It’s win or go home for TuscolaMountaineers need victory tonight at ‘The Pit’ to have a chance for playoffs
While football playoffs do not begin until next week in the state of North Carolina, it’s a win or go home situation for the Tuscola varsity football team tonight as they participate in a “playoff-esque” game against the Franklin Panthers (7-3, 5-1 WNCAC).
“Franklin has a tremendous football team” said Tuscola Head Coach Brandon Allen. “Anytime you play a tough opponent, especially at their place, it’s always a challenge — but our kids are very excited to get to play and know we have to win in order to have a chance to go to the playoffs.”
Franklin’s dreaded sports venue, known as “The Pit” is one of the hardest places to win in the mountains and has created a bit of superstition amongst local teams over the years. Who could forget the disappointment of the 2004 Tuscola team as Jonathan Crompton and Patrick Fitzgerald sat out on the field in disbelief after a three point upset?
Thankfully for the Mountaineers, Tuscola has overcome the power of “The Pit” in recent years — winning the last two games played there (34-23 in 2007 and a 27-21 overtime win in 2010).
That being said, the stadium in which the game is played should be the least of Tuscola’s concerns this year. Franklin is one of only two teams in the WNC Athletic Conference with a winning record this season.
Their three losses have come only to WNCAC leader East Henderson, defending 1A state champion Swain County, and Mountain Athletic Conference leader T.C. Roberson. Junior running back Marquel Manning has rushed for 1,864 yards — a single-season school record for the Panthers, and is hoping to reach the 2,000 yard mark tonight.
Manning has also rushed for over 100 yards in nine different games this season, tying another school record that can be broken tonight. Other standouts for the Panthers include fullback/linebacker Jeremiah Young and quarterback Dalton Cochran.
“Offensively, they have a very solid offensive line and loaded backfield with Young and Manning,” said Coach Allen. “Both backs are very physical runners and just seem to get better as the game goes on. Defensively, they play extremely hard and rally to the football.”
Franklin’s defense ranks as the best in the conference, allowing an average of 18.6 points per game this season.
Tuscola’s defense previously ranked second in the conference, but dropped to third after last week’s 55-24 loss to East Henderson.
A win for Tuscola tonight will without question be a tall task, but without victory the season will be over and Mountaineers will miss the playoffs for only the second time in the last decade.
“(The chance to go to the playoffs) alone means a great deal to this team” Coach Allen said. “We have had the best week of practice of the year, and hope that it translates to (tonight).”