a football team. We’re very young and very green. Just doing the basic fundamentals right is something we’re working on the most.
Defensively, both teams will face off against offenses that are almost the exact opposite of what they faced the previous week.
Ashe faced a similar air raid offense last week but will face an option attack this week.
“They (Watauga) make you play disciplined defense against their option. You’ve got to play disciplined but still play as fast as you can and that’s hard to do,” said Hampton. “They have very creative formations and if you don’t line up correctly, that can cause you problems.”
The Pioneers will be sending out a defense that has just two returning starters from last season to try and slow down Colin Ellis and the rest of the Huskies’ air raid offense.
“You don’t see a lot of air raid systems in our conference. That’s kind of unique in the mountain area,” said Habich. “It’s always a challenge, you have to make sure the players get lined up correctly, they have to cover their man or cover their zone.”
Watauga does have three key players on offense that returned from last year’s squad. Evan Suggs is the team’s leading rusher and he ran for over 1,600 yards last season and will see a lot of carries in the Pioneer offense.
Quarterback Hamilton Castle will lead the option offensive attack and is a true dual threat quarterback
“He can run the ball and is a good passer when he has time to throw. He’s the fastest player on our football team,” said Habich.
When the Pioneers do go to the air, Castle will look towards his favorite target Corey West. He was the team’s leading receiver last year and also ran for over 500 yards. According to Coach Habich, he had a terrific game last week with 90 receiving yards, 110 rushing yards and returned a kick for a touchdown.
“Those three guys are some of the experience we had from last year’s team. We graduated a lot of guys but had those three return,” Habich said.
These two rivals have faced off each year since Ashe County High School opened and unfortunately for the Huskies, the Pioneers have seemed to control the rivalry. However, the last time these two teams faced off in Boone, the Huskies came out as the victors with a huge game-winning field goal from Kendall Richardson.
While the fans may be more fired up for the rivalry, the hope is that the players get just as excited for this game as they do any other game in the season.
“I think the rivalry is more between the two communities than between the two schools. To us, it’s a big game because it’s the next game,” said Coach Hampton. “Hopefully the kids get fired up because it’s the next game. That’s how I treat it, that’s how Coach Habich treats it. That’s what I want to instill in our guys.”
Kickoff from Jack Groce Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.
Other area games
Mountain Heritage at Erwin
McDowell at Avery
East Surry at Starmount
Surry Central at East Wilkes
Alleghany at Grayson County (VA)
Hibriten at Maiden
Forbush at North Iredell
Elkin at North Surry
South Stokes at North Wilkes
North Stokes at South Davidson
Bishop McGuinness at Trinity
South Caldwell at West Caldwell
Wilkes Central at West Iredell
Mount Airy at West Stokes
Pine Lake Prep at West Wilkes
Nathan Ham can be reached at 336-489-3062.