NEWLAND — The opening week of a football season lends itself to a number of unanswered questions about the potential success of a team, questions such as “How potent is our team’s offense?” “How strong is the defense?” or “Will (Player A) be unstoppable this season?”
If the opening Friday night of the 2019 high school football season is any indication of the next three months, Avery fans can answer the aforementioned questions about their team with enthusiastic responses of “extremely potent,” “country strong,” and, in the case of Vikings quarterback Troy Hoilman... “most likely.”
Hoilman, wide receivers Ty Smith, Jesse Jones and Jonas Bowman, running back Lucas Andrews, newcomer Chad Giarrusso, and a stingy set of linemen dominated the Ashe County Huskies in a total team effort in Week One of the high school season on Aug. 23 at MacDonald Stadium, displaying the club’s commitment to discipline and near-flawless execution of Coach Mac Bryan’s system of play in a 53-33 lopsided victory.
“I thought we played well. For our first game I thought we played fairly smooth. Offensively, we were smooth and defensively we looked like we knew what we were doing. In the kicking game we had a miscue on the kickoff return, but we did block a punt. We kicked the ball well and I thought our coverage teams were pretty good, which is what you worry about with a first game,” Bryan said following the win. “I thought we looked like a pretty smooth football team.”
Avery’s offense scored on seven separate series in the win, and added a Jones 33-yard interception return for a score to rack up the points on the scoreboard.
The club amassed 581 yards in total offense, with junior signal-caller Hoilman accounting for 348 yards through the air on 27-of-44 passing and five touchdowns and 73 rushing yards on seven carries.
A pair of Avery receivers, Jones and Smith, each eclipsed the 100-receiving-yard mark in the win, as Jones (143 yards) snagged seven balls and Smith (104 yards) caught six passes, four of which concluded in the end zone for touchdowns. Bowman added a touchdown reception, while the Vikings also chewed up 233 rushing yards in the win, led by Andrews and Giarrusso who each scored on the ground for the Big Red.
“We were able to run the ball and throw it. Troy had a great night and the receivers, especially Ty, Jesse and Jonas, all did a really good job catching the job, but I thought we were very efficient running the football. Three different backs ran the ball hard and our line played well,” Bryan added.
The teams traded possessions to open the contest, but the first big play broke Avery’s way, when Jones blocked and recovered a punt by Ashe’s Timothy Peterson. On the next offensive play, Hoilman connected with Smith for a 28-yard touchdown pass. The extra point kick was blocked, but Avery led 6-0 with 4:54 left in the opening stanza.
The Vikings had an opportunity to extend its lead in the early moments of the second quarter, but were turned away inside the Ashe red zone on fourth down. Two plays after the turnover-on-downs, the Huskies quickly struck paydirt when quarterback Dawson Cox hit wide receiver Austin Poe in stride for a 79-yard touchdown pass. The PAT gave the Huskies a 7-6 lead with 9:50 left to play before halftime.
Throughout the half, the Vikings offense demonstrated that it could move the football on the Husky defense. Avery mounted an 11-play, 61-yard march near the Ashe 20-yard line following the Ashe score, but a fumble turned the football over.
The Vikings defense quickly erased the gaffe, however, when Giarrusso intercepted a Cox pass, the first of four Avery pickoffs in the contest. Avery capitalized on its ensuing series, as Hoilman and Smith hooked up for a second touchdown pass, this time for 21 yards. The pair connected on the subsequent two-point-conversion attempt, propelling the Big Red to a 14-7 lead more than midway through the quarter.
Ashe’s pairing of Cox to Poe again paid dividends of the next Huskies offensive series, as the two connected twice for 49 yards, the latter of which a 32-yard touchdown strike which knotted the game at 14-14 with 2:50 to play in the half.
Ashe recovered a pooch kickoff following its latest score and appeared poised to gain all the momentum to end the half, but the Vikings defense refused to fold, stonewalling Ashe on a fourth-down conversion to give the football to Avery with less than two minutes remaining.
From there the Avery offense went to work, driving 63 yards in five plays, using only 59 seconds to find the goal line yet again, as Hoilman hit Smith for an 11-yard TD pass with 47 seconds left in the half. Finley Serafim’s PAT was true, and the Vikings took the momentum and a 21-14 halftime lead.
As fans that filled MacDonald Stadium settled in to see more of a back-and-forth affair for the final two quarters of a competitive contest, the Vikings decided to turn in a dominant third quarter which removed any doubt from the game’s outcome. Avery scored four touchdowns over a 6:07 span to begin the second half, expanding a seven-point lead into a 33-point bulge.
Hoilman found Bowman on a 14-yard touchdown pass for the first Viking score of the period, while the defense followed by limiting Ashe to a three-and-out. The offense returned to the field and scored another touchdown on a drive highlighted by a 41-yard pass completion from Hoilman to Jones and capped by a six-yard touchdown reception by Smith. The Viking defense forced a turnover on Ashe’s ensuing series, as Jones forced a fumble from Peterson and Dalton Towe pounced on the football for Avery. The Big Red again capitalized with a short field, culminating in a 1-yard plunge for a score by Andrews. Jones completed the scoring blitzkrieg when he picked off a Cox pass and made a house call for a 33-yard touchdown, leaving Avery with a commanding 47-14 lead.
“We tell the kids every week that in every game the most important two series are the first offensive and first defensive series of the third quarter. You establish the second-half momentum at that point,” Bryan said. “We did a pretty good job of getting a score on the board in the closing part of the first half and also held them on defense at the end, which helped knowing we had the ball first in the second half. We came out and scored the touchdown to start the second half and the momentum kind of snowballed from there.”
Ashe’s final two offensive series resulted in interceptions by Avery’s Giarrusso and Smith, respectively, to close out the third quarter.
Giarrusso got in on the scoring parade early in the fourth quarter as the freshman broke multiple tackles en route to a 32-yard touchdown run for Avery’s final points of the night and a 53-14 advantage.
“Chad was impressive. He did some pretty dang good things and had a heck of a night for us with a couple of interceptions on defense and scored. He caught some passes out there and ran hard. He played three different positions as a freshman playing at the varsity level,” Bryan noted. “He also took some snaps at quarterback and did just about everything out there in his first varsity football game.”
Avery played a number of reserves for much of the fourth quarter and the Huskies starters capitalized, scoring touchdowns on its final three possessions of the game to narrow the final margin on the scoreboard, but the 20-point margin could not take away from a dominant performance by the home team.
“After a year and a half, the knowledge of what we’re trying to do is so much better. We run a system that takes a little while to figure it out,” Bryan explained after the win. “It takes a lot of learning and we don’t water it down. The biggest improvement of our line on both sides of the football is that we’re stronger and I think that showed Friday night. Our guys up front, J’Leyn [Hall], Levi [Andrews] and Steven [Deyton], as well as Big John [Lee], did a good job. I thought Hunter Jameson did a great job at linebacker also. He played some pass rushing downs and did a lot of different things for us. Ty Smith had a great night with four touchdowns, an interception and a two-point conversion, and Troy totaled over 400 total yards and threw five touchdowns. Our defense had a plus-four turnover ratio, and that will win you a lot of football games.”
Avery welcomes West Wilkes to The Mountain this Friday, Aug. 30, in a non-conference matchup that serves as the NCHSAA Endowment contest. The two teams renew acquaintances this week on the gridiron for the first time in seven seasons. Kickoff at The Mac is slated for 7:30 p.m.