The ‘Road to Raleigh’ begins
A total of 256 high school football teams in eight divisions will kickoff the postseason tonight with hopes of winning four games in a row and earning a chance to play for a state championship in mid December.
Tuscola and Pisgah will open the NCHSAA Class 3-A West playoffs tonight at 7:30 p.m. from Weatherby Stadium and Memorial Stadium, respectively.
The Mountaineers and Black Bears share to same goal — a trip to Raleigh to play for the state 3-A championship in Carter-Finley Stadium on the campus of North Carolina State University on Saturday, Dec. 14.
But first thing’s first. The No. 4 seed Pisgah Black Bears host No. 13 seed Hickory tonight and No. 7 seed Tuscola also will open the first round at home against No. 11 seed Piedmont.
No. 13 Hickory (6-4) at
No. 4 Pisgah (8-2)
CANTON — A red tornado is expected to hit the Canton area around 7:30 p.m. tonight and the Pisgah varsity football team better be ready for it.
The No. 13 seed Hickory Red Tornadoes visit Memorial Stadium tonight for its NCHSAA Class 3-A West first round game with the No. 4 seed Black Bears sporting a 6-5 overall record or 6-4 for the playoffs.
However, Hickory is and has been flying under everyone’s football radar.
Although 6-5 is not too flashy, a closer look at who the Red Tornadoes loss to tells a more revealing story how talented and tough a first round opponent Hickory will be for Pisgah.
Three of Hickory’s losses were to teams that finished 10-1 on the season. The Red Tornadoes lost to Mooresville (35-6), Morganton Freedom (34-27) and Hibriten (35-33).
Another loss was to 8-3 South Iredell (14-12), which was the 2012 Class 2-AA champion and a team the Black Bears got to know so well last season. Hickory’s other loss was to 5-6 South Caldwell, 37-35, at home.
Mooresville (4-A West) and Morganton Freedom (3-A West) are no. 1 seeds in their respective brackets, while Hibriten is a No. 5 seed in the 3-A West, South Iredell a No. 12 seed in 3-AA West and South Caldwell a No. 12 seed in the 4-A West playoffs.
“Hickory plays in a very tough conference and its record is deceiving,” said Pisgah Head Coach Brett Chappell. “Hickory played conference opponents (Morganton) Freedom, which got the No. 1 seed in our bracket, Hibriten, which got the No. 5 seed in our bracket and it played Mooresville, which is a No. 1 seed in the 4-A bracket, in a non-conference game.
“So it is a little bit deceiving the record that they have at 6-5. On films, we have seen a lot of athletes, fast athletes every where on the field.”
In addition, all five of Hickory’s losses have been to teams with a combined 43-12 overall record.
Hickory scores a bunch of points (32.8 ppg) and the Red Tornadoes do it primarily by a productive I-formation ground game led by senior tailback Jahiz Linebarger, who has rushed for 1,334 yards with 24 touchdowns).
When it has to, Hickory can throw the ball and sophomore quarterback Jaquan Crawford has thrown for 1,233 yards and six touchdowns with five interceptions).
The Red Tornadoes defensive unit, which has allowed 21.9 points every Friday night this season, will be tested trying to stop or even slow down Pisgah’s “Air Show,” led by McKinley Brown.
Through the 11-game regular season, the Black Bears’ senior quarterback completed (171-of-238) 71.8 percent of his passes for 2,601 yards with 32 touchdown passes and only four interceptions.
One of Brown’s primary targets all season has been senior Hunter Wike, who has caught 40 passes, for a team-leading 15 touchdowns and 932 yards. The other is senior Jesse Anderson, who has a team-leading 54 receptions for 856 yards and 10 TDs.
Pisgah comes into its first round meeting with Hickory scoring 36.8 points per game, while its defense has been as stingy as Ebenezer Scrooge, allowing just 12.2 points per game.
“We just do not want it to be over with,” said Chappell. “In my weekly talk with the seniors, we all agree it has been a very good season and we are pleased where we are at. But we are just not ready to go home yet. We have stressed this week the importance of staying focused and doing the things that we need to keep this train rolling.”
This matchup has the making of an epic shootout as both teams’ offenses will put a lot of stress on the defenses in completely different fashion.
Brown, however, will fill up his “Air Corps” with high-octane aviation fuel and win it in the final minute...
Pisgah 38, Hickory 36
No. 11 Piedmont (7-3) at No. 7 Tuscola (8-2)
Don’t look now, but Tuscola Head Coach Brandon Allen has directed his Mountaineers into the postseason.
After finishing 3-8 in 2012 and missing the playoffs in his first season, Tuscola did a flip in the right direction and finished this season at 8-3 overall and were awarded a No. 7 seed in the NCHSAA Class 3-A West brackets.
Allen, who exorcised that playoff demon last week, may be the Rodney Dangerfield of high school football.
The second-year head coach just doesn’t seem get any respect.
Allen’s Mountaineers are facing perhaps their biggest challenge as their postseason journey begins against visiting Piedmont (8-2) at Weatherby Stadium tonight.
Tuscola is without two-year starting senior quarterback Woody Cornwell, who was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in the regular season finale with Franklin.
Allen will go with rookie Parker Allen (no relation), who took over for Cornwell last week and played well in the final three quarters.
But the head coach Allen has an ace up his sleeve for tonight’s first round game with the Panthers (7-3). Actually he has a pair of aces. Tuscola’s head coach will have Allen, his quarterback, get a clean snap, turn and hand the ball off to the Mountaineers’ version of “Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside,” who have been responsible for 2,120 yards on the ground and 32 touchdowns.
Tuscola junior tailback Bryce Myers, Mr. Outside, has rushed for 1,672 yards and scored 21 touchdowns, while junior powerback Houston McCracken, Mr. Inside, has gained 448 yards on the ground and scored 11 touchdowns.
“It will be a test for us but we’ll be alright,” said McCracken. “Losing Cornwell hurts, but it’s not the end of the world. (Parker) Allen came in and did a great job last week against Franklin. But the pressure won’t be on our young quarterback, it’s on our defense. We got to play our best game defensively. We have to make it a low-scoring fight for four quarters. If we can make it a defensive game, all Allen has to do is be a game-manager. We’ll do the rest.”
If Tuscola can make it a defensive struggle, the Mountaineers will have to stop Piedmont 6-foot-7 quarterback Cam Tripp, who has completed 53 percent of his passes for 1,453 yards.
Piedmont comes into the first round game scoring 28 points per game, while allowing 26.5 points every Friday night this season. Tuscola has scored 33.9 points per game and allowed 17.3 points in 11 games this season.
Thanks to McCracken, Myers and his defense, respect for Coach Allen will finally arrive after dispatching Piedmont and advancing into next week’s second round ...
Tuscola 17, Piedmont 14