'The Perfect Storm'Fisher’s touchdown run in OT gives Pisgah its fourth consecutive ‘County Clash’ victory
CANTON — Over the course of the previous 52 meetings on a sacred acre in Haywood County, commonly known as a gridiron, so much has happened in the state’s greatest football rivalry between Pisgah and Tuscola.
There have been so many great plays, not so great plays, critical coaching decisions that have paid huge dividends and some that have backfired. Every year when the Black Bears and Mountaineers meet, more and more fans flock to the stadium.
The players who have played in the County Clash have never played perfectly, but always the result of the rivalry had a perfect ending — at least for one team.
For the first time this late in the season, both teams met sporting undefeated records and ranked in the Top 10 poll. Tenth-ranked Tuscola came in to the County Clash with the No. 1 scoring offense in the state, while No. 5-ranked Pisgah had the No. 8 scoring defense.
Lump it all together, it created the perfect storm for the 53rd County Clash.
In front of a record-setting 13,000-plus fans at Memorial Stadium, Tuscola stormed out to a 17-0 halftime lead, but Pisgah stormed right back and forced the game into overtime tied at 17.
However, it was Pisgah senior Isaiah Fisher’s game-winning five-yard touchdown run that gave the Black Bears a dramatic 23-20 win over their rival Mountaineers.
The win was Pisgah’s fourth consecutive win over Tuscola and improved the Black Bears to 8-0 overall and 4-0 in the WNC Athletic Conference. Tuscola dropped to 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the WNCAC.
The series is now tied at 26-26-1.
The last time a team won four straight games in this historic rivalry was back in the 80s when the Mountaineers did it from 1984 to 1987.
“The only thing I am going to say about this win is this rivalry is more that just a game to us,” said Brett Chappell, who improved to 4-0 against Tuscola since becoming Pisgah’s head coach in 2013.
Trailing 17-0 at the break, Pisgah took the second half’s opening kickoff and went on a 13-play, 67-yard scoring drive in 7:37, which was capped by sophomore quarterback Tanner Wike’s 2-yard TD run. Senior placekicker Tanner Fox was true on the PAT and the Black Bears sliced into the Mountaineers’ lead, 17-7.
“We knew that we had shot ourselves in the foot in the first half,” said Wike. “We had to come out the second half and just believe this team can do anything. Everyone on the team has big hearts so we just took it to them the second half. I knew that Fisher was going to score. They have not stopped that play all night.”
Tuscola led 17-7 until Fox kicked a 26-yard field goal with 2:02 left in the game to cut the deficit to seven points, 17-10.
However, what happened next will always be remembered as one of the great plays in this great rivalry.
Instead of slowly bouncing the onside kick, Fox drilled a one hop rocket off a Mountaineer and senior Houston Rogers dove on it for the Black Bears at Pisgah’s 48.
On the first play from the line of scrimmage, Wike stepped up in the pocket and connected on a 43-yard pass with junior Chase Henson, who stumbled and fell on the turf at the Tuscola five. On the big pass play, however, Tuscola was flagged for a face mask penalty, which moved the ball to the Mountaineers’ two.
“My heart was pounding, especially in the second half,” said Henson. “I think, well, I know for me, its every Pisgah player’s dream to become part of the history of this great rivalry and make a big play that helps us win the game. I know I speak for all the coaches and all my teammates, this rivalry is huge for us. Always has been and always will be. We all feel the same way, we can’t have a great season without beating Tuscola. What an incredible night. Beating Tuscola four years in a row is amazing.”
On the very next play, Pisgah senior running back Michael Parrott bowled over from the two and Fox split the pipes to tie the game at 17 with 1:31 left on the clock.
But there were more heroics to come in this rivalry as Tuscola had three timeouts left and 91 seconds to get the ball into field goal range to attempt a game-winning field goal.
Starting at their own 24, Tuscola junior quarterback Grayson Perkins put his team on his back and got the Mountaineers to the Pisgah 40 with 32 seconds left after completing a 32-yard pass to senior Roman Jenkins.
But on the next play, Perkins’ pass was tipped up in the air and intercepted by Henson at the Black Bears’ 26 and the speedy cornerback returned the ball 50 yards to the Tuscola 24 with 18.6 seconds left in regulation.
After a short pass completion, 15.1 seconds on the clock and no timeouts at his disposal, Chappell elected to kick a 40-yard field goal. But Tuscola senior Caleb Ferguson, who had already blocked six field goals and PATs this season, blocked Fox’s kick to send the rivalry into overtime for the second consecutive year.
In the top of the first overtime, Ben Katt gave Tuscola a temporary 20-17 lead when he kicked a 27-yard field.
In the bottom of the first OT, Fisher raced around the right side for a 5-yard gain.
On second down from the five, Pisgah offensive coordinator Rickey Brindley again called Fisher’s number and the same play.
It worked to perfection as Fisher followed blocks by Parrott and senior Trey Morgan into the corner of the end zone for the game winning touchdown, setting off a massive on-field celebration.
“I just knew that I had to score,” said Fisher. “We just had to pick it up in the second half and just believe. Coach Chappell told us all at halftime if there was any player in the locker room that did not truly believe we were going to win this game in the second half, they needed to stay in the locker room. We all came out. We believe in each other and we believe in our coaches. Beating Tuscola four years in a row just feels amazing.”
In the first half, Tuscola took a 3-0 lead when Katt kicked a 35-yard field goal with 4:31 left in the first quarter.
With 1:03 left in the opening quarter, Perkins’ pass into the end zone was tipped up in the air but fell into the hands of Elijah Trantham in the back of the end zone to give the Mountaineers a 10-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Perkins scored on a 4-yard rush to give Tuscola a 17-0 lead with 3:37 left.
Pisgah finished with 367 (200 rushing, 167 passing) yards in total offensive compared to Tuscola’s 241 (182 rushing, 59 passing). The Mountaineers had 183 yards in total offense at the half compared to the Black Bears’ 125.
In the first down department, Pisgah finished with 21 (13 in the second half), while Tuscola had 15 (only one in the second half).
For Tuscola, Ferguson had 108 yards on the ground and was held out of the end zone for the first time this season. Perkins, who was 3-of-6 passing for 59 yards, rushed for 21 yards and senior Brent Turner had just 29 rushing yards on eight carries.
For Pisgah’s balanced rushing attack, Fisher had 97 yards on 11 carries and caught four passes for 14 yards, while Parrott had 65 yards on the ground and Wike, who was 19-of-25 passing for 167 yards, rushed for 39 yards.
Morgan caught nine passes for 76 yards, Henson hauled in four passes for 57 yards, sophomore Zeke Long had one reception for seven yards and Rogers caught one pass for 13 yards.
Up next for Tuscola is a home date with East Henderson on Friday, Oct. 21, while Pisgah hosts North Henderson.