NEWLAND — The Ashe County Huskies (0-1) did not get their season started the way they likely preferred, losing on the road to the Avery County Vikings (1-0) in a 53-33 that was not as close as the scoreline suggests.
Coming into the game, the Huskies were dealing with a widespread rebuild of their team after losing 17 seniors from last year. The starting quarterback, top two cornerbacks, middle linebacker, starting receiver, the entire defensive line and four-out-of-five offensive linemen all had to be replaced going into this season.
The teams traded possessions to open the contest, but the first big play broke Avery’s way, when Jesse Jones blocked and recovered a punt by Ashe’s Timothy Peterson. On the next offensive play, Troy Hoilman connected with Ty Smith for a 28-yard touchdown pass. The extra point kick was blocked, but Avery led 6-0 with 4:54 left in the opening stanza.
The Vikings had an opportunity to extend its lead in the early moments of the second quarter, but were turned away inside the Ashe red zone on fourth down. Two plays after the turnover-on-downs, the Huskies quickly struck paydirt when quarterback Dawson Cox hit wide receiver Austin Poe in stride for a 79-yard touchdown pass. The PAT gave the Huskies a 7-6 lead with 9:50 left to play before halftime.
Throughout the half, the Vikings offense demonstrated that it could move the football on the Husky defense. Avery mounted an 11-play, 61-yard march near the Ashe 20-yard line following the Ashe score, but a fumble turned the football over.
The Vikings defense quickly erased the gaffe, however, when Chad Giarrusso intercepted a Cox pass, the first of four Avery pickoffs in the contest. Avery capitalized on its ensuing series, as Hoilman and Smith hooked up for a second touchdown pass, this time for 21 yards. The pair connected on the subsequent two-point-conversion attempt, propelling the Big Red to a 14-7 lead more than midway through the quarter.
Ashe’s pairing of Cox to Poe again paid dividends of the next Huskies offensive series, as the two connected twice for 49 yards the latter of which a 32-yard touchdown strike which knotted the game at 14-14 with 2:50 to play in the half.
Ashe recovered a pooch kickoff following its latest score and appeared poised to gain all the momentum to end the half, but the Vikings defense refused to fold, stonewalling Ashe on a fourth-down conversion to give the football to Avery with less than two minutes remaining.
From there the Avery offense went to work, driving 63 yards in five plays, using only 59 seconds to find the goal line yet again, as Hoilman hit Smith for an 11-yard TD pass with 47 seconds left in the half. Finley Serafim’s PAT was true, and the Vikings took the momentum and a 21-14 halftime lead.
As fans that filled MacDonald Stadium settled in to see more of a back-and-forth affair for the final two quarters of a competitive contest, the Vikings decided to turn in a dominant third quarter which removed any doubt from the game’s outcome. Avery scored four touchdowns over a 6:07 span to begin the second half, expanding a seven-point lead into a 33-point chasm.
Hoilman found Bowman on a 14-yard touchdown pass for the first Viking score of the period, while the defense followed by limiting Ashe to a three-and-out. The offense returned to the field and scored another touchdown on a drive highlighted by a 41-yard pass completion from Hoilman to Jones and capped by a six-yard touchdown reception by Smith. The Viking defense forced a turnover on Ashe’s ensuing series, as Jones forced a fumble from Peterson and Dalton Towe pounced on the football for Avery. The Big Red again capitalized with a short field, culminating in a 1-yard plunge for a score by Andrews. Jones completed the scoring blitzkrieg when he picked off a Cox pass and made a house call for a 33-yard touchdown, leaving Avery with a commanding 47-14 lead.
Ashe’s final two offensive series resulted in interceptions by Avery’s Giarrusso and Smith, respectively, to close out the third quarter.
Giarrusso got in on the scoring parade early in the fourth quarter as the freshman broke multiple tackles en route to a 32-yard touchdown run for Avery’s final points of the night and a 53-14 advantage.
Avery played a number of reserves for much of the fourth quarter and the Huskies starters capitalized, scoring touchdowns on its final three possessions of the game to narrow the final margin on the scoreboard, but the 20-point margin could not take away from a dominant performance by the home team.
Ashe’s pre-conference schedule is not getting any easier, with Watauga (1-0) coming to West Jefferson Friday, Aug. 30. Avery welcomes West Wilkes (0-1) the same night, in a non-conference matchup that serves as the NCHSAA Endowment contest.