Porter Ridge rallies past Watauga
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Porter Ridge scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a 77-yard punt return by Jerrick Robbins that tied the game 26-26 with 5:05 left in the game.
The overall result of the game was the same as it was in 2012 when the teams met at Porter Ridge in the first round of the playoffs. The score, and the tone of the game, was a complete opposite of what happened in 2012, which was a 69-0 Porter Ridge victory.
Porter Ridge scored first on Saturday, but the lead didn't last. In fact, Watauga built a 26-13 lead going into the fourth quarter.
"Not even looking at the score, there's victory enough in being the team we've been all season," said receiver Cam Baker, who played cornerback for the Pioneers last year. "Nobody expected us to make it this far, so the fact that we adapted and overcame all of the criticism, there's a victory in that, so we celebrate just for that."
Watauga coach Ryan Habich praised his team for exceeding expectations at the start of the season. Watauga (8-4) finished 4-3 in the Northwestern Conference, and came within a handful of plays of upsetting league champion Freedom and league runner-up Hibriten.
Watauga also put together game-winning drives in NWC victories over Patton and South Caldwell.
"The kids played well and we had a good season," PioHabich said. "I was pleased with the season we had. We were picked to finish last in our conference. For us to get eight wins and finish third in our conference and take a tough Charlotte team to the end -- we played right with them -- our youth and inexperience showed at times. But I'm really proud of how our kids played."
A critical mental mistake hurt the Pioneers' attempt to keep the Pirates out of the end zone. In Watauga's drive before punting the ball to Robbins, the Pioneers were able to convert a fourth-and-two at its own 43-yard line by drawing the Pirates offsides.
On the Pioneers' drive after the punt return, they faced a fourth-and-two from their own 36. The original plan was to wind the clock down and then punt the ball.
But the Pioneers snapped the ball instead as the play clock was winding down. Quarterback Aaron Dobbins mishandled the snap and was thrown for a 3-yard loss.
"We were not snapping the ball," Habich said. "It was a miscommunication. It was one of the things where we were punting the ball. We were not going for it. It happens when you're inexperienced, and it's unfortunate, but we were going to punt the ball."
Starting at the Pioneers' 33-yard line, Porter Ridge needed six plays to score the go-ahead touchdown, a 1-yard run by Nick Vagnone with just 31 seconds left in the game.
"We were able to flip the field position in the fourth quarter," Porter Ridge coach Greg Neuendorf said. "The defense came up with some huge stops and gave us a chance. Obviously the punt return was a huge play, too."
Watauga had one final gasp at a comeback. A pass to Nathan Ford gained 16 yards down to the Porter Ridge 40-yard line. The Pioneers, who had done things like kick an onside kick and fake a punt, had one final trick up their sleeve when Dobbins faked a spike pass to stop the clock and instead looked for Baker downfield.
But the officials blew the play dead, thinking Dobbins was really going to spike the ball. A total of 10 seconds was put on the clock, but two Dobbins passes fell incomplete.
Dobbins completed 7-of-17 passes for 110 yards, including an electrifying 50-yard strike to T.J. Poulos in the first quarter that answered a Porter Ridge touchdown and tied the game 7-7.
"We ran a stacked play where I was lined up behind Cam," Poulos, who had four catches for 88 yards, said. "He ran an out route and I was on the corner. I ran a 10-yard corner to the end zone and Aaron made the right read and the safety wasn't there, so it was a good play."
Watauga's defense, which was on its heels when it allowed an 8-yard Robbins touchdown run in the first quarter that capped an 11-play, 69-yard drive, struck back in the second quarter. Linebacker Dakota McCrary returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown, which gave the Pioneers a 20-13 lead with 3:25 left in the first half.
Earlier in the second quarter, Justin Greer returned an interception for a touchdown, but the Pioneers were called for holding on the return and the ball was placed at the 20-yard line. The Pioneers could not get any points out of it after a Dobbins pass was intercepted in the end zone.
Another Porter Ridge turnover, this time a fumble, gave the Pioneers a first down at the Pirates' 19-yard line. Five plays later, Zach Williams bulled over from the 1-yard line to give the Pioneers a 26-13 lead with 2:28 left in the third.
Porter Ridge outgained the Pioneers 296-212 in total offense, and held an advantage in time of possession. The Pirates held the ball for 25:39, compared to 21:50. Robbins was a thorn in the side of the Pioneers for most of the game. He gained 111 yards rushing and scored rushing touchdowns of eight and five yards, both in the first quarter.
Porter Ridge ran for 253 yards on 45 carries, an average of 5.6 yards per carry.
Porter Ridge 32, Watauga 26
Porter Ridge 13 0 7 12 -- 32
Watauga 10 10 6 0 -- 26
PR--Robbins 8 run (Jordan kick)
W--Poulos 50 pass from Dobbins (Shirley kick)
PR--Robbins 5 run (Kick blocked)
W--Shirley FG 28
W--Shirley FG 38
W--McCrary 30 interception return (Shirley kick)
W--Williams 1 run (Kick failed)
PR--Hicklin 20 run (Jordan kick)
PR--Robbins 77 punt return (Kick blocked)
PR--Vagnone 1 run (Kick blocked)
Porter Ridge Watauga
First downs 15 11
By rushing 12 7
By passing 3 3
By penalty 0 1
Rushes-yards 45-253 36-102
Avg. rush 5.6 2.8
Yards gained 275 129
Yards lost 22 27
Passing yards 43 110
Passes 4-12-2 7-17-1
Avg. att. 3.6 6.5
Avg. comp. 10.8 15.7
Total plays-yards 57-296 53-212
Penalties-yards 8-43 3-24
Punts-avg. 3-25.0 4-27.5
Net avg. 24.7 8.2
Inside 20 0 0
Touchbacks 0 0
Fair catch 0 0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Time of possession 25:39 21:50
Third down conv. 6-11 3-12
Fourth down conf. 1-1 0-1
Rushing: Porter Ridge--Robbins 23-111, Vanderpor 12-88, Hicklin 5-38, Vagnone 4-18, Danielson 1-(-2); Watauga--Dobbins 18-47, Williams 14-33, Poulos 4-22.
Passing: Porter Ridge--Hicklin 4-11-1 43, Danielson 0-1-1 0; Watauga--Dobbins 7-17-0 110.
Receiving: Porter Ridge--York 2-22, Hardison 2-21; Watauga--Poulos 4-88, Ford 3-22.