Jr. Warriors open season with 20-8 win over Avery County

Published 10:31 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Star Photo/Bryce Phillips  Jr. Warriros QB Eli Ayers rolls out before connecting with Andrew Little for a 25-yard TD pass to put Happy Valley up 12-0 late during Tuesday night's game against Avery at Happy Valley High School.

Star Photo/Bryce Phillips
Jr. Warriros QB Eli Ayers rolls out before connecting with Andrew Little for a 25-yard TD pass to put Happy Valley up 12-0 late during Tuesday night’s game against Avery at Happy Valley High School.

A couple of fourth-quarter passing touchdowns allowed the Jr. Warriors to seal the deal Tuesday night at Happy Valley High School as they opened their season with a 20-8 win over the Avery County Jr. Vikings.

The two TDs came from the arm of eighth-grader Eli Ayers, who finished the night with 82 yards passing on five tosses. In the fourth period, Ayers connected on a 25-yard TD toss to Andrew Little, before finding teammate Gabe Nickles with a pass for the 2-point conversion to put the Jr. Warriors up 14-0. To finish up Happy Valley’s scoring Ayers hit Peyton Freeman, who scurried in for a 19-yard passing TD, giving Happy Valley a 20-0 lead with 2:42 left to play.

“Our quarterback, Eli, has been here with us for three years,” said Jr. Warriors coach Brandon Mottern, who is in his second year over the Happy Valley Middle School football program. “He has a good arm. He has gotten a lot taller and stronger over the summer. He is a great athlete and a great kid who has a great character.

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“He is the leader of our offense,” Mottern added. “When they try to hang their heads, he is right there pepping them up.”

The Jr. Warriors were able to establish their running game and maintain it, for the most part, through out the contest. Nickles led the ground assault as he posted roughly 79 yards rushing on 15 touches, while recording a touchdown. Nickles’ touchdown came at the tail end of a quick drive by the Jr. Warriors in the first period. After the Happy Valley defense forced the Jr. Vikings to turn the ball on downs during their first drive, the Jr. Warriors offense sat up shop on Avery’s 29. The Jr. Warriors had back-to-back, small-gain running plays, before, on third and five at the Avery 24, Ayers found Little for a 15-yard reception. And two plays later, Nickles busted in from five yards out to give the Jr. Warriors a 6-0 lead with 3:39 left in the first frame.

Coach Mottern pointed out that Nickles is a key part of their running game, while also giving a lot of credit to the Jr. Warriors offensive line.

“He is a stud,” Mottern said about Nickles. “Without our front guys blocking for him, we really can’t do nothing. Gabe has some really quick feet. He is really agile and powerful. He has that low end speed that we really need. When he gets in between the tackles he gets lost. He is a good ball player.”

Despite the Jr. Vikings sneaking in a 39-yard TD run in the fourth, the Jr. Warriors defense was able to make a stand Tuesday night. One of the biggest plays of the night came in early moments of the second quarter. With the Jr. Vikings on Happy Valley’s 28, Jr. Warriors eighth-grader Kamden Richardson sacked Avery county’s QB for a loss, before forcing and recovering a fumble on the next play to give his team the ball on the Jr. Warriors 30.

“Kamden started with us in the sixth grade,” Mottern said. “He gives us a lot more depth at defensive tackle. I am really proud of him. He has really good football lineage, with his brother playing at the high school. So football is in his DNA.”

Late in the fourth, the Jr. Warriors defense became a stone wall as they blasted through the Avery offensive line and caused the Jr. Viking to record negative yards on four consecutive plays. Getting in on the fun was Richardson, who was joined by Chance McKenny.

Coach Mottern said that Tuesday night’s win was a great start for the Jr. Warriors.

“It was great to come into the brand new facility that we have and be the first team to win on our home turf,” Mottern said. “It really meant a lot to our guys and our coaching staff. It gives us some momentum.”

The Jr. Warriors hope use that momentum this Friday as they host Harris County.