Believe it or not, there was a time not too long ago when the football program at Reynolds High was struggling.
It was the middle of the 2014 season, and a 27-14 loss to Asheville High left the Rockets at 2-5.
They have bounced back nicely.
Since them the program is 47-9, with three straight conference titles and an 8-4 record in postseason play capped by a run to the 3A state title game last year.
A run of domination rarely seen is ongoing – Reynolds has won 38 consecutive games against WNC opponents and 30 in a row vs. conference teams (28 straight in regular-season play, a pair of wins vs. Erwin in the playoffs).
So what happened to turn around a team that looked like it was headed for a losing season and had lost five of its first seven?
With a laugh, coach Shane Laws said quite simply, “Rico got healthy.”
Rico Dowdle, a gifted runner currently playing at South Carolina, had missed some time with an injury, as had several other key players.
“As I remember, we had several guys out with injuries and about then we started getting healthy,” Laws said. “We got better real quick.”
When the Rockets started feeling better in 2014, they started making other teams feel sick.
A five-game winning streak ensued in which Reynolds started a trend of bludgeoning teams that continues through today – the Rockets averaged 58 points a game in that streak.
And they haven’t let up.
Getting great quarterback play, surrounded by big-play athletes and an always solid defense the past three-plus years, the Rockets have not only not lost to any local teams, they have rarely been challenged.
In the 38-game streak, Reynolds is averaging 50 points a game, and the average winning margin in 36 points.
The defense has held 18 opponents to single digits, with seven shutouts, including six whitewashes in their last 14 games.
While there have been some close calls - 45-43 over Watauga and 49-48 vs. Erwin early in the 2016 season – the Rockets haven’t really been pushed lately.
In the last 20 games of the streak, no team has got within 14 points at the final horn, and 10 of them lost by 40 points or more.
And despite losing a lot of talent off last year’s 14-2 squad, there seems to be no end in sight to the streak of domination.
The Rockets have outscored their five local opponents 262-42 this season, winning 56-0, 47-7 and 37-0 in their last three outings.
Reynolds (6-1, 4-0), ranked No. 1 in the WNC/WLOS.com Top 10 Poll, plays at rival Asheville (5-3, 4-1) on Friday night.
Laws said he and his staff never talk to their players about the impressive streaks, but they are certainly aware of it.
“You can’t help but be aware of it, because people talk about it a lot,” said Laws, who at 118-37 (.761) is the Rockets’ all-time leader in wins in his 12th season as head coach.
“We don’t talk about it, but we know it’s there and we’re proud of it. We definitely want to keep it alive, and that’s important to us.”
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