WEST JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Huskies football team (5-4) could not hold on to their big lead against the East Wilkes Cardinals (4-5) Friday, Oct. 25 at home, ultimately costing them their control over the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference.
From the outset of the game, overcast skies and a light drizzle put those in attendance on alert of potential weather issues, also making the playing surface and ball slick. Apart from the weather, the Huskies also had to deal with the absence of bruising running back Timothy Peterson, who was still out with an ankle injury suffered against Elkin Oct. 4.
The Huskies offense did not seem fazed by the weather on their first drive, marching down the field with ease. They capped it off with a three-yard run from Boen Crouse, who glided his way into the endzone for the first score of the night. With a 7-0 lead, Ashe’s defense pressured the Cardinals into turning the ball over on downs to end their first drive early.
A scary moment for the Huskies came immediately after, with Austin Poe fumbling the ball on the first play, only to immediately recover it as he was tackled near the sideline. It would be the only drama of the drive, as the Huskies again stormed their way down the field before Crouse got his second rushing touchdown of the game and a 14-0 Huskies lead. Another Cardinals drive ended after a failed fourth-down conversion, as Ashe held their lead and shut out to the end of the first quarter.
The Huskies’s first drive of the second quarter ended as all the others had to that point, with Crouse making multiple defenders miss before running the ball into the endzone for a touchdown, this one from 20 yards out. East Wilkes still struggled to find their footing and an offensive rhythm, having their third-straight drive end on a fourth-down play. The Huskies had the momentum and the crowd behind them, building on to their commanding lead, which now sat at 28-0.
The Cardinals were given a lifeline on their next drive, courtesy of multiple costly penalties for the Huskies. Down at the goal line, they managed to punch it in from three yards out for their first points of the night, bringing their deficit to 28-7. The Huskies’ chance to answer came to a swift end, with Dawson Cox throwing his first and only interception of the night on the ensuing drive. The Cardinals made use of the passing game to find their way into the endzone for a second time, with a two-point conversion setting the score at 28-15.
Undeterred, the Huskies carved their way through the East Wilkes defense before Crouse picked up another touchdown run, giving the Huskies a 35-15 lead as the first half came to a close.
Both teams hit brick walls on offense with their opening drives of the second half, with the Cardinals turning it over on downs after a holding penalty killed all momentum and the Huskies turned it over on downs after only picking up a single first down.
The Cardinals managed to strike first in the second half on their second drive, with junior running back Chandlar Luffman turning the corner on a short run to make the score 35-22. The Huskies thought they answered when J.J. Mannan caught a big touchdown catch on fourth down, only for it to be erased by a pass interference call, forcing the Huskies to punt. Luffman’s score proved to be the only of the third quarter, leaving the Huskies with a 13 point lead as the final period rolled in.
The Cardinals suddenly found themselves with the game’s momentum, opening the fourth quarter with a 59-yard score to bring their deficit down to 6 with just under 12 minutes left in the game. A failed onside kick and a penalty immediately after it gave the Huskies the ball on the Cardinals’ 36-yard line. A pass interference call cut down a sizable portion of the yards in front of them, but unsportsmanlike conduct and ineligible man downfield penalties saw them back up to the 45 on 3rd-and-30. The unsportsmanlike conduct call saw Crouse ejected from the game, ending his night early.
Unable to convert, the Huskies pinned the Cardinals on their own 9-yard line. This did not hamper East Wilkes, with senior Garrett Vernon blowing by the Huskies defense on a 91-yard touchdown catch to grab a 35-36 lead with just under 10 minutes to play.
While it took more than one play, the Huskies quickly sliced their way down to the redzone, with Cox finding Poe and Thomas Ballard to get the offense to the 3-yard line. Poe made the sliding touchdown catch the Huskies needed, snatching back the lead with a 42-36 scoreline.
The Eagles leaned heavily on the run on the following drive, chewing up clock and yardage at the same time. Vernon made the all-important run at the end, running it in from 13 yards out to get the Cardinals their lead back with only just over one minute left for the Huskies.
The Huskies got what they could out of the first few plays of their final drive, getting near midfield and preparing to start throwing downfield. It appeared their clutch moment came when Poe leapt through double coverage before scampering into the endzone for the game-winner. However, a pass interference penalty nullified the score and sent the Huskies backwards, before a penalty for a crackback block put the win out of reach.
After the game, head coach Brian Hampton claimed responsibility for the loss.
“We just didn’t do what we needed to do defensively in the second half, and that’s my fault,” Hampton said. “I’m in charge of defense, they did a good job on offense and I didn’t adjust well. This loss is on me.”
Hampton was vocal in his disagreement with the referee’s decisions, saying the officiating crew was one of the worst he’d ever had. Receiving verbal abuse from the home fans, the refereeing team was escorted past the stands by Ashe County Sheriff’s Office deputies who were working the game.
With the in-conference loss, the Huskies lost sole possession of first-place in the MVAC, now sitting tied with Elkin (7-2) with both teams having a 4-2 conference record.
“Right now, we’re tied with Elkin at the top and we’ve got to win the next two,” Hampton said. “If we win the next two, we tie for the conference championship.”
The Huskies now turn their attention to West Wilkes (1-7) for a home game Friday, Nov. 1, which will be Senior Night.