After an especially rough week for Reynolds’ football family, the Rockets opened Friday’s rivalry game with an emotional burst.
Cameron Ray and the Asheville Cougars absorbed that early offensive flurry then used a punishing ground attack to dominate time of possession and earn a 27-17 victory.
Ray rushed for three touchdowns and an unofficial 126 yards as Asheville (4-2, 1-0 Mountain Athletic Conference) held the ball for 27 of the game’s first 37 minutes.
Asheville quarterback Tevin Salters completed 7 of 10 passes for 133 yards, including a 42-yard scoring strike to Markevis Davis that helped the Cougars start pulling away midway through the third quarter.
“Coach (Danny Wilkins) has been stressing all week that we had to weather the storm early and take the first blow because (Reynolds) was going to be jacked up, and we were going to be jacked up,” Davis said.
“They had some emotional stuff going on. He said if we weathered the first storm, whoever wanted it the most was going to win it.”
A week after getting blown out by 41 points against Erwin, Reynolds (3-4, 0-2) allowed Asheville to convert all of its fourth-down attempts.
Two of those came on a seven-minute, 15-second drive that spanned parts of the third and fourth quarters and culminated with Ray’s third score.
“They played their tails off,” Reynolds coach Shane Laws said of his players. “They just didn’t play quite well enough. This was a game they really wanted to win for a lot of different reasons. But we didn’t. I’m very proud of the way they played, but we’re still making some mistakes that are hurting us.”
In pregame introductions, Reynolds fans took a moment to remember A.J. Marion — a former Rockets’ standout who was shot and killed by an Asheville police officer Sunday.
His brother, Aquila Smith, switched from his No. 12 jersey to the No. 15 Marion wore while rushing for 3,902 yards and 39 touchdowns before completing his career in fall 2011.
On the sixth play of the game’s opening drive, Smith took a hand-off from Levi Ledford and sprinted four yards into the end zone for his first score of the season. He later added a 28-yard run to fire up the Reynolds’ faithful.
But Asheville used three clock-draining drives and interceptions by Danquiries Green and Ricky Scott to slowly snuff the Rockets’ momentum. Ray capped the Cougars’ first two lengthy drives with 4-yard touchdown runs that allowed Asheville to take a 13-10 lead into intermission.