It's Go Time
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
The Pirates (9-1) has a 1,000-yard rusher in Chris Duffy, who has gained 1,122 yards and scored 12 touchdowns this season.
Porter Ridge has two quarterbacks — Nick Vagnone and Zach Danielson — who have combined to throw for 1,161 yards and 14 touchdowns while completing 66 percent of their passes.
The Pirates’ defense is fast, particularly along their defensive line. Their secondary is equally fast and has given opposing offenses fits with their team speed.
On top of all that, Porter Ridge is 36-4 in its last 40 games, gave up just 68 points in 2012 and has reached the state 4-A semifinals the past two seasons.
Welcome to the playoffs Watauga.
“They are a very talented football team and they are a well-coached football team,” Watauga head coach Tom Wright said. “You can see why they’ve had the success they’ve had over the last few years. There’s a reason why they’re 9-1, and the only game they’ve dropped was a 7-0 ballgame that could have gone the other way.”
Watauga gets to see up close why Porter Ridge has seen such phenomenal success Friday night when the Pioneers travel to Indian Trail — located in Union County east of Charlotte — to open the playoffs season. Watauga (5-6) reached the second round of the playoffs last season, but did not face such a difficult test that Porter Ridge presents in the first round.
“They are a very physical football team,” Wright said. “They’ve got great team speed and that’s one of the areas we’ve struggled with teams that have had a lot of speed. We’re going to have to play a very good ballgame and play a mistake-free ballgame in order to have a chance to win.”
The good news for Watauga is the Pioneers are as healthy as they’ve been all season. Running back Collin Augustine returned from a broken collarbone two weeks ago, and has scored three touchdowns since he’s been back.
Augustine gained 85 yards and scored two touchdowns on 15 carries in Watauga’s 43-21 victory over St. Stephens the final week of the season. He also returned to outside linebacker on defense.
Receiver Cam Baker returned from a sprained thumb three weeks ago. Baker caught six passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns, including a 50-yarder and an 89-yarder, against St. Stephens.
“Cameron’s a special talent,” Wright said. “I think he has the ability to play on the next level if that is something he is interested in doing. He gives us the deep threat that nobody else gives us. Not only is he fast enough to get deep, he’s athletic enough to go up and make a play. Sometimes we’ll tell our quarterbacks to give him chance and make sure you don’t overthrow him to the point where he can’t go up in the air and make a play on the ball.”
Aaron Dobbins also made a smooth transition from the junior varsity to the varsity at quarterback. In his two starts, Dobbins is 30-of-42 passing for 435 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Dobbins, a freshman and the jayvee quarterback the first seven games of the season, completed 11-of-13 for 265 yards and three TDs against St. Stephens.
“He is a talented young man and I think more than his physical talent, it’s his emotional and his mental talent,” Wright said. “He doesn’t get rattled easily and he makes good decisions.”
Wright brought up several junior varsity players to make the trip to Porter Ridge. He’s hoping that the experience of the game, and the extra week of practice, will help the younger players get better for next year.
Because of that, Wright doesn’t mind the playoff field being as large as it is.
“I think it’s great. It not only gives them an extra week of practice and an extra ballgame, it gets them excited about the future,” he said.
As far as the present is concerned, Watauga goes into its game a big underdog. There might be some plays the Pioneers will use that may not have been used over the course of the regular season.
“We really don’t have anything to lose,” Wright said. “We might as well go in and let it all hang out. There’s no use saving any trick plays. We might as well go in and pull them out of the bag if we feel like we need them.”