IT'S GAME TIMETuscola at Pisgah meet tonight in greatest prep football rivalry in the state
CANTON — The Pisgah varsity football team will seek to do two very important things in tonight’s 49th County Clash (7:30 p.m.) with Tuscola at Memorial Stadium.
And make no mistake, Pisgah must accomplish both to turn around their season.
The first item on the agenda for head coach David Pressley’s Black Bears is to win its second consecutive game. Going back-to-back for Pisgah has not occurred since Nov, 7, 2010 — exactly 694 days ago.
A win will even Pisgah’s WNC Athletic Conference record at 2-2, 3-5 overall and gives the Black Bears much-needed momentum going into the final three games against the other Class 2-A opponents. And those final three games just so happen to be against the weakest teams (North Henderson, Smoky Mountain, Brevard) in the WNCAC, which have a combined 3-17 overall record going into tonight’s WNCAC games.
O.K., a win checks off item one.
Now on to the second item.
We all know how intense the Tuscola-Pisgah football rivalry is and what it means to come out on top after three hours on one Friday night every year.
No matter the year, the location, the weather and the records, if a team can beat its most intense rival it will make its season.
Well, the last time the Black Bears beat the Mountaineers was also in the 2010 season as Pisgah settled its affairs with Tuscola, 17-14 .
As a matter of fact, the last five years have not been very kind to Pisgah. The Black Bears are 1-4 in their last five County Clashes and that has allowed the Mountaineers to maintain the bragging rights for four years and raised their series lead to 25-22-1.
So, a win tonight against Tuscola will be signifcant for Pisgah on so many fronts.
However, earning a win against Tuscola is rarely easy. Especially this year’s Mountaineers team, which has an outstanding defense led by senior Levi Duffield, sophomore Houston McCracken, senior Bubba Price, Hunter Creson and Jon Martinez.
The quintet have led the Mountaineers, which has allowed just 21 points per game this season. It also appears head coach Brandon Allen’s defense may be peaking at the perfect time as Tuscola has allowed acombined 20 points (10.0 ppg) in its last two games.
So points for Pisgah may be at a premium against a stout defensive unit.
As for the Mountaineers’ offense, which is led by junior first-year quarterback Woody Cornwell, its like a house in today’s real estate market — upside down. Tuscola is scoring two points (19.0 ppg) less than the defense is given up.
And that just may be the game plan for Tuscola. If the Mountaineers can manage to score a few touchdowns against Pisgah tonight, they could turn the game over to the defense and go back to Waynesville with their 26th win in the County Clash.
As for Pisgah, there are a couple crucial question marks coming into the 49th County Clash. The first is the uncertainly at quarterback as senior Josh Noland “will be a game time decision” according to Coach Pressley. Noland sustained a foot injury in the fourth quarter against Franklin. He dressed but did not see any action in last week’s game at West Henderson.
But junior backup quarterback McKinley Brown stepped in and effectively led the Black Bears to a 55-28 win over the Falcons.
“We’re hoping that Josh will get to play,” said Pressley, “but it will be a game-time decision. Josh struggled this week in practice and tweaked it again. So it’s doubtful he’ll play. I feel sorry for him. He’s a senior and it’s his last game against Tuscola. But I’d rather have a healthy Josh for the final three games and for the playoffs than to put him in a situation where we risk not having him down the stretch. Besides, we are very confident in McKinley running the offense.”
It’s very probable that Brown will have to lead the Black Bears. Then again, it could be Noland taking the snaps. No one knows who will be at quarterback.
The other question mark involves the Pisgah secondary. Although the Black Bears’ front seven, led by Trevor Bailey, Kyle Terrell, Christian Bryant, Colton Shuler and Garrett Holland, showed up and played an outstanding game against West Henderson, the entire secondary imploded. The Falcons couldn’t run the football against the Pisgah front seven, rushing for no yards on 16 carries in the first half. However, the Falcons torched the secondary for 162 yards in the first 24 minutes.
So no one knows if the secondary will fail to show up again or even step up an be accountable for this game.
