Pisgah-Tuscola set the bar high.
Maybe the crowd size won’t be proportional Friday in Ledger, but try telling anyone involved in the Mitchell-Mountain Heritage rivalry that this game isn’t just as big.
The Mountaineers (8-0, 3-0) have matched their best start in school history. Oh, about that, the team was also 8-0 in 2015 when it absorbed a 41-27 loss to the Cougars (7-1, 2-1).
Traffic was backed up so far that some late-arriving fans never got to see a single play.
The Toe River Valley should be out en masse again for this week’s game at Mitchell. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
“I’m assume it’s going to be something similar to last year,” said Mountain Heritage coach Joey Robinson, who said there were between 6,000 and 7,000 fans at the 2015 game in Burnsville.
“And around here, I don’t know if you can get much bigger than that. It’s a lot of fun for both communities when you have an environment like that. That’s what high school sports are all about.”
At worst, Friday’s winner will probably take home a piece of the Western Highlands Conference championship. There was a three-way tie for first place last year, and Mitchell and Mountain Heritage both already played two big threats in Hendersonville (6-3, 3-1) and Polk County (4-5, 2-2).
In terms of preparation, give the edge to the Cougars who haven’t played since a 44-0 win at Owen on Oct. 7. Their first shutout of the season can be attributed to tacklers such as Adam Shuford (15.8 a game), Corey Presnell (11.4), Dathan Robinson (10.4), Seth Randolph (10.4), Kane McCandless (9.3) and Dawson Branton (8.1).
“We needed the bye week, we’ve been beat up for about three weeks now,” Robinson said.
“Not just injuries, but key injuries. So it’s been nice to heal up.”
Robinson’s son, junior Trey Robinson (993 rushing yards, 929 passing yards and 25 combined touchdowns), is once again the top playmaker for the Cougars when they have the football. He should go over 1,000 yards in two offensive categories on Friday, something that senior Junior Denton (1,003 yards, nine touchdowns) has already accomplished with his rushing.
Justin Keener (317 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Cole Burleson (307 receiving yards, 194 rushing yards and 10 combined touchdowns) are two other standouts.
Mountain Heritage lost its only game to Hendersonville (42-22 on Sept. 23) and Mitchell beat those same Bearcats on Friday, 35-22.
The Mountaineers lead this all-time series with their Toe River rival, 29-16, and over the year, the two have never met when both their records were this good.
“I think they’re better than last year,” Robinson said of Mitchell.
“(Mountaineers coach Travise Pitman) and his staff have really done a good job of adjusting. They’re extremely well-coached and they have weapons everywhere on offense who can hurt you. Defensively, they’re very solid.”