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Originally published: 2013-10-31 19:43:19
Last modified: 2013-10-31 19:44:04

Pioneers face Hickory Friday

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

Watauga's chances of earning a co-championship in the Northwestern Conference are a bit remote.
But Pioneers coach Ryan Habich isn't going to let some long odds get in the way of pushing his team in that direction. Watauga takes on Hickory at Jack Groce Stadium tonight looking to keep those hopes alive, even if they are unlikely to happen.
Watauga (7-2, overall, 3-2 NWC) needs to win both of its games, beginning with Hickory. The Pioneers close out the regular season on Nov. 8 at South Caldwell.
Then they'll need some help, but it's far-fetched that they'll get it. Front-runner Freedom (8-1, 5-0), which needed an overtime period to beat Watauga 41-34, plays at St Stephens tonight before playing at Patton on Nov. 8.
A loss to Patton isn't all that impossible. Patton is 7-2, 3-2 in the NWC. A Freedom loss to St. Stephens (0-9, 0-5) would be a major upset.
Then there's Hibriten (8-1, 4-1), who hosts Patton tonight and then hosts Hickory. Neither of the games are a lock for Hibriten, which could open the door for the Pioneers to finish at least in second place in the NWC.
Habich said the coaching staff has emphasized that a co-NWC title is still possible to the players.
"That's what we want to teach out kids. We always want to compete for conference championships," Habich said. "We've got two more games left and everybody has got two more games left and we've still got a chance to be co-champs. That's an opportunity we want our kids playing for knowing we win our next two games. But first, all we can do is control what we can control and that's win our next two games."
Hickory (5-4, 3-2) brings several good athletes with it, including Corey Stinson, the Red Tornadoes' top runner and defensive player.
Watauga showed great poise in its 24-20 win over Patton last week. Watauga drove 86 yards in 12 plays before scoring on a 35-yard pass play from quarterback Aaron Dobbins to Cam Baker.
"These guys, one thing they do not do is they don't panic," Habich said. "They don't panic when they are down and they don't panic when they're up. If you do that, you put yourself in a position to win football games. I was really impressed with the way in the fourth quarter we didn't panic. We went right down there and went 80 yards and scored."
The Red Tornadoes beat St. Stephens and Fred T. Foard 47-0 in their last two games.Hickory's conference losses were 34-27 to Freedom and 37-35 to South Caldwell.
Watauga will also have other things to celebrate if the Pioneers can win tonight.
The athletic program is honoring the 1978 3-A state championship football team during halftime.
Former standout football players Danny Triplett, who was a key member of that team, and Eric Breitenstein, a key player in Watauga's 2006 and 2007 teams that reached the state 4-A Western Regional finals in each year, will have their numbers retired.