Pisgah takes 50th County ClashBlack Bears hold Mountaineers to 14 yards passing and intercept three passes
Brett Chappell stood with his players in front of the Pisgah marching band cherishing a victory over rival Tuscola in the 50th meeting of the County Clash that few outside of Canton expected.
After the coach accepted the MedWest Cup trophy that came with their 27-7 win Friday night over the Mountaineers, the Great American Rivalry Series Most Valuable Player McKinley Brown and the Pisgah seniors especially enjoyed passing around the prize and taking turns putting it atop their heads for the first time.
“I thought our kids just came out and did a heck of a job,” said Chappell. “Our kids were resilient. They would not bend and they just played so well defensively. The turnovers our defense forced was key to our victory. The special teams were solid and what a night for Nathan Higdon (who received one of the Great American Rivalry Series’ scholar-athlete award prior to the game). He got a little redemption, a little redemption hitting those long field goals. I am certainly proud of him.”
Brown ran for one score and threw two touchdown passes, while Higdon kicked a pair of field goals as the Black Bears (6-2, 3-1 WNCAC) ended Tuscola’s two-game winning streak in the rivalry.
Chappell also insisted this victory was special for what it was — finally a win for this senior group over the Mountaineers, wrapping up the conference’s No. 1 seed for the Class 3-A playoffs and staying in the hunt for a WNCAC championship.
“I am so happy for all the seniors,” said Chappell. “They get to experience beating Tuscola before they graduate. It wouldn’t have been right for our seniors to graduate without beating Tuscola. This win is also important because we secured our conference’s No. 1 seed for the 3-A playoffs and stay one game back of Franklin for a chance at a conference championship.”
Pisgah trailed only once in the game on an impressive 96-yard touchdown run by Tuscola junior Bryce Myers that gave the Mountaineers a 7-0 lead after Logan Lambert’s PAT with 7:37 left in the first quarter.
But that was the only miscue Pisgah’s defense made.
The Black Bears’ offense quickly answered and put Myers’ TD run in the past when Brown threw a six-yard touchdown pass to junior Trevor Johnson and Higdon was true on the point after try to tie the County Clash at seven with 5:30 left in the first quarter.
“McKinley threw it to spot that I was the only one that could catch it,” said Johnson. “McKinley is really good for that. It was in the air for sometime and I did not think it was ever going to get to me.”
From that point, Pisgah dominated the remainder of the game and its defense deserves the lion’s share of credit for shutting down the Mountaineers’ offense.
“They did it again,” said Chappell. "Although I hate that we gave up that many yards rushing, especially the big run by Myers. But that was just one play. Our defense took over the game from there and our offense scored enough to win.”
The Mountaineers (6-2, 3-1 WNCAC) managed to rush 36 times for 184 yards, which 96 came on Myers’ TD run, and passed for just 14 yards. When Tuscola went to the pass, senior quarterback Woody Cornwell was pressured from a ornery and tenacious Pisgah defense. He finished 2-of-6 and was picked off three times, twice by Jeff Henson and once by Johnson.
“Holt (Underwood), Kyle (Terrell), Sherrill (Rathbone) and the rest of the guys on the defensive line were just unbelievable. They were in the backfield the entire game creating havoc,” said Chappell. “Colton Shuler just step up and had a phenomenal game for us. Vadrey Crouch caused a fumble, Trevor Johnson was right there in the middle of everything. Jeff (Henson) picks off two passes and the entire group did an outstanding job tackling. One play, one run got away from us. Other than that, our kids where spot on.”
Myers finished with 106 yards on nine carries, while two-way junior standout Houston McCracken rushed for 22 yards on 12 carries, senior Michael Herbertson gained 26 yards on the ground and Cornwell contributed 30 yards rushing for the Mountaineers.
“This is tough, real tough,” said McCracken. “Every year, this is the game. It means so much to the players and the fans to win the game. Other than one run, we couldn’t get our running game going. But we have to let it go and get ready for our next game. We got a lot more football left and the games are just as important.”
Tied at seven, Higdon split the pipes on a 42-yard field goal to give Pisgah a 10-7 lead with 10:14 left in the second quarter. The Black Bears carried that three-point lead to halftime.
For the first half, Tuscola had 154 yards (145 rushing, 9 passing) in total offense compared to Pisgah’s 141 yards (74 rushing, 67 passing). But in the second half, it was clear who got the advantage from halftime adjustments. The Mountaineers managed just 44 yards in total offense (39 rushing, 5 passing) and the Black Bears had 135 yards (30 rushing, 105 passing).
With 5:04 left in the third quarter, Brown struck for six via the pass when he threw a 34-yard pass to Hunter Wike and ran in the two-point conversion to give Pisgah an 18-7 lead.
“I was suppose to run the corner and I saw that I had wide open space so I turned it into a vertical route,” said Wike, who caught two passes for 60 yards. “I went up in the end zone and McKinley threw a perfect pass in the perfect spot. It feels great, I have gone the past two years playing on the varsity and losing twice to Tuscola. But to come away with a win just feels great.”
For the game, Brown completed 11-of-16 passes for 172 yards.
“It feels awesome to beat Tuscola,” said Brown. “I am honored to be selected the most valuable player, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. They are awesome and I would not trade them for anyone in the world. We are excited and will enjoy this over the weekend. But we have to let it go Monday and get back to work for North Henderson.”
Pisgah padded its lead with 11:20 left in the game when Brown, helped by a timely push from fullback Dylan Hannah, scored on a one-yard run to take a commanding 24-7 lead.
On Tuscola’s ensuing possession, Johnson cut under an out-route and intercepted a Cornwell pass at the Pisgah 39 and returned it to the Mountaineers’ 45. Six plays later, Higdon kicked a 29-yard field goal to give the Black Bears a 20-point advantage (27-7) with 4:34 left in the game.
After losing two fumbles and throwing three interceptions, Tuscola elected to run the ball and the clock in its final possession.
“It is all about the kids,” said Chappell. “Coaches can put good game plans together, but if the kids don’t execute and they don’t believe what you are doing, you are not going to get those wins. Our kids have bought into we are doing. They will fight their tails off for us. I am excited for our kids. This is long overdue for some of these guys.
In typical County Clash fashion, the standing room only crowd was estimated to be more than 11,000.
“I made a statement this week this game might be similar to a fourth round playoff game,” said Chappell. “Well, this certainly blew that away for me. It was just special. I can remember back playing at Rosman and having some special games there and it being packed. But it was a much smaller venue than what this is. To see this many people here and cheering for both sides, what a great thing it is for Haywood County. I hope they continue to do this rivalry series, it just makes it that much more special for this young men.”
For Pisgah, junior Lucas Hall gained 53 yards on 10 carries and Brown chipped in 37 yards on 21 rushes. Senior Jesse Anderson caught two passes for 76 yards, Hall had three receptions for 15 yards and Johnson caught three passes for 23 yards.
Pisgah also finished with a 12-7 advantage in first downs and the Black Bears were flagged for a season-low five penalties (55 yards) compared to Tuscola’s five flags for 50 yards.
The Pisgah win slices into Tuscola’s lead in the rivalry series as the Mountaineers hold a 26-23-1 advantage over the Black Bears.
There will be no home varsity football games in Haywood County the next two weekends. Pisgah travels to North Henderson on Friday, Oct. 25, and plays at Smoky Mountain Friday, Nov. 1, while Tuscola plays at West Henderson (Oct. 25) and at East Henderson (Nov. 1).
Tuscola will wrap up the regular season on Friday, Nov. 8 by hosting the Franklin Panthers, while Pisgah will host the Brevard Blue Devils.