Let's Give It Another Try.... (2016-11-17 16:13:35)

BOONE - It's been a while since the Watauga High football team last won a state playoff game.


Just to refresh you memory, WHS' last postseason win came in 2011 at home against Alexander Central. They've lost five straight since then.

But the Pioneers (8-3) hope to redeem themselves Friday night, when Southwest Guilford comes to town. It's a rematch of last year's first-round game that went to triple overtime before the Cowboys (7-4) prevailed, 39-36.

That win broke a nine-game losing streak in the playoffs for the Cowboys, and it was their first postseason win since 1980. The Cowboys are 2-9 lifetime in the state playoffs.

Ironically, the Pioneers, since the Eric Breitenstein-era ended in 2007, are 1-8 in postseason play.

And the Cowboys are also enjoying their first winning season since 1997, and they're 12th winning season in school history (the school officlally opened in 1979).

"This is a winnable game," WHS coach Ryan Habich said. "But they're extremely athletic, and they play in a 4A league (the Piedmont-Triad 4A Conference). So, they've played a 4A schecule. They're deep, they're athletic, and they have outstanding team speed. We have to play extremely well to win this game."

The winner will play either Alexander Central (7-4) or
Greensboro-Dudley (10-1), and the No. 2 seed in the 4A West, in the second round next Friday night.

Making matters a little tougher for WHS, the Pioneers are battling the injury bug. Linebackers Joey Watson (upper body injury) and Ben Critcher (fractured fibula) have been lost for the season. Critcher was hurt in practice on Tuesday. They also have numerous bumps and bruises.

And the WHS defense, which shored things up in Northwestern 3A/4A Coinference play, will face a team led by dual-threat quarterback, Jared Rainey.

Rainey, a junior, is averaging 231 yards a game. He has
a strong arm (he's 112-of-220 for 1,662 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions), and he's Southwest Guilford's second-leading rusher with 843 yards and nine TDs.

Bryson Jumper, a defensive back turned running back, is Southwest Guilford's leading ballcarrier. He's rushed for 951 yards and a team-leading 14 TDs.

"This team likes to throw it around," Habich said. "They like to spread you out, get their people in open spaces, and they can run the football, too. The weather really helped us last year. It was cold and windy, and it stopped their passing game for two quarters. That allowed us to come back after they jumped on us 21-7. But this year, the weather won't be a factor, and it won't affect what they do."

The unseasonable forecast is calling for a spring like day on Friday with a high of 70 degrees.

"I remember last year very well," said Southwest Guiford coach Eric Rainey. "It was stiff wind and tough conditions to play in. It's suppose to be a lot better weather wise Friday night. But it really doesn't matter what the forecast is. Watauga is an outstanding football team. A lot of our guys got to see that firsthand last season.
(Watauga) just doesn't quit. They keep coming at you. They're a relentless bunch."

Ain't that the truth. The Pioneers come in averaging 51 points and more than 400-yards rushing a game. Quarterback Hamilton Castle has established himself as the driving force behind WHS' powerful attack.

"(Michael Ebaugh) and (Aaron Dobbins) were outstanding players for Watauga last season," Rainey said. "But it doesn't look like they lost much. This quarterback they have now may not throw it as well as the guy they had last year, but he's a dangerous player. He runs that
triple option so well. It looks like he's been doing it his whole life. He makes excellent decisions and the guy is a gamer. He really makes that offense go."

"Our goal Friday night is to sit on the ball, limit their possessions, and put points on the board," Habich said. "It's the only way we're going to win this game. We're not going to stop them on a consistent basis. They can score, and they can do it in a hurry. We need to get the ball first and score. We must force them to play from behind."

And the Pioneers have scored on their first possession a school record nine times in 11 games this season (Asheville-Reynolds and Hibriten are the only teams WHS didn't score against first). But WHS is facing a
Southwest defense that has only given up 200 points all season.

"And that's against a 4A schedule," Habich said. "There are no easy games in the 4A West. Every week, you're going to face an excellent team. And Southwest Guilford is one of those teams. They're very stout on defense, especially with (John Oxce) on their front line. The guy is only a sophomore, but he can hold his own and move people around. It's going to be a challenge controlling him."

But the Cowboys come into Friday night's match up stumbling a bit. Following a 6-0 start, they've lost four of their last five games. But two of those losses were by the mear total of just nine points.

"It was a tough stretch," Rainey said. "But we play in a very tough conference. And winning our last regular season game (against High Point Central) was a huge confidence booster for us. But it doesn't guarantee anything on Friday night. We have to play a very good Watauga team. Fortunately, we get a taste of this offense on our
schedule when we play Southeast Guilford. They do a good job running it, too. And winning at Watauga is a plus for us going in. Our junior class is the foundation for our turnaround. Those guys have changed the mindset in this program. But like I said before, it doesn't guarantee anything. We have to play well to win Friday night."

"It's who really wants it the most right now," Habich said. "It's a long season, when you consider the off season workouts, the camps, spring practice, training camp and the regular season. Now, it comes down to who wants to extend their season. It's really up to the players, and I have a lot of confidence in this group."

Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday night on WATA 1450 AM/96.5 FM.