All kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m. unless noted.
ASHEVILLE (6-3, 3-2) at ERWIN (6-3, 2-3)
Last week: Asheville beat North Buncombe, 31-0; Erwin did not play.
Last year: Asheville beat Erwin, 21-20 and 26-7.
Notes: Looking for a big game with battle scars? Look no further. David Howerton (899 yards and 13 touchdowns with three interceptions) and the Asheville offense has adjusted since leading rusher Josh Irby went down with a season-ending knee injury. In fact, Jermaine Battle (441 yards, six touchdowns) and Travis Lytle (412 yards, two touchdowns) have guaranteed the Cougars at least a share of their eighth straight conference championship. But tonight’s winner also takes the MAC’s top 3-A seed into the NCHSAA playoffs. Asheville defenders like Bryson Bradley (124 tackles) and Sam Withers (92) will have to contend with Kelman Simpson (1,091 yards, 12 touchdowns) at full strength. The Erwin junior had been slowed by a sprained medial collateral ligament since Sept. 21. In addition, the Warriors expect former All-WNC defender Alfredo Maldonado (5.4 tackles a game) to return from a knee injury. Erwin quarterback Austin Brown (1,910 yards and 18 touchdowns with five interceptions) is poised for his second straight 2,000-yard season thanks to the hands of Jonathan Allen (62 receptions for 823 yards and nine touchdowns), Seth Carter (28 receptions for 391 yards and four touchdowns) and Tyler Sullins (26 receptions for 321 yards and five touchdowns). The Warriors have not beaten Asheville since 2001, and are bidding for their first conference football title in 12 years.
Pick: Erwin by 1.
ENKA (5-5, 2-3) at ROBERSON (8-1, 4-1)
Last week: Enka lost to McDowell, 34-12; Roberson lost to Reynolds, 21-18.
Last year: Roberson beat Enka, 47-37.
Notes: Running the table in the MAC was too much to ask of any team, even Roberson. However, the Rams and Shrine Bowl quarterback Noah Suber (1,203 passing yards, 978 rushing yards) are still in the mix to grab a share of just their fourth conference football championship in school history. Suber scored his 23rd and 24th touchdowns of the season last Friday. On the other side of the ball, the standouts for the Rams are Bill Cecil (9.8 tackles a game), Mahogany Suber (9.6) and Graham Wells (7.4). Enka senior Chris Carver (1,781 yards, 18 touchdowns) continues to lead Buncombe County and the MAC in rushing. Dustin Waldrop (805 yards and eight touchdowns with eight interceptions) has balanced things out with passes to Tommy Holloway (29 receptions for 407 yards and four touchdowns) and Gardner-Webb recruit Drake Wells (26 receptions for 278 yards and two touchdowns). The Jets remain in the running for their first winning season since 1997, and would share the MAC 3-A championship with a victory, coupled with Erwin beating Asheville High.
Pick: Roberson by 14.
REYNOLDS (7-2, 4-1) at NORTH BUNCOMBE (0-10, 0-5)
Last week: Reynolds beat Roberson, 21-18; North Buncombe lost to Asheville, 31-0.
Last year: Reynolds beat North Buncombe, 42-20.
Notes: Reynolds and Jave Jones (1,075 yards, 19 touchdowns) have taken a roundabout path to their seventh conference championship in eight years.
But it won’t be a complete trip without a win tonight. Jones went over the 1,000-yard mark last Friday, and the sophomore is the latest Citizen-Times/WNC Player of the Week. He takes his handoffs from junior Levi Ledford (1,483 yards and eight touchdowns with six interceptions), whose favorite target is Caelan Rhinehardt (36 receptions for 428 yards and four touchdowns). Reynolds is 6-0 this season when two-time former All-WNC linebacker Justin St. Onge (9.5 tackles per game) is in its lineup. Fellow senior John Nick Setterlind has the most tackles (88) of any Rockets player. North Buncombe has been outscored 423-79 this season. The Black Hawks and Tyler Shelton (70 tackles) are bidding for their first win over Reynolds since 1995.
Pick: Reynolds by 21.
PISGAH (4-6, 3-3) at BREVARD (0-10, 0-6)
Last week: Pisgah beat Smoky Mountain, 49-16; Brevard lost to North Henderson, 47-20.
Last year: Brevard beat Pisgah, 28-21.
Notes: Maybe the current state of the Brevard-Pisgah rivalry is best exemplified by the end of a 13-year tradition between two WNC mayors. Brevard community leader Jimmy Harris said that he has not been approached by Pat Smathers’ successor in Canton about continuing their annual livestock wager over this game.
Pisgah senior Josh Noland leads the Black Bears in passing (801 yards) and rushing (715). Most importantly, he has quarterbacked them to wins in three of their last four games. Dustin Messer (361 yards, three touchdowns) had a 101-yard performance last Friday.
