Surry Central will have to solve a problem that vexed them earlier this season in order to keep their magical 2016 season going.
Back on Sept. 16, the Golden Eagles suffered their first and only loss of the year when Mount Airy’s quick defensive linemen were able to disrupt the Central offense. The Eagles were unable to figure out a solution, and lost decisively to the Granite Bears that evening.
Three weeks later, Central had similar issues in a game against longtime Western Piedmont Athletic Conference power Carver, but the Eagles solved that in the nick of time, driving the length of the field in the final minutes to stun the Yellowjackets 7-6.
Coach Monty Southern said that Friday night’s foe, Hendersonville, is similar to the Bears in that both rely on an aggressive defensive line as one of their team strengths.
“They are extremely talented,” he said. “On tape, their defensive line looks like the best we’ve seen all year.
“Hendersonville beat Polk County 52-13, and I thought Polk had a good offensive line. If you hold that team to 13 points, you did something right.”
Last week, the Eagles (11-1) hosted Polk in the first round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs, and needed another one of their patented fourth-quarter rallies to put the Wolverines in their rear-view mirror. Down 21-13 with 6:13 remaining, Surry Central scored the tying touchdown with 3:17 to play and then won the game 28-21 on a 71-yard touchdown pass from Chandler Johnson to Jed Kidd with 1.3 seconds left on the clock.
Hendersonville (9-3) is a tri-champion of the Western Highlands 1A/2A conference, along with Mountain Heritage and Mitchell. Polk finished fourth in the league behind that trio. The Bearcats, like Central, had a narrow escape against an upset-minded underdog last Friday night, edging Lexington 38-35.
The team’s three losses this season came again 1A powerhouses Murphy (21-17) and Mitchell (35-22) and against A.C. Reynolds (40-17), a 3AA playoff team with a 10-2 record. But it’s not like the Bearcats faltered against every good team on their schedule — Hendersonville handed Mountain Heritage its only loss of the season to date, battering the 11-1 Cougars 42-22 on their own field, in addition to their shellacking of Polk County.
Mindful of his team’s struggles with the Bears and Jackets earlier this season, Southern said that they have made some adjustments to deal with the Bearcats’ defensive front.
“Their tackles, 90 (Tyrese Cauley) and 99 (Blaine Sharpe), have really good size and they’re good athletes,” he said. “We have made a few changes offensively. The key to the game for us will be to get that front four blocked.”
On offense, the coach says that Hendersonville is very similar to Central both in personnel and in scheme.
“They spread the field out a lot,” he said. “Line up in the shotgun a lot, like we do. They have two kids, 10 (Leon Cooks) and 7 (Tykel Landrum), who line up at receiver a lot, but sometimes (Cooks) lines up in the backfield in a Wildcat look.
“Their quarterback (Alex Williford) is bigger than Chandler, but he does a lot of the same things for them that Chandler does for us.”
Southern said that the Bearcats run a balanced offense, and the season stats bear this out, with the team having 312 rushing attempts and 266 passes this season. Williford (6’1”, 195, jr.) has completed 168 of 262 passes for 2,639 yards and 27 touchdowns this season, but also has thrown 17 interceptions.
Sophomore Ty’rese Hunt is Hendersonville’s leading rusher, with 807 yards on 128 carries, followed by Williford (117-402). However, Cooks is their most dangerous ground threat, with 300 yards on 23 carries, an average of 13 yards per attempt. In the receiving game, Landrum leads with 1,244 yards on 74 catches, followed by Cooks, with 44 grabs for 902 yards.
Hendersonville spreads the wealth on defense, with 14 different players having at least 20 tackles this season. Linebacker Jhon Salguero (5’7”, 175) leads with 88 tackles. Sharpe, a 6’2”, 275-pound senior, leads the Bearcats with 14 tackles for losses.
The winner of this game will face either top-seeded Lincolnton (11-1) or fourth-seeded Eastern Randolph (9-3) next week. Because the Central-Hendersonville is a 2-3 game, the winner will either host Eastern Randolph or visit Lincolnton.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.