Tuscola hungry for ‘blackened’ bear!
It’s the most wonderful night of the year... at least in Haywood County. The Mountaineers and Black Bears have lined up for battle every year since 1923.
The first 63 games were between Waynesville Township and Canton High Schools, and for years were played twice each season-including a Thanksgiving Day game.
When Haywood County consolidated the schools in 1966, the rivalry continued as Tuscola vs. Pisgah. Waynesville/Tuscola leads the all-time series 57-47-6, with Tuscola leading 24-22-1 since 1966.
“I’ve coached all over North Carolina and have seen some huge rivalries,” said Tuscola Head Football Coach Donnie Kiefer. “But none of them equal this. It’s just an honor to be a part of it. It’s a great experience for our kids, something they’ll never forget, and it’s a big deal in the community.”
The rivalry is still going in full force, but the last time both teams came into the game with a losing record was in 2000, when Tuscola finished 4-7 and Pisgah finished 2-8. That Friday the 13th game, dubbed by Tuscola fans as “Nightmare on Pisgah Street” ended up being one of the closest games in the rivalry’s history with Tuscola winning the game 23-21.
Many Haywood County football fans hope that the near-even records of the teams will make for a good game, despite the fact that both teams have struggled this season.
“I think it’s two pretty equally matched teams” said Coach Kiefer, “and it’s going to come down to desire. Like everybody knows, in this game it’s probably way more about want to and desire than it is about talent on the field. Whoever wants it and doesn’t shoot themselves in the foot is going to come out victorious.
“You know, our records are not indicative of it but I think if either one of us would have had our complete contingent of players throughout our whole season, I think both of us would have four or five wins.
“I think it’s two good football teams with a lot of heart. We’re both blue collar, I think both teams are well coached, and I think both teams are going to give it everything they’ve got, regardless of the record.”
Tuscola needs this win not just for bragging rights, but in order to keep their conference and playoff aspiriations alive.
The Mountaineers will likely rotate between backups Tyler Hyde and Levi Duffield at quarterback in place of starter Rob Howard, who is hoping to make a return late in the season. The injury bug continues to bite however, as leading tackler Weaver Kirkpatrick has gone down with a torn ACL and could be done with his high school football career.
Kirkpatrick, who has also been instrumental on offense and special teams is a huge loss for the Mountaineers.
“If we had 11 kids like (Kirkpatrick), nobody would beat us.” said Coach Kiefer.
Thankfully, Duffield, who was also Tuscola’s leading tackler before going down in the Elizabethton game returned to the defense last week and will hopefully make up for some of the hurt.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 PM at C.E. Weatherby Stadium in Waynesville. The place will be packed despite the records, so come early if you want to get a seat. If you get turned away, the game will be covered live on TuscolaFootball.com with live score updates and a radio broadcast by AM 1400 “The Peak.”