WEST JEFFERSON — In their second home game of the season, the Ashe County Huskies (0-3) faced an uphill battle in their upset bid against the Hibriten Panthers (2-1), but ultimately fell short. The third loss of the season matches the season-total from 2018.

The two teams played in the 2018 season, with Ashe losing on the road 56-14 against a team that made it to the NCHSAA 2A playoff semifinals. Despite that, head coach Brian Hampton said his team shouldn’t be in the position to be over-awed by the matchup.

“Hibriten’s 2A, we’re 2A, we should be able to compete with Hibriten,” Hampton said. “That’s where we want to be, and that’s what our kids need to strive for.”

The Huskies were forced to play without junior receiver Austin Poe, who sat out the game with a hamstring injury.

The Huskies looked to start the game well, with junior running back Timothy Peterson taking advantage of good blocking to take the opening kick off near the opposition’s 40-yard line. Despite the good field position, their opening drive ended after three plays, when junior quarterback Dawson Cox felt the Panthers’ pressure and took a big sack on third-and-10.

However Ashe’s defense wasn’t letting the game slip this early, getting a three-and-out of their own on Hibriten’s first drive. The stop began a defensive slugfest, with no team moving the chains until their was 1:15 left in the first quarter, when the Huskies were gifted a first down by a pass interference call. Peterson and senior back Boen Crouse kept the drive alive on the ground, but the game remained scoreless after the first quarter.

Peterson put the first points on the board minutes into the second quarter, rumbling in from only a few yards out. A missed extra point left the game 6-0, but the Huskies had the lead. As an answer, the Panthers began riding their own junior running back’s smash-mouth brand of rushing. Taylib Howell began to build up speed and the team got momentum with it. Howell bullied his way in for a Panthers touchdown, but a failed two-point conversion left the game tied at 6-6.

Hibriten built a lead only minutes later, when junior quarterback Darren Perry found Austin Annas for the score. Another whiffed two-point conversion kept the Huskies within shouting distance, and the scoreline at 6-12. They answered with a drive that appeared to not have enough to get the job done, but another pass interference call against Hibriten gave them hope. A 52-yard bomb from Cox to junior J.J. Mannan gave them a tied game with 2:15 left in the half, after another missed extra point.

The Panthers were unable to grab a lead by halftime, with the Huskies getting a stop and the ball with 34 seconds left. A precision pass to Mannan and a Panthers penalty got the offense down to the 13-yard line. Cox hit Crouse with a dart, who then went out of bounds at the 4-yard line with 6.6 seconds in the half, enough for one play. Cox carried it in himself, and a failed two-point conversion left the score at 18-12 at the half.

The halftime lead would not keep for long, when the powerful Panthers fullback Noah Isbell bulldozed his way in for the score, after a long drive that ate up much of the quarter’s clock. For the first time in the game, more points were added to a touchdown when Hibriten nailed the point after for an 18-19 lead.

Hampton said the third quarter proved to be the Huskies’ downfall, despite their competitive play in the first half.

“I think we competed all night, but they had a 99-yard drive and a score to open the second half and we didn’t respond,” Hampton said. “We’ve got to be able to respond. I think we had a very good football team on the ropes and we let them off.”

The ensuing Huskies drive stalled out, allowing Hibriten to do what they wanted to do from the start, grind out the clock with their ground game. It paid dividends with another touchdown, and another extra point, extending the lead to 26-18. The Huskies’ comeback chance was dealt a blow when Cox was picked off by Jamarion Wilson, who took the ball back to the Ashe 8-yard line to end the third quarter.

The final period was all Hibriten, who started it off with a field goal to extend their lead. Their defense consistently got pressure on Cox, while dropped passes plagued the Huskies receivers. The panthers drove in the dagger with another touchdown with two minutes left in the game, setting it at the final scoreline of 36-18.

Hampton said after the game that the defense and offense are both getting better, but neither is getting to the required level of consistency. He added that the protection for Cox has to be better moving forward, saying that the communication hasn’t been good enough. With only one game and two weeks left before conference play, Hampton said he’s not even considering the rest of the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference.

“Right now we’re just worried about getting better before West Caldwell,” Hampton said. “Then, we’ll have an open week to try and get better, then we’ll worry about (conference play).”

The Huskies will play West Caldwell (0-3) on the road Friday, Sept. 13.

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