The start of every football season for the Warhorses brings a certain level of excitement to the Swannanoa Valley. But this year, as Owen prepared to host Enka on Aug. 17, that buzz was palpable.
The current roster felt certain they could start the 2018 season with a win against the Jets, and a 34-7 route only validated that feeling.
Senior quarterback Audun Meyers led the Warhorses down the field on a drive that would stall in Enka territory, but the subsequent punt would pin the Jets deep on their own side of the field.
From there the Owen defense, which dominated most of the night, would force their opponent to punt from the 1-yard-line.
On the ensuing drive, Meyers found his step-brother Frank Walsh on a second down pass for a touchdown.
The Warhorse defense responded by stifling the offense of the Jets, while a pair of touchdowns from senior Ty Davidson gave the Warhorses a 21-0 lead going into the half.
“We were just executing,” Meyers said of his team’s performance in the first half after the game. “Our line was great and we could tell we were tiring them out so we kept pushing it.”
The victory, fourth-year head coach Nathan Padgett told his team at midfield of Warhorse Stadium, sends a message.
“We’re back, and you better not sleep on us,” he said to his players.
He also dedicated the win to Landon Cooper, a Swannanoa Valley Montessori School student who the team visited in April after he wrote a letter asking them to come. Cooper led Owen onto the field before the game and spent the entire night on the sideline with the players.
“He’s such a special kid,” Padgett said. “Having him out there really helped remind our guys what we’re all about.”
The team, according to Padgett, is about making the community proud.
“These guys have worked hard,” he said of the group who were freshmen when he took over after Kenny Ford retired. “We knew what we were capable of and they came out here and showed it; I’m really proud of these guys.”
While the Warhorse defense held the Jets to only one touchdown, the offense poured in three touchdowns in the first half.
Padgett was pleased with his team’s performance in the first two quarters, but felt the Warhorses came out flat to open the second half.
“There were some things we need to clean up,” he said. “We were disciplined in the first half, but there were some things in the second half we could’ve done better and we need to work on that.”
The Owen defense gave up its only touchdown of the game in the third quarter, but then Otis Mallory shut the door on the Jets.
The senior, who rushed for 47 yards on offense while leading the Warhorse defense with 12 tackles, would factor into the final two touchdowns for the Warhorses. Mallory scored on a 19-yard run in the fourth quarter and followed that by forcing a fumble on the defensive side of the ball while picking up one of Owen’s 8 sacks.
Junior Isaac Evan scooped up the loose ball and took it 24 yards into the end zone for the Warhorses’ final score of the game.
"Our defense really got after it," Padgett said.
In a run-heavy contest the Owen defense pressured Enka nearly every time they dropped back to pass. Senior Dakota Pack recorded two sacks on the evening and sophomore safety Caleb Scott added two of his own. Juniors Jaylin Davidson and C.J. Gray each got to the quarterback once. Meyers also picked up a sack from the cornerback position, even though he did the majority of his damage on the offensive side.
Meyers targeted five different receivers on his way to completing 10 of his 18 passes for 68 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also accounted for 60 yards rushing on 11 carries.
The only Warhorse to rush for more yards was Ty Davidson, with 62. The senior speedster also added 38 yards on the ground for 100 total yards of offense.
"We did a great job of spreading the ball around," Padgett said. "We got a lot of guys involved and this offense has a lot of weapons."
The coach also pointed to other intangibles that he believes will help his team improve on their 1-9 record from each of the past three seasons.
"This team has a lot of heart and these guys love to compete," he said. "When things weren't going our way in the past a lot of times our guys would feel the pressure, but I didn't see that tonight. I saw these players go out there and handle business."
The win marks the second time in the Padgett era that the Warhorses have started the season 1-0. Owen beat Enka 13-10 at home to open the 2016 season and fell to the Jets on the road in the first game of last season, 14-12.
The Warhorses have a bye week on Aug. 24 before heading to Reynolds, which fell to Southern Durham 27-24 in its Aug. 17 opening, on Aug. 31.