Red Tornado Warning
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
The Pioneers host Hickory tonight looking to go 2-0 in the NWC after slipping past Fred T. Foard 28-27 one week earlier. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. at Jack Groce Stadium.
Watauga (4-1, 1-0 NWC) led Foard (2-3, 0-1) most of the game, but found itself down 27-25 after the Tigers scored three fourth quarter touchdowns. The final was a 41-yard pass play with just 38 seconds left.
But Watauga struck back with a 39-yard field goal from Alex Parsons after Pioneers quarterback Tripp Taylor moved Watauga from its own 42-yard line to the Foard 31 in three plays.
“He had a really nice run on the first down and then made a nice solid throw to Cam Baker on the second down,” Pioneers coach Tom Wright said. “He did a nice job of hitting a route on third down and put us in a position to kick a field goal. Alex Parsons knocked it through for us.”
Hickory (3-2) is under new management this fall. Former Alexander Central Tom Harper takes over a program that went 8-4-1 last season and reached the second round of the 3-A state playoffs. The Red Tornadoes had to vacate all of their victories because of inadvertently using an ineligible player.
It was not necessary for Hickory to forfeit to Watauga. The Pioneers took a 6-0 victory at Hickory after heavy rain fell in the first half.
Harper, whose Alexander Central teams went 0-2 against Watauga last season, is 3-6 in his career against Watauga. This season, Hickory beat Newton-Conover, Maiden and North Gaston, but lost to Statesville and Reagan.
Hickory has not played a conference game.
The Red Tornadoes run a spread offense that is led by quarterback Matt Williams. A sophomore, Williams was the St. Stephens quarterback, but transferred to Hickory this fall.
But Hickory’s most dangerous weapon is running back Cory Stinson, who has returned two punts for touchdowns this season.
“We’ve got no intention of kicking him the ball,” Wright said. “If we kick the ball to him at any time, you’ll know it’s a mistake. We’re not going to give him the chance to be the difference on special teams.”
The Pioneers have won four straight since losing their season opener to A.C. Reynolds. Their victory over Foard looked like it was going to be somewhat easier when the Pioneers took an 18-0 lead.
Foard came back with four touchdowns in the second half, three of them in the fourth quarter. All of them were big plays, starting with touchdown runs of 63 and 55-yard runs from Sam Benfield.
Jacob Schmidt added a 37-yard TD run and found Brenden Purkey for a 41-yard touchdown pass with just 38 seconds left in the game. Wright is cautiously optimistic that the Pioneers can contain a potentially explosive Hickory offense.
“I think they’re very dangerous,” Wright said. “I think that any time you play a team that is as athletic as Hickory, they’re going to be dangerous. The key is going to be team. I know our young men play together as a team and I can count on that. I think going into the ballgame that we will be able to do that.”
Watauga got some good news this week when tight end Hunter Isaacs was cleared to play. Isaacs, who bruised his knee against West Caldwell, did not play last week against Foard.