WEST JEFFERSON — In a tale of two halves, the Ashe County Huskies (4-3) walked away deserved victors over the visiting North Wilkes Vikings (4-3) Friday, Oct. 11 in a 44-28 Homecoming win. The night featured the crowning of the Homecoming Queen at halftime and the Huskies grabbing sole possession of the top spot in the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference.
The Huskies did not go into the game at full strength, missing running back Timothy Peterson and wide receiver/cornerback Kaden Burgess. Peterson missed the game with an ankle injury he suffered a week prior, while Burgess had surgery earlier in the day for a broken collarbone, according to head coach Brian Hampton.
The Huskies offense showed early they were missing the bruising back, going three-and-out on their first drive. The defense showed continued its fine play, which Hampton has praised through the season, stopping the Vikings’ first drive in its tracks. The Huskies looked to be the first to put points on the board as they drove their way down to the eight-yard line, before stalling out and turning it over on downs.
While both teams ground down the clock, neither could grind down their opponents as the score stood at 0-0 by the end of the first quarter. The scoreless period was the third-straight for the Huskies, stretching back to being shut-out in the second half the week prior against Elkin (5-2).
Minutes into the second quarter, Huskies lineman Keagan Church pounced on a loose ball near midfield to grab a Vikings turnover. As Ashe marched down the field, they were stopped when North Wilkes linebacker Dylan Bowlin picked off Huskies quarterback Dawson Cox. Almost immediately, Huskies safety Jacob Miller got his own interception to give the ball back to Ashe in the red zone.
Boen Crouse got the carry, taking it all the way in for the first points of the game. A botched snap on the point-after attempt led to Austin Poe just carrying it in himself, for an improvised two-point conversion and an 8-0 Huskies lead.
The Huskies defense again stepped up with a stop before the Vikings could answer, but another interception gave North Wilkes the ball back with under four minutes in the half. A short run was all it took for the Vikings to put their own points on the board, but a failed two-point conversion left the score 8-6 as halftime came.
The Vikings could not get the two-point conversion at the end of the half, but they still hit pay dirt when senior speedster Mikey Bell took the opening kickoff to the house for the Vikings lead. Another failed two-point conversion held them to making it a two-score game, leaving the score at 12-8.
The Huskies responded by marching down the field on their first drive of the half before Cox kept the ball and ran into the end zone for the score. With the point after good, the Huskies led 15-12. The heat was on, and the Vikings responded to the response with a big run from Bell, who scored before North Wilkes tacked on a two-point conversion for good measure.
Ashe came back to get down into the red zone and within striking distance of the lead. Trying to toss the ball into the end zone, Cox was hit as he threw but Poe was able to make a miracle grab and bring it in for the score. A good point after kick set the score at 22-20 with a minute-and-a-half left in the quarter.
As the fourth and final period opened, the Vikings grabbed a 28-22 lead before the Huskies were stopped by a three-and-out drive. Stopping North Wilkes from extending their lead, J.J. Mannan pulled in an interception, taking it back to the Vikings’ 30-yard line and setting Ashe up to grab a lead. A short run from Drake Elliott and the point after gave them that lead. A few minutes later, he’d do the same thing before Poe added another impromptu two-point conversion to extend the lead to 37-28.
According to Hampton, both two-point conversions from Poe were unplanned.
“We have an automatic, if it’s a bad snap he can automatically take it and it’s a run-pass option,” Hampton said.
With just more than four minutes left, the Vikings were trying to get a comeback effort going when Poe popped up with a pick-six to give the Huskies an insurmountable, 44-28 lead. A few plays to run out the clock later, the Huskies sealed the win.
The win not only put the Huskies in sole ownership of the number one spot in the MVAC, it also was their 10th-straight conference win dating back to last season. Despite the good feeling that can bring in teams and players, Hampton said the focus right now is to take the season one step at a time. He said losing focus of the team in front of the Huskies can only lead to bad things, so the key is to focus only on the week ahead.
The Huskies now turn their attention to the Wilkes Central Eagles (4-3) for a Friday, Oct. 18 road game, while the Vikings will play Elkin (5-2) the same night