Pioneers lose heartbreaker to Hibriten
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Watauga coach Ryan Habich didn't waste any time using different ways to score points against Hibriten.
Some worked and why not? Watauga had to keep up with a Hibriten that went into the game averaging over 49 points per game and uses more offensive weapons than the military.
Neither team left much ammunition in their arsenals. Hibriten took a 45-44 victory in an old-fashioned Northwestern Conference shootout that ended when Watauga could not convert a two-point conversion in the game's final 31 seconds.
Hibriten (8-0, 4-0 NWC) scored on every possession it had except twice. The first time the Panthers were stopped was when the ended the first half.
The second was much more dramatic. Facing a fourth-and-one at the Watauga 42-yard line, the ball was snapped over quarterback Jacob Copper's head.
The ball went backwards 18 yards, giving the Pioneers a first down at the Hibriten 40-yard line with 3:30 left in the game.
Pioneers quarterback Aaron Dobbins took it from there by driving the Pioneers down to the Hibriten 1-yard line. That's where fullback Zach Williams bolted over for the touchdown, pulling the Pioneers to within 45-44 with 31 seconds to go in the game.
But Hibriten dodged Watauga's final bullet when Dobbins crossfield pass to tight end Hunter Isaacs was just short of the target. Isaacs nearly caught the pass, which Dobbins had to throw off his back foot because of Hibriten pressure. After a quick discussion by the officials, the pass was ruled incomplete.
It was the same play that Watauga (6-2, 2-2) was going to run in the overtime period on a fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line a week earlier against Freedom, but the Pioneers were called for a sideline warning just as the play started.
Watauga ran another play from the 11-yard line, but did not score in the 41-34 loss.
On Friday, Hibriten recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.
Watauga turned the page of its playbook in the first half, but used a balanced attack in the second. The result in the first half was a 24-19 halftime lead, which is the first time Hibriten has trailed at halftime all season.
The Pioneers surprised Hibriten in the first quarter by using an option pass from Cam Baker to T.J. Poulos, which went for 44 yards. It led to a 25-yard Stephen Shirley field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Watauga followed with an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. Justin Greer recovered at the Hibriten 35-yard line, but the Pioneers' drive stalled at the 25 after a Dobbins fourth-down pass was incomplete.
Hibriten immediately countered with a nine-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 16-yard run by quarterback Copper, giving the Panthers a 7-3 lead. It was the first of five touchdown runs by Copper, who finished with 162 yards on 15 carries.
The Pioneers used its conventional weapons, too. Dobbins capped a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive by converting a fourth-and-two with a 20-yard touchdown drive.
The quarterback answered on the Pioneers' next drive by hitting the Panthers with a thunderbolt of a pass play. Dobbins faked a slant pass to Baker and then hit the senior wide receiver with a deep pass that ended in a 61-yard touchdown play.
The cornerback lined up on Baker bit on the fake, and the Panthers' safety was late getting to Baker. The play put the Pioneers in front 17-13 with 4:06 left in the first half.
But the Pioneers struggled to stop the Hibriten offense. Hibriten scored touchdowns on a 20-yard run by Devell Maxwell that gave them a 13-10 lead, and a 10-yard run by Copper that put the Panthers in front 19-17 with 1:53 left in the first half.
Kicking the extra point was a problem for the Panthers in the first half. Kicker Luke Roberson missed two extra points, including one that was wide after Hibriten was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct on Copper's second touchdown.
A personal foul penalty called on the Panthers set Watauga up at the Hibriten 12-yard line on the Pioneers' ensuing drive. Zach Williams bulled his way over from the 1-yard line with just 14.2 seconds left in the first half to give the Pioneers a 24-19 halftime lead.
Watauga added touchdown runs of four and one yards from Williams and a 26-yard touchdown pass to Poulos, who caught the ball as three Panthers were converging on him.
But the Pioneers could not keep the Panthers out of the end zone for most of the second half. Tyshawn Daniels scored on a 27-yard touchdown run, and Copper scored on touchdown runs of two and 10 yards. The second score gave the Panthers a 45-31 lead with 9:10 in the fourth quarter.