WEAVERVILLE — Momentum in football can be a fickle thing.
For the first 20 minutes of Avery’s varsity football game against the 3A North Buncombe Black Hawks (3-0), virtually everything went the way of the Vikings at Reeves Stadium. However, a questionable penalty call late in the second quarter opened the door for the home team to score a late first-half touchdown, get its running game on track and produce a 41-unanswered point-effort to finish the contest, handing the Big Red (2-1) its first defeat of 2019 in a 44-21 loss on Sept. 6.
Avery quarterback Troy Hoilman completed 25-of-37 passes for 186 yards with a pair of touchdowns, while Lucas Andrews carried the football 16 times for 71 yards and a score. Ty Smith led the receiving effort for the Vikings with 88 yards on eight catches with a touchdown, while Jesse Jones caught six balls for 42 yards and a score and Jonas Bowman, Andrews and Chad Giarrusso each caught four passes in the game.
“We played about as well a first half as we can play. We played very well,” Avery head coach Mac Bryan said after the game. “The last three to three and a half minutes of the second quarter was the whole game, basically. We had them down 21-3, our defense made a stop and we got the ball, and we were moving it. If we go down and score, it’s 28-3 at halftime.”
Avery scored with the opening possession of the contest, using a 12-play, 58-yard drive, capped by a Lucas Andrews 2-yard touchdown run. The Vikings mishandled the extra point kick try, but kicker Chad Giarrusso found Jesse Jones in the end zone on a pass to take an 8-0 lead five minutes into the opening stanza.
On the ensuing kickoff, Avery recovered a pooch kickoff and scored for a second time, piecing together a drive of eight plays and 46 yards, capped by a 9-yard scoring pass from quarterback Troy Hoilman to Jones. The PAT was unsuccessful, but Avery held a 14-0 lead with 4:15 remaining in the quarter.
“We had that first drive that was a thing of beauty. We sky kicked it to try to keep the football away from their return people, and it just happened to hit right and we got it,” Bryan added. “They didn’t see the ball hardly at all in that first quarter. We played about as well as we could play in the first half from the offense, defense and special teams areas. You put two halves together like that and you beat a lot of people.”
With North Buncombe’s first possession of the contest eight minutes into the period, the Black Hawks struggled to find open space against the Avery defensive front. NBHS moved 47 yards over 14 plays, but was forced to settle for a Kevin Santiago 36-yard field goal to get on the scoreboard at 14-3 with 10:06 to play in the second period.
On its ensuing offensive series, Avery was helped by a personal foul penalty to advance the football near midfield. Two plays later, the Big Red reached into its bag of trick plays when Hoilman completed a backward pass to Giarrusso, who then fired a deep pass to wide receiver Ty Smith who had raced behind the Black Hawks defense for a 50-yard completion. Smith caught a 3-yard pass from Hoilman on the next play for a touchdown, with Giarrusso’s PAT giving the Vikings its largest lead of the game at 21-3 with 7:58 remaining in the half.
North looked poised to answer the latest Avery score with one of its own, The Vikings defense bent but didn’t break, however, as it made a fourth-down stop on a conversion attempt inside the Avery 10-yard line, turning the football over on downs.
With the football, AHS looked to throw the knockout punch and add to its lead. Avery advanced the ball with a pair of Andrews runs and a pair of Hoilman pass completions to near midfield, but a crucial penalty of intentional grounding against Avery quelled the Viking drive and forced a punt with 1:52 to play in the half.
Bryan took exception with the call, as he thought from his vantage point that his quarterback was attempting to throw to an eligible receiver on the play.
“We had receivers all over the field and he was trying to throw to a receiver. It wasn’t like he was just throwing it in the ground to prevent being sacked. He was making an effort to get the ball downfield, and I think that he deserved the benefit of the doubt on that,” Bryan explained. “It’s a judgment call, of course, but in my judgment it shouldn’t have been intentional grounding. It made a difference. It killed that drive and was a breaking point, because we had them in trouble. Our defense had stopped them, and if we score there again, I’m not sure they’re coming back. Credit them that they did not fold, that they made adjustments and came back the way they did.”
With its final possession of the half, North began to swing the pendulum of momentum in its direction which would prove a harbinger of second half success. Running back Joe Jones broke loose on a 27-yard scamper, and teammate Trent Cole caught a 28-yard pass from quarterback Rayce Pickens, then scored on a 2-yard plunge with 1:07 to play before halftime to narrow the Avery lead to 21-10, a score that remained unchanged until the intermission.
With the opening possession of the second half, North drove 61 yards over seven plays, highlighted by a 40-yard touchdown scurry by Jones that saw him break tackles en route to the goal line. The PAT by Santiago cut Avery’s cushion to 21-17 with 9:07 to play in the third quarter.
“I think it’s very difficult with them not being able to throw the football to come back from going down 28-3, so I believe we probably could have won the game. We get the intentional grounding call and it stopped that drive. We punt back to them and they break off that run and now it’s 21-10. That’s a big difference from 28-3,” Bryan noted. “They take the second half kickoff and drive down to score, and now all of a sudden it’s 21-17, and all that work in the first half doesn’t matter much anymore.”
The Black Hawks defense stiffened throughout the second half, as the Vikings were forced to punt on each of its first two offensive series. Between the possessions, the ground attack of North began paying dividends, as four rushing plays netted 85 yards, the final 61 covered by a Wesly Parran tote. The extra point was missed, but North seized its first lead at 23-21.
Fortunes continued to fade for the Big Red as another empty offensive series forced a punt. On the first play after the possession change, North running back Trent Cole avoided Avery defenders and ran 61 yards to the end zone. The PAT pushed NBHS to a 30-21 lead.
Avery’s final possession of the third quarter resulted in a three-and-out, and as the fourth quarter began the Black Hawks began a 10-play, 80-yard march to another score, breaking the Viking defense on a 3rd-and-16 with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Pickens to receiver Christian King, padding its lead to 37-21 with 9:22 to play in the game.
Running out of time to rally, the Vikings could not solve the Black Hawks defense, failing on a fourth-down conversion attempt to turn the ball over on downs deep in its own territory. North capitalized on the field position and used more than four minutes to drive 46 yards, scoring on a 24-yard Jones touchdown run for the 44-21 lead with 3:59 remaining.
Avery’s final possession yielded positive results, as the club advanced into the NB red zone, but a turnover with 20 seconds to play served as a microcosm of the frustrations of the second half that handed the Big Red its first defeat.
“We lost our rhythm offensively. We played hard and with effort, it was just our execution wasn’t what we need it to be. We had some people out of a gap defensively, and their runner was good enough that if he hits that gap, he is able to take advantage of it,” Bryan added. “A lot of stuff that happened wasn’t exactly us. You’ve got to credit them.”
North outgained Avery 525 to 345 in total offense, with the Black Hawks gaining 419 yards rushing on 52 attempts, led by Jones’ 188 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns, as well as 136 yards on 17 carries and two scores from Cole.
Avery looks to return to the win column this Friday, Sept. 13, when it welcomes North Wilkes to MacDonald Stadium.