WNC football Round 3 predictions: Reynolds, West Henderson runs continue, Cherokee Co. rematch

James Crabtree-Hannigan Zachary Huber
Asheville Citizen Times

The third round of the North Carolina high school football playoffs are here, and seven WNC teams are still playing for a state championship — including one expected to raise the trophy Friday night.

It's an exciting slate across the region, including another challenge for Reynolds in 4A, West Henderson looking to make history in 3A, a Cherokee County rematch in 1A and Asheville School playing for the NCISAA title. Read on for analysis and predictions for all six games involving WNC teams.

4A

#15 Butler at #7 Reynolds

Records: Butler (10-2, 5-1 Southwestern); Reynolds (11-1, 6-0 MAC)

2nd round: Butler beat #2 Mooresville 41-21; Reynolds beat #10 Chambers 17-16

Notes: The 4A West is relentless. The Rockets needed their biggest playoff win since the 2017 regional championship season to reach the third round and, while Butler lacks the name recognition of Chambers, the Bulldogs are by no means less formidable on the field. Sophomore Zach Lawrence (2,254 yards, 27 TDs, 6 interceptions, 66.7 completion percentage) has a cannon of a right arm, leading a crisp passing game built on his connection with DeQuadre Currence (55 catches, 816 yards). Last week, the Rockets' secondary (Cairo Skanes, Cavalli Montgomery) performed well, but their coverage skills and discipline will be tested more consistently by Butler, which gets the majority of its yardage through the air despite running the ball often with a package that includes an extra offensive lineman.

Defensively, the Bulldogs lean on their impressive speed to make up for not having overwhelming size. It's likely a welcome change for a Reynolds offensive line that has struggled for much of the past two weeks. Max Guest had 19 carries for 69 yards against Chambers, and while QB Hayden Craig and the passing game helped pick up the slack, the sophomore running back needs more room to operate. Still, it says a lot about Reynolds as a whole that it beat one of the best teams in the state while its best weapon was held under 100 total yards of offense. As long as there's no hangover effect, the Rockets could very well be into the fourth round.

Pick: Reynolds by 6 (pick by James Crabtree-Hannigan)

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3A

#23 Eastern Guilford at #2 West Henderson

Records: Eastern Guilford (8-4, 6-1 Mid-State); West Henderson (12-0, 6-0 Mountain 7)

2nd round:Eastern Guilford beat #7 Erwin 62-42; West Henderson beat #15 West Rowan 56-42

Notes:West Henderson advanced to the third round for the first time since 1984 last week; the Falcons have never made it farther than that in the postseason. Coach Paul Whitaker’s team has a great chance to make history this weekend. But Eastern Guilford will be a tough opponent despite its seeding. 

The Wildcats have gone 8-1 since dropping their first three games of the season, and their only loss came to 2021 state champion Dudley. In seven out of those eight victories, Eastern Guilford has posted at least 35 points. It has recorded at least 56 points in its last three victories. 

However, the Wildcats' defense is vulnerable. They gave up 42 points to Erwin last week, a team that is nowhere near as explosive as West Henderson. 

The Falcons can and should win if they slow down QB Tyreik Boyd and RB Jaiden Evans. Boyd has 1,600 yards passing, but has thrown 23 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Evans has run for 1,423 yards and 22 touchdowns on 155 carries. 

Pick: West Henderson by 14 (Pick by Zachary Huber)

1A

#7 Murphy at #2 Andrews

Records: Murphy (9-3, 4-1 SMC); Andrews (12-0, 5-0 SMC)

2nd round: Murphy beat #10 East Wilkes 38-34; Andrews beat #15 MIC 35-0

Notes: As you likely remember, these county rivals met a few weeks ago in Murphy, a 42-12 rout that capped the Wildcats' perfect regular season. Not much has changed, but the good news for Bulldogs fans is that they showed plenty of potential to keep that game closer than it ended up being. Penalties, missed opportunities and turnovers doomed them, and while that's been a theme for many of their losses, it still means they didn't look completely outmatched by Andrews. Murphy simply can't have another four-interception game from QB Cole Laney, and his receivers need to help him by cleaning up drops — the Wildcats' defensive line and secondary, however, makes all of that easier said than done. Murphy's defensive focus will be on bending not breaking and avoiding the big plays they gave up to Austin Martin and Isaac Weaver.

Andrews is 11-0 for a reason — the Wildcats are WNC's most consistent and complete 1A team, and even their median performance requires an incredible effort to turn into an upset.

Pick: Andrews by 12 (JCH)

#8 Robbinsville at #1 Eastern Randolph

Records: Robbinsville (9-3, 3-2 SMC); Eastern Randolph (10-1, 5-0 Piedmont Athletic)

2nd round: Robbinsville beat #24 Cherokee 39-12; Eastern Randolph beat #17 Mountain Heritage 28-12

Notes: The end of the regular season was frustrating for the Black Knights, but now they have the opportunity to continue changing the narrative of their 2022 with a trip to Ramseur. The top-seeded Wildcats have size all over the field — even QB Stratton Barwick is built like a tight end — and use it in a balanced offense. Every Robbinsville defensive gameplan begins with stopping the run, but the Black Knights must also defend the deep ball much better than they did against Murphy.

Offensively, Robbinsville is looking more like the team it was midway through the season, before backup QB Bryce Adams was forced to take over. His development, and the readdition of Kage Williams to the backfield, is a huge boon to Cuttler Adams, who will cross 2,000 rushing yards this week. With the Black Knights trending in the right direction for weeks but still having plenty of room to grow, the upset potential here is obvious.

Pick: Robbinsville by 6 (JCH)

#12 Hayesville at #4 Mount Airy

Records: Hayesville (7-5, 1-4 SMC); Mount Airy (11-1, 6-0 Northwest)

2nd round: Hayesville beat #5 Christ the King 14-13; Mount Airy beat #13 North Rowan 57-7

Notes: Into the third round for just the fourth time in program history, the Yellow Jackets have a steep battle if they want to keep playing after Thanksgiving. The Granite Bears have been dominant since Week 1, averaging more than 300 rushing yards per game and allowing just 88 points all season. A 14-12 loss to East Surry is about as good a loss as any 1A team can take, and shows just how fierce Mount Airy is. The option offense usually ends up with RB Tyler Mason (1,531 yards, 34 TDs) taking the handoff from QB Ian Gallimore, whose 868 passing yards on 70 attempts shows the Granite Bears can burn you deep. Hayesville got past Christ the King with the help of strong defense and two touchdowns from RB Taylor McClure, but Mount Airy is at least as strong as the SMC teams the Yellow Jackets struggled to remain competitive with.

Pick: Mount Airy by 24 (JCH)

NCISAA Division II

#2 Covenant Day School at #1 Asheville School

Records: Covenant Day School (8-3); Asheville School (7-3)

Semifinal: Covenant Day beat #3 Trinity Christian 21-18; Asheville School beat #5 HPCA 47-3

Notes: The Blues and the Lions have already played once this season. On Oct. 7, Asheville School won that meeting convincingly 49-24 at home. And, the Lions won despite a lackluster performance from QB Ricky Tolbert. He only completed 15 of 27 passes for 156 yards while throwing one touchdown and three interceptions. He did add 77 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. RB Caleb Jenkins was also stellar, running for 105 yards and two touchdowns. 

This time, the Lions are playing for a state championship. Asheville School should come out on top if Tolbert cuts down on the turnovers. 

Pick: Asheville School by 17 (ZH)