The losing streak nearly came to an end, but Watauga held on for a 23-21 win over the visiting Ashe County Huskies.
The win marked the 11th consecutive year that the Pioneers have beaten the Huskies on the gridiron, but this year was the closest game in recent memory.
Things did not start off very well for Ashe on the first possession of the game. Quarterback Eli Gambill was taken down in the end zone for a safety just 41 seconds into the contest.
Watauga held the 2-0 lead through the entire first quarter as both defenses made it very difficult on the opposition to get any ball movement. During the first, Watauga had a pair of turnovers on downs while Ashe also had a turnover on downs and a punt.
On the first play of the second quarter, Watauga scored its first touchdown of the night. Tripp Taylor tossed a 24-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Baker. The Pioneers successfully converted a two-point conversion on another pass to Baker, extending Watauga’s lead to 10-0.
Ashe County answered back late in the quarter, getting on the scoreboard before the halftime break. On a third-and-21 play, Gambill dropped back and found Jonathan Cox on a screen pass. The play call worked perfectly as Watauga dialed up a linebacker blitz on the play, leaving the middle of the field wide open. Cox read the blocks perfectly and did the rest of the work himself, scoring on a 40-yard touchdown reception. Anthony Federico nailed the extra point, making the score 10-7.
The third quarter opened with a three-and-out for both offenses, then a big fourth-down stop by the Husky defense. With just over five minutes left in the quarter, the Pioneers went for it on fourth and two from the Ashe 15-yard line. Carson Knight and Kolten Pilar made the tackle on Taylor for no gain, and forcing a turnover on downs. However, the Huskies could not do anything with the ball and had to punt four plays later.
Watauga quickly capitalized on the punt with a three-play, 49-yard drive that resulted in a 28-yard touchdown run from Collin Augustine. Alex Parsons booted the extra point, and just like that, the Pioneers were back in front by 10 at 17-7.
The fourth quarter started with an Ashe drive that resulted in a good 44-yard punt by Federico that put Watauga at its own 24. On the first play, Brandon Blevins stripped the Watauga ball carrier and recovered the fumble, setting Ashe up with outstanding field position.
Six plays later, the Huskies were in the end zone on a two-yard touchdown run from Gambill. Federico kicked the extra point, cutting the Ashe deficit to just three points, 17-14.
The Pioneers took the ball on the kickoff, and methodically marched down the field. A nine-play drive, all rushing plays, was capped off by Augustine’s second rushing TD of the day, this one from five yards out. The extra point was good, giving Watauga a 23-14 lead with just 3:37 left in the game.
Ashe took the ball and drove 80 yards on 11 plays with a five-yard touchdown pass from Gambill to Jacob Blevins being the end result. However, there would only be five seconds left in the game by the time the drive ended with the score. The Huskies attempted an onside kick, but Watauga recovered, and ran the last few seconds off the clock.
Individually, Gambill completed 14 of his 26 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. The senior also added 44 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Blevins finished with six catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. Cox had three catches for 39 yards and a score while Michael Elliott added three receptions for 35 yards and Matthew Hamilton had a pair of receptions for 13 yards.
For the Pioneers, Taylor completed 12 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. Nick Williams was the leading receiver with five catches for 50 yards. Baker finished with four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown while DeWayne Mackey added three catches for 13 yards.
Augustine was Watauga’s big playmaker. He powered his way for 98 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns. He also added 11 tackles, four of which were for losses, and two quarterback sacks, including the safety early in the game which turned out to be the difference on the scoreboard.
For the Huskies on defense, Elliott and Dominic Maxwell led the way with seven tackles. Elliott added a forced fumble and a fumble recovery while Maxwell led the way with three tackles for loss. Knight and Justin Scarborough added six tackles and the trio of Hamilton, Cox and Parker Dunne had five takedowns. Hawkens Flanagan pulled down an interception from his defensive backfield spot.
Ashe saw its record fall to 1-1 while Watauga improved to 1-1. The Huskies will play its first home game of the season this week when North Surry comes up the mountain for the final non-conference game of the regular season.