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The Unbeatable Foe???? (2016-11-24 14:20:07)

GREENSBORO - Well, it sure looks that way, at least on paper. But keep in mind, games are won on the field, not on paper.

 

And the Watauga High football team, which has raised more than its share of eyebrows during the season, takes on a powerhouse program in Greensboro-Dudley Friday night in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A State Playoffs.

The Pioneers (9-3) advanced by knocking off Southwest Guilford in a wild game last Friday night at Jack Groce Stadium. That win also snapped a five-game losing streak for the Pioneers in postseason play. The Panthers (11-1) advanced by blowing out Alexander Central 52-8 last week at home.

"They're disciplined, well coached, a well rounded team," said WHS coach Ryan Habich. "They're outstanding. We have to play a lot better than we did last week against Southwest Guilford. Don't get me wrong, it was a great win for our program, but we made a lot of mistakes. Friday's game is going to be a tough challenge, but this is what the playoffs are all about. You get to play a lot of great teams, and we're going to see a great team Friday night."

And the Panthers have been nearly impeccable since Stephen Davis took over as head coach in 2004. During that stretch, the Panthers are 130-40, they've won three state championships, they have two state runner up finishes, and they've won five conference titles.

Last year, they made it to the state semifinals before they were derailed by the eventual state champion, Charlotte Catholic.

"And I tip my hat to them," Davis said. "They made some key plays, and we did not. That was the difference in the game. But we take pride in our game preparation every week. And we know the pressure is on us at this time of the year. And we know what's expected of us in the state playoffs."

But the Pioneers are a formidable opponent. Keep in mind, they're averaging 50 points and more than 400 yards rushing a game. And they've done an excellent job protecting the football this season.

"I am so proud of this team," Habich said. "They're all business, and they don't let the outside stuff bother them at all. We were picked to finish fifth in the conference, and look what they did. It's a special group, and these guys are playing with a lot of confidence right now."

"You can see their discipline on film," Davis said. "They run that triple option so well. Believe it or not, but I've been watching Georgia\ Tech (led by Avery County native Paul Johnson, and they run the triple option) on film this week in preparation of this game. Watauga is a good team. I know what a lot of people are saying that we're the heavy favorites. But these are the playoffs. One bad game and you go home."

Offensively, the Panthers are led by senior quarterback Henson Hooker, who has made a verbal commitment to attend Virginia Tech University next season. He's ammassed 2,763 yards and a combined 39 touchdowns this season.

Senior running back Ezra Perkins is Dudley's leading rusher with 1,105 yards and seven TDs. And he's backed up by junior Zariek Rush (746 yards, seven TDs) and senior Thomas Young (374 yards, three TDs). The Panthers are averaging 298 yards a game on the ground.

"I'm a Nick Saban (the head coach at the University of Alabama) fan," Davis said. "He believes in establishing the running game, and that's what I like to do. Teams that run the football have a aggressive mentality. And I want my teams to be aggressive and physical every time we take the field."

But the Panthers can throw, too. Hooker has thrown for 1,887 yards and 20 TDs. Thomas Young (20 receptions for 537 yards and seven TDs) and Jon Zellous (20 catches, 378 yards, TDs) are their leading receivers. The Panthers have four players with 10 catches or more.

"They're projecting (Hooker) to be the next Michael Vick at Virginia Tech," Habich said. "He's a great athlete, and there aren't a lot of weaknesses on that team. I'm real impressed with their defense. They all look the same in body stature, they're very aggressive and they get 11 men to the ball. We have to block extremely well Friday night, and we have to tackle well on defense. The big thing for us is we have to worry about Watauga. We can't worry about Dudley. They're a great team, but if we all do our jobs, we can make this a competitive game."

"Getting Watauga off the field on third down is the key," Davis said. "They do such a good job of keeping possession by getting first downs. Our biggest challenge Friday night is playing assignment football. If one guy doesn't do his job, it breaks everything down. It's like I said, Watauga is a well coached football team, and this is a dangerous game for us. It looks like they play a lot of guys both ways, but those guys don't seem to get tired. They're relentless, and when someone plays that hard, it makes them a dangerous team."

The winner of Friday's game will play either Kannapolis-Brown or Davie County in the NCHSAA 4A Western Semifinals next Friday night. Coverage of Friday night's game from Greensboro begins at 6:30 p.m. on WATA 1450 AM/96.5 FM.



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