ABINGDON, Va. – Moments after Friday’s slamfest at Falcon Stadium, Gate City senior Caleb Herron rushed over to shake hands with first-year Abingdon head football coach Darren Reed.
The admiration was mutual.
Before one of the largest crowds in recent memory at AHS, Herron starred in a 33-0 win for the Blue Devils.
“We had some big plays that got away from us. [Herron] makes a difference,” said Reed, a former longtime assistant at Gate City.
The first big play for the speedy 6-foot Herron came on a 67-yard scoring run after AHS barely missed a 45-yard field goal attempt on its opening drive.
“The Abingdon crowd was loud and they definitely wanted to beat us, so we had to calm them down a little bit,” Herron said.
AHS played the entire game in a rapid-fire, no-huddle offense featuring multiple receivers and one running back. It worked for a while, but three turnovers hurt.
Shortly after AHS mishandled a punt snap at its own 19-yard line, GC went up 14-0 on a 5-yard run by quarterback Hunter Collier at the 11:54 mark of the second quarter.
A 41-yard interception return by senior Neth Gardner set up a 2-yard touchdown run by 197-pound senior bulldozer Evan Baker.
Herron ended the suspense by catching a 25-yard touchdown pass from Collier on a fourth-down situation with 34 seconds left in the first half.
“It’s always hard playing against somebody you know like Coach Reed, but you just have to block that out and play your game,” Herron said.
Herron added a 32-yard interception return with 11:15 left in the fourth quarter.
As expected, both head coaches were forced to alter their plans due to their longtime associations with each other. Abingdon offensive coordinator Nick Colobro was the longtime head coach for the Blue Devils.
GC came out in a wildcat formation, with Herron serving as the centerpiece.
“I guess we had to put something new in because Coach Reed and Coach Colobro were at Gate City for so long and they know what we do, but I definitely liked that wildcat,” Herron said.
Reed downplayed the melodrama of coaching against his old school.
“People on the outside put a big deal into that, but we always have emotion and we coach to win every Friday night,” Reed said. “We’re not going to blow things out of proportion. This was only game two.”
Reed said the Falcons (1-1) actually benefited from the showdown, which had fans buzzing all week.
“We knew we were going to run into some flaws, but we will take this and learn from it,” Reed said. “Football is a game of matchups when you play this type of style. We’ve got to go back and look at matchups, and make some corrections. Both teams are doing some different things on offense. You’ve got to evolve as a coach.”
The Falcons were forced to play without 6-foot-4, 250-pound lineman Josh Craven after the senior went down with a knee injury in the second quarter.
Gate City (2-0) finished with 275 yards rushing. Baker bulled for 80 yards on 18 carries and three other players rushed for at least 40 yards.
Gate City head coach Bill Houseright was pleased with how his team responded to the latest challenge.
“It was an excellent night to play, and I think our boys played well,” Houseright said. “We’ve got to cut down on a few penalties but we were able to make a few plays and play well on defense.
“It kind of took the air out of the ball in the second half with the lead, but we were able to grind it out.”
Houseright admitted that he altered his strategy and put in extra time to counter his two former coaching companions.
“We didn’t signal in plays, we put wrist bands on our defensive players and we just gave some different looks,” Houseright said. “Coach Reed and Coach Colobro are fine guys, and they are going to get where they need to be here. “
Led by sophomore linebacker Logan Rasnic and senior lineman Brandon Minton, Gate City stopped AHS twice on downs twice inside the 21-yard line in the second quarter.
The AHS offense centered around 5-foot-6, 155-pound junior Raequon Jordan, who powered and spun for 141 yards on 21 carries.
According to some veteran fans, Friday was the largest crowd at Falcon Stadium in at least 10 years.
“The fans are excited here and that’s good to see,” Reed said. “We just had a couple things get away from us, plus we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties and didn’t get the right matchups.”
Of course, the biggest matchup problem was Herron.
“Caleb has the ability to go at anytime. Shoot, having a player like that helps,” Houseright said.
Gate City 7 20 0 6-33
Abingdon 0 0 0 0-0
GC-Herron 67 run (Gardner kick)
GC-Collier 5 run (Gardner kick)
GC-Baker 2 run (Gardner kick)
GC-Herron 25 pass from Collier (kick failed)
GC-Herron 32 interception return (kick failed)
First Downs: GC 12, AHS 10; Rushes-Yards: GC 43-275, AHS 30-170; Passing Yards: GC 42, AHS 96; Comp-Att-Int.: GC 3-8-0, AHS 8-19-2; Fumbles-Lost: GC 2-0, AHS 2-1; Penalties-Yards: GC 7-60, AHS 5-45; Punts-Average: GC 3-43, AHS 2-30.