Another interesting aspect of tonight’s game is Coach Allen was a Pisgah graduate and once played for Coach Pressley, who was the defensive coordinator at the time.
Allen respects and knows Pressley well and learned a lot from him. Which begs the question, did the teacher teach the student how to prepare and coach in the county clash?
We’ll know some time around 10 p.m. tonight.
The 49th County Clash will be no different than most of the other 48 games. It will be close and very exciting to the very end.
More bragging rights on the line for Tuscola
Beating Pisgah — it’s what many boys in the western part of Haywood County dream about from the time they are conceived in their mother’s wombs.
To say that this game is a big deal would be an understatement. For many who live in Haywood County, it either makes or breaks the season.
It’s a rivalry prominent enough to have its own Wikipedia page and respected enough to be in its fourth year of national coverage by the Great American Rivalry Series. Tuscola is the defending Haywood County Champion and currently boasts a 25-22-1 lead in the all-time series.
“We can’t hide the fact that this is a huge game for both sides of the county,” said Tuscola Head Coach Brandon Allen. “It’s bragging rights for a year. (Pisgah) has a good football team. I don’t think that their record is indicative of how talented that they are because they’ve got some talented football players and they are a scary football team.”
Both teams come into this year’s game with a 2-5 overall record. In conference play, the Mountaineers are 2-1 while the Black Bears are 1-2.
Pisgah, like Tuscola played a difficult non-conference schedule — though this year’s edition of “death row” as it was once called does not look quite as deadly in retrospect. The “death row” opponents that Tuscola played early in the season now have a combined record of 18-9, which is by all means respectable but not necessarily “deadly.” The strength of Pisgah’s non-conference schedule looks nearly identical with its non-conference opponents holding a combined record of 18-8.
Conference play however is where the real differences are. Tuscola’s conference opponents thus far have a combined record of 3-18, while Pisgah’s WNCAC opponents thus far have a combined record of 12-9.
In an overall strength of schedule comparison, the Black Bears have the advantage with their opponents holding a combined 30-17 record as opposed to 21-27 for the Mountaineers’ opponents.
On the field this season, Pisgah’s offense has scored 62 more points than Tuscola, but their defense has given up 105 more points than the Mountaineers have. So, it looks as if Pisgah has the advantage offensively and Tuscola has the advantage defensively, but ultimately it is difficult to decide this “paper bowl” on paper.
“This is one of those games where it doesn’t matter what records are” said Allen. “You can throw those out the window. Whether somebody’s having a great year and somebody’s not, it tends to be a tight ballgame regardless. Offensively, (Pisgah) can put points on the board in a hurry, and they have plenty of different weapons to do it with. Defensively, they play hard and get lots of pressure with their fronts. Their secondary is athletic enough to lock you down with man and eliminate a quick passing game.”
For a lot of people in Haywood County, this will be the only game they attend all year—and to them it doesn’t matter what happens the rest of the season as long as their team wins the rivalry game. The world, however, is bigger than Haywood County.
There are conference championships and state championships to be had outside of these borders, and a win for Tuscola tonight would be about much more than bragging rights. With a 2-5 record and the most difficult part of the conference schedule still to come, this game could be the deciding factor in whether or not the Mountaineers qualify for the state playoffs.
Even though it’s not guaranteed, four wins are usually enough to qualify a team for the playoffs — but three wins might leave the Mountaineers sitting at home for only the second time in the last decade.
If the Mountaineers fail to win tonight, a win over West Henderson next week would probably not help them unless they can pull a major upset over East Henderson or Franklin.
So, a lot is on the line for Tuscola tonight. Will the Mountaineers keep their win streak going and stay in the hunt for the state playoffs? Will Tuscola’s defense be able shut down Pisgah’s offense?
Will transfer quarterback Woody Cornwell react well under the pressure in his first Battle for Haywood County? Will the result come down to a two-point conversion attempt at the very end as it did last year? Gather at the river to find out. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. at Pisgah Memorial Stadium.