Football preview: New Hanover looks to bounce back against Ashley

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New Hanover (2-1, 4-4) vs. Ashley (1-3, 3-4)

The Wildcats are looking to put last week’s performance behind them and should get plenty of opportunities to do so this Friday during Homecoming Night at Legion Stadium. While Ashley has shown improvement over the past two seasons under Coach Jeff Turner, the Screaming Eagles are a completely different football team with some of their premiere players out of the lineup because of injury.

Wiz Vaughn was held in check for the most part during New Hanover’s 26-14 setback in West Brunswick last week, but Freddie Taylor has emerged as a play-making threat over the last three weeks. Taylor caught a 35 yard touchdown from Blake Walston against the Trojans, while turnovers and penalties became a big issue in the Wildcats road trip to Shallotte. And don’t count out Vaughn, who has totaled nearly 700 yards of offense this season and can take nothing into six points just as quick as anyone in the area.

New Hanover still has big play ability with Lamont Howard (33 catches, 526 yards), Jyree Taylor (12 catches, 187 yards) and Malcolm Hill (10 catches, 170 yards) at wide out. Javeon Hall (53 rushes, 240 yards) has been used more and more in the run game to compliment Keegan Santos (66 rushes, 383 yards), while Francis Meehan continues to get opportunities alongside Walston at quarterback.

Earlier this season, the Wildcats were held to 174 yards and committed four turnovers in a loss to Havelock. The next week, New Hanover put up 318 yards of offense against perennial powerhouse Scotland County.

The Wildcats do have some injuries up front on the offensive line. Senior L.J. Ballard (interview above) has moved to center for Friday’s match up.

Grant Daley keys the defense with his tough play inside the tackles at linebacker. He has a team-high 109 tackles this season. Tyrone Hines has also stepped up in pass defense after he recorded an interception in the West Brunswick game.

Ashley is learning to live without its standout running back Bradley Plyler in addition to senior Caleb Parker, but junior Freddie Thamas has emerged as the Screaming Eagles go to guy. Thames has scored four times in the past two weeks, while quarterback Jacob Reed looks to keep the offense on the field as long as possible to try and tire down the New Hanover defense. Reed is coming off a two touchdown performance as the Ashley signal caller hit Sean Ross on a key touchdown strike during last week’s 24-0 win over South Brunswick. Corey Whaley is also a speed guy and athletic receiver, who likes open space with ability to stretch the field.

Joe Barbera isn’t 100 percent, but the junior defensive lineman is without a doubt one of the up and coming individual leaders across the area. Barbera has been a big part of Ashley’s improved defense, but the Screaming Eagles will have a tough time matching up against a hungry New Hanover team looking to make a statement coming off last week’s disappointing performance.

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