Stunned in SylvaSmoky quarterback torches Pisgah for 276 passing yards, tosses three TDs and rushes in game-winning touchdown with 59 seconds left
SYLVA — One fumble.
That changed everything.
One untimely and controversial fumble and a quarterback named Zeb Speir.
That’s what it took for Smoky Mountain to wipeout any hope of the Pisgah varsity football team from sharing the WNC Athletic Conference championship.
One controverisal fumble and the inability to stop Speir from torching the Black Bears’ defense propelled the Mustangs past Pisgah, 27-24, in a WNCAC game Friday night.
And now, Smoky Mountain has defeated the Black Bears twice in the last three years.
“There is not one kid to fault for this loss, “said Pisgah Head Coach Brett Chappell, “but there is a team to fault. There were several situations and positions that we were not getting the job done.
“We just were not focused. Everything (today) was good from the ride over, when we got on the field, we were quiet in the locker room and there was not a lot of rah, rah. But once we got on the field, we gave gave up too many big plays, had too many fumbles, had too many penalties and those three things got us beat.”
Yes, they were jubilant on one side of the field when the clock expired and shocked on the other side. And it all turned because of one fumble that seemed to change everything.
Leading 24-20 in the closing minutes of the game, Pisgah was in control, running out the clock and feeling a little lucky it was going to escape with an ugly win, but a win nevertheless.
But then it happened. A fumble. Or was it?
With 2:53 on the clock, senior Dylan Hannah had just picked up eight yards on a first down rush when he got double teamed and fell hard on the ground. When he landed, the ball popped up.
The rule states the ground can not cause a fumble, but the line judge on the spot ruled it was a fumble.
It was the third costly fumble of the game.
Correct or incorrect, Smoky was awarded possession at its own 44 yard line.
Speir, who already had thrown three touchdown passes, engineered the Mustangs’ final drive in seven plays to the Pisgah nine with 1:06 left in the game.
On the next play, Speir rolled to his left and when he couldn’t find a open receiver, tucked the ball, cut back toward the middle of the field, eluded three would-be tackles and dove head first into the end zone to give Smoky Mountain a 26-24 lead. Zack Bryson kicked the PAT.
Pisgah failed to get the ball past midfield on its ensuing possession.
Now, the ending of the game was completely different than the beginning as Pisgah’s defense held the Mustangs to a minus-11 yards in their first two possessions.
After recovering a Speir fumble, the Black Bears missed an opportunity to score points in their first drive when junior Lucas Hall coughed up the ball at the Smoky eight.
Eventually, Nathan Higdon split the uprights on a 35-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the first quarter.
Then midway through the second quarter (5:50), senior quarterback McKinley Brown connected with senior Hunter Wike on a 21-yard scoring strike. Brown ran in the two-point conversion to give Pisgah an 11-0 lead.
But from that point, Smoky must have found a weakness in the secondary as Speir's passes began to find wide open receivers.
On Smoky’s ensuing drive, Speir connected with Zechariah Carter on a 47-yard yard pass completion and then a 20-yard touchdown pass with 3:29 left before halftime to slice the Pisgah lead to 11-7.
After recovering a Trevor Johnson fumble in the third quarter, Speir found Carter for a 49 yard completion and one play later, connected with Brett Baldwin for a four-yard touchdown pass to give the Mustangs a 14-11 lead.
Pisgah responded with a 19-yard TD pass from Brown to Wike three minutes later as the Black Bears took a 18-14 lead into the final quarter.
But Speir was hot and continued to connect with open receivers. He hooked up with Carter again for a 19-yard touchdown pass in the early stages of the fourth quarter but the PAT was blocked by Vadrey Crouch as Smoky regained the lead, 20-18.
As he has done all season, Brown answered with a 28-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Jesse Martinez as Pisgah recaptured the lead, 24-20, with 9:06 left in the game. But the two point conversion failed miserably.
Pisgah rushed for a season-high 221 yards as Hall led Pisgah with 80 yards on 16 carries and Hannah contributed 48 yards on 11 carries. Despite holding the Mustangs to only 44-yards on the ground, Speir finished 15-of-26 for 276 yards with 210 of those yards were hauled in by Carter.
Brown finished with 241 passing yards (20-of-32), three TD passes and no picks. He raised his season totals to 2,242 yards and 24 TD passes with only four interceptions. Martinez caught five passes for 81 yards, Trevor Johnson had six receptions for 55 yards and Wike caught five passes for 55 yards.
The loss sinks Pisgah to 7-3 overall, 7-2 for playoff purposes and drops the Black Bears into a tie for third in the WNCAC with the Mustangs (6-4, 4-2 WNCAC) with a 4-2 record.
Pisgah also had hope it still had a chance to share with Tuscola and Franklin the conference championship providing the Mountaineers defeat the Panthers in the regular season finale.
Instead, the loss eliminated the Black Bears from contention for the crown as Franklin and Tuscola will play for the WNCAC title on Friday, Nov. 8, at Weatherby Stadium. If the Panthers win they will earn an outright WNCAC championship. If the Mountaineers win it creates a co-championship.
As strange as it may sound, if Tuscola wins, Pisgah still holds the No. 1 seed for the upcoming 3-A playoffs and will be seeded higher than the Mountaineers, despite finishing behind its rival in the standings.
Pisgah hosts Brevard Friday, Nov. 8, in the regular season finale at Memorial Stadium.