Black Bears eager to turn season aroundPisgah tangles with Franklin at Memoria
CANTON — Under head coach David Pressley since 2001, the Pisgah varsity football program had grown to consider being among the conference’s elite and spots in the postseason as their birthright.
However, a losing season a year ago and a 1-4 start to this season has the Black Bears licking their wounds and extremely eager to turn their season around.
And tonight’s WNC Athletic Conference showdown at Memorial Stadium (Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.) with visiting Franklin is a perfect time for Pisgah as it marks the “unofficial” stretch run of the season.
But what is really amazing about the current position Pisgah is in coming into the game with the Panthers — Coach Pressley in so many words predicted it at the beginning of the season.
“Look, we are and will be a work in progress,” said Pressley during a break in training camp back in early August. “It makes it tougher on us considering the fact that four of the first five games on our schedule are against some of mountains’ best programs. We could lose three or even four of those games, and still be a very good football team. It’s just our record would not show that. But this staff believes in these kids, and it would not surprise me at all that Pisgah could make a strong finish in the final six games.”
Well, the Franklin Panthers, which are 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the WNCAC, is the first opponent for this stretch run.
By all means, Pressley never considered in his “preseason chat” that Franklin was a pushover to kickoff the stretch run. But he knew his team played the defending WNCAC champion Panthers at home.
“Franklin lost a lot of talented players from last year’s championship team,” said Pressley back in August. “But they will still be a very tough team for us. But get to play them at home. If we get a win against Franklin, it could jump start us down the stretch.”
In order for Pisgah to get a much-needed win against Franklin, the Black Bears’ defense, which has allowed 41.5 points per game through the first five games, will have to stop or contain a trio of the Panthers’ offensive weapons.
The “Franklin trio” are running back Marquel Manning, who has rushed for 718 yards and 10 touchdowns; quarterback Dalton Cochran, who has passes for 330 yards but has been intercepted only once; and split end Trey Maslin, who has caught 17 passes for 201 yards.
Franklin comes into Memorial Stadium averaging 23.8 points per game. Twice this season, the Panthers (lost to TCR, 27-7; lost at Swain County, 44-7) have scored only seven points in a game.
Pisgah got back junior standout Dustin Messer last week and he immediately made an impact as well as lifting a major load off senior quarterback Josh Noland’s shoulders. Through the first five contests, Noland (1,057 total yards) has been responsible for nearly 65 percent of the offense’s production.
This game will be exciting and close as very even in the talent department. Franklin is not a team that will be intimidated by travel or venue. The Panthers will arrive at Memorial Stadium tonight to play their best game, and so will Pisgah.
Establishing the offense early and capitalizing on turnovers will be the keys to victory.
But Pisgah is playing on its home turf in front of its home fans. And that’s an advantage for the Black Bears.