WEST JEFFERSON — Bouncing back from a damaging defeat against East Wilkes one week prior, the Ashe County Huskies (6-4) overcame the ground-and-pound offense of the West Wilkes Blackhawks (1-9) for another conference victory Friday, Nov. 1.
With the 63-30 win against the Blackhawks and Elkin's loss against East Wilkes, the Huskies returned to first place in the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference, now holding a conference record of 5-1, followed by Elkin and East Wilkes, both with a 4-2 record in conference.
Before the start of the contest, Huskies seniors were honored for their final home game of the regular season, including Colby Baldwin, Boen Crouse, William "Drake" Elliott and Issac Miller.
On the kickoff, the Blackhawks were on the receiving end, picking up the ball on their side of the field before connecting on a quick pass in mid-field and taking it to the house. In less than a minute of regulation, West Wilkes was up 8-0 after a successful 2-point conversion.
The Blackhawks, eager to have a second try at an offensive drive, attempted and failed to recover an onside kick after the touchdown, where the Huskies offense then took the field at their own 48-yard line.
With a short field to cover, it wasn't long before Ashe was knocking on the door of the Blackhawk's end zone, and two penalties against West Wilkes did not aid in their efforts to stop Ashe's offensive assault.
Cox completed a 15-yard touchdown pass after a little more than one minute of possession, followed by a successful two-point conversion to tie the game at 8-8 with 9:56 to go in the first quarter.
Not long after the Blackhawks offense took to the field, a fumble resulted in a turnover on downs. Ashe picked up the ball on the 50-yard line, drove down the field and was ultimately stopped within a few yards of the goal line on fourth down.
With around 95 yards of field between them and six points, the Blackhawks were pinned against their own end zone after Ashe turned the ball over. After three tries, West Wilkes was unsuccessful in breaking through the Huskies defense, resulting in a punt. The first quarter came to a close with Ashe in possession of the ball around mid-field.
Within minutes of the start of the second quarter, the Huskies drove down the field and punched the ball into the end zone, tacking on the extra point and increasing their lead to 15-8.
The Blackhawks then looked to answer on offense, but ultimately failed and turned the ball over once again, allowing Ashe to drive down the field and score on a two-yard run by Crouse. The Huskies were up 22-8 after the PAT.
It took around nine minutes and another seven points from the Huskies before West Wilkes was able to respond, keeping the ball on the ground for most of the drive and scoring a rushing touchdown with around three minutes to go in the half, making the score 29-16 after the Blackhawks converted two extra points.
After another failed fourth-down conversion, the Huskies turned the ball over within the red zone. The Blackhawks then drove down the field into Ashe territory but ended up throwing an interception, picked off by J.J. Mannan.
In the Huskies' final drive of the half, a holding penalty brought the offense back to their own 10-yard line. From there, Cox handed the ball off to Crouse, where he then ran 90 yards downfield for a touchdown. At halftime, the Huskies were in the lead by a score of 36-16.
In the second half, the Huskies continued to take advantage of the Blackhawks' struggling secondary, scoring with another pass in less than two minutes after the start of the third quarter, increasing their lead to 43-16.
The Blackhawks responded in the following drive, sticking with their successful ground game for another rushing touchdown to make the score 43-24 with 7:03 on the clock.
Following in suit, Ashe managed to score 21 unanswered points in the third quarter, propelling their lead to 63-24 and maintaining it well into the fourth quarter.
With five minutes to go in the contest, West Wilkes was able to add six points to their score before their 2-point conversion was stopped in the backfield by Ryan Blevins.
At the final buzzer, the Huskies had defeated the Blackhawks by a score of 63-30, securing their fifth conference win and sixth win overall. Though the Huskies demonstrated a strong offensive effort throughout the game, Coach Brian Hampton said there was still room for improvement.
"We gave up 30," Hampton said after the game. "We did a good job offensively, but I don't think we were really in sync offensively."
Among things Hampton said the team needs to focus on before facing Starmount next week, he said tackling was a priority after what he saw during the game against West Wilkes.
"We've got to tackle better and have to find a second wind in the second half," Hampton said. "That has sort of been our Achilles' Heel the last few weeks. We just haven't stopped people in the second half."
Next up for the Huskies is their final game of the regular season, traveling to Starmount (5-4) Friday, Nov. 8, in hopes of finishing off the season with one more conference win.