Football

Rockets, Warriors set for MAC debut

Alex Flinn and Reynolds are home for Friday's Mountain Athletic Conference opener against Erwin.

Alex Flinn and Reynolds are home for Friday’s Mountain Athletic Conference opener against Erwin.

REYNOLDS – Get there early and count on staying late.

Mountain Athletic Conference schools voted before this football season to move up kickoffs a half-hour for all intraleague games.

Friday is the first night of that experiment.

However, don’t think just because Erwin (2-3) and Reynolds (3-2) are teeing it up at 7 p.m. that their game at Dalton Stadium won’t go into the wee hours of the night.

Not given past history.

The Rockets were the preseason favorite in this year’s MAC coaches poll and are home Friday for a Buncombe County rivalry game versus the team that was picked second. Both sides run the spread offense as efficiently as anyone in Buncombe which has led to some long and intense games in recent years.

“I think the biggest reason (the rivalry has grown lately) is that it’s a game you have got to win if you want a chance to win the conference,” Reynolds coach Shane Laws said.

“It’s the first conference game for both of us and that makes it unique in itself. And then you’re talking about two teams who’ve been in the hunt for a conference championship pretty consistently these past five or six years.”

Laws and the Rockets won all six of their conference games by double-digits in 2015, and have a 10-game winning streak in the MAC that dates back to 2014.

Nathan St. Onge (421 rushing yards, 297 passing yards and eight combined touchdowns) leads the defending MAC 3-A champs in two offensive categories. Other threats to break a big run are Keyal Talbert (265 yards, six touchdowns) and Sean Jones (225 yards, two touchdowns), while Rmani Lynch (13 receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns) and Talbert (11 receptions for 158 yards) are the main outlets for St. Onge and Alex Flinn (222 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions).

Five Rockets have made 30 or more tackles – Frank Torres (65), Conor Sullivan (55), Charlie Lehman (45), Andrew McKay (32) and Chayce Plummer (30). Torres has made 11 tackles for a loss and recovered a fumble in last Friday’s 40-17 win at Hendersonville.

“(Reynolds) is very good, defensively,” Erwin coach Mike Sexton said.

“They fly to the ball and make you work for every thing that you get. Offensively, if you want to stop them, you’re going to have to make open-field tackles. They have big linemen as well as quarterbacks and tailbacks who can make you look silly. Both teams are well aware of the implications that come with this game. This one is always huge if you want to win our conference.”

Erwin’s last conference-championship season was 2012.

Getting into a shootout with this Warriors team is not well-advised.

As of this week, senior quarterback Damien Ferguson (1,796 yards and 22 touchdowns with five interceptions) ranks No. 1 nationally in touchdowns (23 total) and points scored (138) in statistical lists compiled by MaxPreps. Ferguson has the fifth-most passing yards among all United States quarterbacks tracked by the website. Only schools which keep their stats through MaxPreps, as the large majority in WNC do, are part of the lists.

Erwin rebounded from a three-game losing streak last Friday and C.J. Thompson (41 receptions for 631 yards and 12 touchdowns) set a WNC record for single-game touchdown catches (six) at Franklin.

Other key pieces of the offense are Kealin Goode (27 receptions for 304 yards and three touchdowns), Isaiah Poore (344 receiving yards, 275 rushing yards and six combined touchdowns), Trey Martin (26 receptions for 367 yards and four touchdowns) and Bryan Anuel (13 receptions for 116 yards). Defensively, Chris McDonald averages 8.6 tackles per game, followed by Ethan Lunsford (4.8), Jackson Gouge (4.8) and Simeon Thompson (4.6).

“They are very good at what they do,” Laws said of the Erwin offense.

“They can score points and put you in a touch situation real fast. We feel like we can score, too. We don’t want this to be a game where we are having to match Erwin touchdown-for-touchdown. Hopefully we will play better than them defensively and not put ourselves in that kind of situation. But it’s going to be a tall task regardless. Erwin is similar in a lot of ways to the triple-option, you just don’t see an offense like they run, as run as well as they do, every week. It makes it tough to prepare.”

Reynolds is decisively the better football program if you look at the all-time series — the Rockets lead it by a count of 40-13-1. But the two schools have split the last four meetings. They even played twice for the very first time in 2014 with each side getting a victory.

ERWIN AT REYNOLDS

Kickoff: Friday at 7 p.m.

Pick: Reynolds by 1.

Following is a look at the last five football games between Erwin and Reynolds. The Rockets lead the all-time series, 40-13-1.

2015: Reynolds 35, Erwin 18

2014: Reynolds 38, Erwin 32

2014: Erwin 27, Reynolds 24.

2013: Erwin 69, Reynolds 28.

2012: Reynolds 24, Erwin 20.

MORE ONLINE: The Citizen-Times will provide a live blog from Friday’s Erwin-Reynolds football game. Updates should begin shortly before kickoff at CITIZEN-TIMES.com/hshuddle.

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