Owen coach Kenny Ford cracked a wry smile Friday as he watched a second-half punt roll out of bounds at the 1-yard line.
All the Warhorses (6-1, 3-0) did with the apparent bad break was drive 99 yards to continue their best start to a football season since 2004.
“(The punt) was one of those things where you look around and tell the kids that this is how stories are made,” Ford said.
Jager Gardner (1,776 yards, 23 touchdowns) increased his Western North Carolina lead in rushing with a 331-yard, five-touchdown performance in the 43-35 win at Mountain Heritage.
Owen trailed 35-21 midway through the third quarter, just before Gardner’s final three touchdown runs (1, 44 and 68 yards).
“I knew we’d have trouble stopping (Mountain Heritage). You’re not going to stop them,” Ford said.
“Everything went wrong for them last week (in a 80-36 loss to Polk County), so I figured we were going to see a different team and we did. It was a great game. (Cougars coach) Joey Robinson is a great friend. It’s not any fun to coach against him though.”
Sam Drummond gave the Warhorses a 7-0 lead on his 1-yard touchdown run with 11:06 remaining in the first quarter. Tucker Lowery made a key interception late in the game.
Owen was able to overcome 103 rushing yards and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) from Mountain Heritage’s Dalton Robinson.
“We never had the lead until the game was almost over,” Ford said. “Our kids never panicked.”
Brown on pace for WNC record
For the third consecutive football season, Erwin senior Austin Brown has passed for 2,000 yards.
But he’s never done it this fast.
Brown (2,106 yards and 23 touchdowns with nine interceptions) became the first WNC player to reach 2,000 yards in any offensive category by throwing for 250 yards and four touchdowns in Friday’s 55-20 home win over McDowell. Brown completed 20 of his 24 attempts for the undefeated Warriors (7-0, 3-0).
Brown now has 6,981 career yards and is on pace to surpass the WNC record held by 2010 Tuscola graduate Tyler Brosius (7,895). Brosius signed out of high school with N.C. State, but now plays professional baseball in the Atlanta Braves organization.
Six more WNC players went over 1,000 yards on Friday, including the first local receiver.
North Henderson senior Cory Foster has 1,001 recieving yards after his 152 yards in a 41-14 loss at Tuscola.
Four WNC quarterbacks passed for their 1,000th yards — Hendersonville junior Cole Cleary (1,239 yards), Smoky Mountain junior Zeb Speir (1,158), Robbinsville senior Dakota Crisp (1,050) and Mountain Heritage senior Trevor Robinson (1,047).
The area’s newest 1,000-yard rusher is Robbinsville junior Cruz Galaviz (1,078 yards).
Bearcats receiver breaks area record
According to the NCHSAA’s online record book, Hendersonville senior Raymond Reid’s 298 receiving yards in Friday’s 51-34 home win over Avery County are the most ever recorded by a WNC football player in a single game.
Reid achieved the record with just five receptions, four of which were touchdowns (49, 59, 68 and 80 yards) from junior Cole Cleary. The previous record was 261 and set in last year’s NCHSAA 1-AA championship game by Swain County alum Greg Tisho.
Cleary finished Friday’s game with a career-high 401 passing yards.
The Bearcats (4-4, 2-1) are the two-time defending Western Highlands Conference champions. Avery County (3-4, 0-2) allowed another WNC single-game record on Sept. 27 when Owen junior Jager Gardner rushed for 459 yards in Newland.
Gentry: ‘Everybody else jumped ship’
David Gentry hasn’t won a Western North Carolina-record 339 football games for nothing.
The Murphy coach thought his team would come around, even after injuries and inexperienced line play contributed to an 0-2 start in which the three-time defending 1-A Western Regional champions were outscored 91-23 by Darlington School (Ga.) and Franklin.
“Everyone else jumped ship (back in August), but our kids kept working and they’ve kept getting better,” Gentry said.
“This isn’t the first rodeo for our coaching staff or our players. They knew what to do.”
No one needs to be convinced after Friday’s showing. Senior Kenton Braswell ran for 104 yards and four touchdowns (1, 8, 11 and 12 yards), and the Bulldogs (6-2, 3-0) put up 376 rushing yards in a 53-23 home win over state-ranked Robbinsville.
Gaige Cox added 103 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Dalton Kent completed five of his eight passes for 101 yards. Tyler Wiley caught Kent’s only touchdown pass (37 yards) with 9:06 remaining in the third quarter.
For good measure, Foster Stroup even nailed a 31-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.
“People would have thought I was an idiot if I had said it at the time, but I still felt like we could be decent after the Franklin game,” Gentry said.
“We scheduled some good people early on, and we weren’t ready for them. But we started getting better after the Franklin game, and we’ve been improving every week. Robbinsville is a quality team. This was the first test for us in a while, and this was a good win for us.”
The Bulldogs will take their six-game winning streak on the road next week at Andrews.
Robbinsville (5-2, 1-2) was eighth in the latest Associated Press 1-A poll and jumped out to a 9-0 lead on Friday.