Pioneers take on tough South Caldwell
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
From 1999-2003, the Spartans had an overall record of 9-46. They were 0-11 in 1999 and 1-10 in 2000 and 2002. Watauga had a hand in several of those losses, including a 44-0 pasting in 2002.
But that was a long time ago. In 2012, the Spartans are having the last laugh. South Caldwell goes into its game at Watauga with an 8-0 overall record, 4-0 in the Northwestern Conference.
The record is only one of the signs that the Spartans have put those dog days behind them. Five of South Caldwell’s victories have been shutouts. In victories over Fred T. Foard, St. Stephens, East Burke, Patton and West Caldwell, the Spartans have outscored their opponent 223-0. That’s an average of 44.6 points per game.
Add the other games they’ve won against Hibriten, Hickory and Freedom, and the Spartans average 40 points per game.
That’s a lot of offense for Watauga’s defense to contain once the game between the two NWC rivals begins at 7:30 p.m. today. It is homecoming for Watauga (4-4, 1-3), a team that is fighting several nagging injures. Facing a physical South Caldwell team is not the right medicine to fix that.
Still, Watauga coach Tom Wright knows that even though the Pioneers are not at their best health, they will go into the game looking to pull off a big upset.
“We are pretty beat up,” Wright said. “We’ve had our share of injuries this year and more of our share of loss of game time due to injuries. We hope we’re on the mend, but we’re still a little under the weather as far as injuries goes.”
The good news is receiver and defensive back Cam Baker has been cleared to play after missing the last two games with a sprained thumb. Collin Augustine, who broke his collarbone earlier in the season, practiced this week and will be a game time decision on whether he will play.
But the injury bug hit hard last week in a 41-19 loss to Alexander Central when quarterback Tripp Taylor was knocked out of the game because of a concussion and a broken jaw. Backup Jay Harrill, who started for Taylor last week because of disciplinary reasons to Taylor, will get the start.
“Tripp’s done a great job for us this year,” Wright said. “We’ve been tremendously pleased with how he’s played. It is a big loss to your program any time you lose your quarterback.”
Wright has been impressed with how Harrill has worked in practice to make himself a better football player. Harrill had not even played football at Watauga until this season.
“He’s done a great job preparing himself this year,” Wright said. “He’s worked hard every day in practice. He just needs game experience and of course he’s getting that as we go along.”
The only other quarterback who has played this season is jayvee quarterback Aaron Dobbins. A freshman, Dobbins has been used in a mop-up role in losses to Alexander Central and Elizabethton (Tenn.), although he has guided the junior varsity team to a 7-0 record.
Wright said that the Pioneers will have to do the best they can without Taylor, and rally around Harrill.
“We’ve lost running backs, we’ve lost linemen and we’ve lost wide receivers,” Wright said. “It seems like that’s the way it’s gone for most of the season. This team will find a way to adapt and overcome.”
Watauga will have to adapt to stopping South Caldwell’s ground game. The Spartans’ Zach Pollard leads an offense that prefers to run the ball instead of throw it.
His numbers are staggering after eight games. The junior already has gained 1,907 yards and scored 23 rushing touchdowns this season with three games left. His yardage total is a Caldwell County record.
That’s an average 11.6 yards per carry.
Pollard is getting attention from as far away as Oregon State, and has received letters from several Division I schools.
He broke his own record of 322 yards rushing in a game earlier this season by running for 354 last week against Hickory.
“This team is big and physical and they have more team speed than most South Caldwell teams have,” Wright said. “They have a quarterback who throws the ball well and they’ve got a couple of receivers who catch the ball. And of course they have Zach Pollard running the ball and he’s a special talent, so we have our work cut out for us.”