CANTON – Forget what the scoreboard says at the end of the night.
Friday’s real winner is the bank account for the Pisgah athletic department. And a close second is that lucky person who pulls the correct numbers to the 50-50 raffle.
Pisgah Memorial Stadium’s seating capacity is about 7,000 divided up this way – 5,000 on the home side and 2,000 for the visitors.
That won’t be nearly enough to contain what is expected to be one of the largest crowds to ever attend a Western North Carolina high school football game.
It’s not hyperbole at all.
Pisgah (7-0, 3-0) and Tuscola (7-0, 3-0) have never met this late in a season when both were undefeated and they’ve been playing football since 1966. This Haywood County rivalry has traditionally drawn crowds in excess of 10,000 or more, even in lesser years when the two sides weren’t this good or part of the same conference (the WNC Athletic 2-A/3-A).
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m., three hours after the gates open in Canton.
If the weather holds, Mountaineers coach Tommy Pursley said he wouldn’t be surprised to see 15,000 fans in attendance. Now do the math if game tickets are $7 each and the 50-50 drawing has been in the $7,000 range as of late. The Black Bears are accepting credit and debit card payments for raffle tickets this year.
“It’s a great opportunity for Haywood County. Any way you look at it, all around,” Pisgah coach Brett Chappell said.
“It’s special to have both teams undefeated and both deserve it. The kids have worked hard and the coaches have worked hard to get them prepared. There’s still a lot of conference games left to play after this one, but there’s a lot riding on it for both teams.”
There are only three undefeated football teams left in the mountains and these are two of them (Mitchell is the third).
Pisgah and Tuscola have pummeled opponents in their paths by an average of 25.5 points and 37.4 points, respectively.
Yes, they have been undefeated for past rivalry games — it happened as recently as 2008 — but that was back when Pisgah and Tuscola played in the third week of the regular season.
The Black Bears have won the last three games in the series, including a 20-17 overtime tilt last year in Waynesville.
Tanner Wike (892 passing yards, 550 rushing yards and 22 combined touchdowns) runs the Pisgah offense along with Alabama recruit Michael Parrott (551 yards, four touchdowns), Trey Morgan (40 receptions for 767 yards and 15 touchdowns) and Isaiah Fisher (244 rushing yards, 67 receiving yards and three combined touchdowns).
Tackling leaders for Pisgah are Jeff Albritton (56), Tanner Lanning (53), Houston Rogers (39) and Fisher (30).
Pursley, who has 250 career wins after last Friday’s 54-14 rout at North Henderson, and Tuscola are the No. 1 team in the Citizen-Times Best of the West rankings. The Black Bears are No. 2.
“The pressure for me is that we are 7-0 and trying to get to 8-0 against a very good football team,” Pursley said.
“The challenge will be handling all the noise and that big crowd. We have a lot of starters (nine on offense, eight of defense) who played in this game last year and have a better idea of what to expect. Our players hear a lot more of the hype than I ever do. The trick is hemming that in properly. As far as the football game itself goes, our practice on Monday was like hundreds we’ve had before. This is a big game, but every week is a big game for us and we treat them the same.”
Tuscola senior Caleb Ferguson (1,082 rushing yards, 138 receiving yards and 29 combined touchdowns) not only went over 1,000 yards last Friday, but is the area’s top rusher.
Ferguson gets his handoffs from Grayson Perkins (358 passing yards, 202 rushing yards and 12 combined touchdowns) as do Brent Turner (484 yards, three touchdowns) and Roman Jenkins (434 yards, three touchdowns). Joe Napert has snared a team-high six receptions for 137 yards and the defense has been shored up by Taylor Austin (8.0 tackles per game), Jeremy Jacobs (7.6), Napert (7.0), Dylan Worley (6.9) and Bailee Ewart (6.4).
“The offense is very typical of what we have seen the past few years in that it’s run-heavy. But if you look closely at (Mountaineers quarterback) Grayson Perkins’ numbers, you’ll see that they average about 30 yards a throw, too,” Chappell said.
“It starts with the run, but they like to stretch the field, too.”
Advance ticket sales for the Pisgah-Tuscola game have been going on in Haywood since Monday. The Great American Rivalry Series is showcasing the game for the eighth consecutive year. In the past, scholarships have been awarded to players for both teams as well as a trophy to the winner.
TUSCOLA AT PISGAH
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Pick: Tuscola by 1.
Following is a look at the last five football games between Pisgah and Tuscola. The Mountaineers lead the all-time series, 26-25-1.
2015: Pisgah 20, Tuscola 17.
2014: Pisgah 37, Tuscola 20.
2013: Pisgah 27, Tuscola 7.
2012: Tuscola 24, Pisgah 21.
2011: Tuscola 28, Pisgah 27.
COMING FRIDAY: The Citizen-Times will provide a live blog from Friday’s Mitchell at Hendersonville football game at CITIZEN-TIMES.com/hshuddle. Score updates from other Western North Carolina games will be available at CITIZEN-TIMES.com.