Trevor Bailey (45.5 tackles) and Corey Valentine (38.5) are the top tacklers for Pisgah. Brevard has won three of the last five games in this series, but needs an upset tonight to avoid the first winless season in school history.
Pick: Pisgah by 10.
SMOKY MOUNTAIN (3-7, 3-3) at NORTH HENDERSON (2-8, 2-4)
Last week: Smoky Mountain lost to Pisgah, 49-16; North Henderson beat Brevard, 47-20.
Last year: Smoky Mountain beat North Henderson, 20-13.
Notes: Is it possible to intentionally walk a quarterback? Opponents will wonder if University of North Carolina baseball recruit Zack Gahagan can duplicate his performance from last Friday for North Henderson. Gahagan (1,797 yards and 20 touchdowns with 11 interceptions) scored six touchdowns against Brevard and solidified his status as the WNCAC’s top passer. Gahagan’s receiving corps includes Ryan Garrett (41 receptions for 592 yards and nine touchdowns), Dalton Whitaker (28 receptions for 502 yards and four touchdowns) and Tyler Sargent (24 receptions for 337 yards and three touchdowns). Smoky Mountain junior Chace Morgan (1,067 yards) crossed the 1,000-yard mark last Friday. His quarterback is Zeb Speir (757 yards and eight touchdowns with seven interceptions).
Pick: North Henderson by 3.
TUSCOLA (3-7, 3-3) at FRANKLIN (7-3, 5-1)
Last week: Tuscola lost to East Henderson, 55-24; Franklin beat West Henderson, 35-14.
Last year: Franklin beat Tuscola, 35-14.
Notes: Franklin and Jeremiah Young (8.5 tackles per game) appear to be building steam for the NCHSAA playoffs with wins in five of their last six games. But Panthers junior Marquel Manning (1,864 yards, 26 touchdowns) has been a runaway locomotive for weeks now. Manning set a single-season school record for rushing last Friday, which was his ninth game with 100 or more yards this fall. Manning’s breakout year has taken some of the pressure off sophomore Dalton Cochran (708 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions). His top receiver has been Trey Maslin (25 receptions for 278 yards and two touchdowns).
All those weapons will be the primary focus for Tuscola defenders Levi Duffield (84.5 tackles) and Houston McCracken (49).
Pick: Franklin by 10.
WEST HENDERSON (3-7, 2-4) at EAST HENDERSON (9-1, 6-0)
Last week: West Henderson lost to Franklin, 35-14; East Henderson beat Tuscola, 55-24.
Last year: East Henderson beat West Henderson, 42-24.
Notes: Schools from five different counties (Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon and Transylvania) make up the WNCAC. East Henderson and Seth Owen (1,722 yards and 19 touchdowns with two interceptions) are only concerned about one locale tonight. The Eagles have beaten two of Henderson’s other three schools (Hendersonville and North Henderson) during a nine-game winning streak and can clinch their first county championship since 2008 tonight.
East Henderson wrapped up at least a share of WNCAC title last Friday, but West Henderson would love to play the spoiler tonight behind Brandon Letchworth (1,197 yards and eight touchdowns with five interceptions) and Drew Turner (102 tackles).
Pick: East Henderson by 14.
MADISON (9-1, 5-1) at MOUNTAIN HERITAGE (4-5, 3-3)
Last week: Madison beat Mitchell, 42-0; Mountain Heritage beat Avery County, 36-28.
Last year: Madison beat Mountain Heritage, 45-6.
Notes: Throw out the records when these two WHC rivals meet. Wait, isn’t that what Madison and Deryck Hilemon have been doing all season? The Patriots increased their school-record start to a season last Friday with Hilemon (91.5 tackles) and the rest of the defense posting their second shutout. Tyler Rogers (1,184 yards and 13 touchdowns with six interceptions) has thrown early and often to Cole Cuthbertson (27 receptions for 598 yards and seven touchdowns), while handing off to Tyler Hoffman (952 yards, nine touchdowns) and Hilemon (860 yards, 11 touchdowns).
Mountain Heritage and Trevor Robinson (1,316 yards and 17 touchdowns with nine interceptions) have won three straight games. Lucas King (659 yards, eight touchdowns) had the winning run (10 yards) in last Friday’s overtime game.
Pick: Madison by 14.
MITCHELL (0-6, 1-9) at AVERY COUNTY (2-8, 0-6)
Last week: Mitchell lost to Madison, 42-0; Avery County lost to Mountain Heritage, 36-28.
Last year: Mitchell beat Avery County, 27-17.
Notes: Talk about a false start. Avery County and Austin Robbie (81.5 tackles) won back-to-back games (including a 20-13 nonconference victory over Mitchell on Aug. 17) to begin the season and have since slipped into the longest active losing streak in the WHC (eight games). Mitchell freshman Dalton Beaver continues to lead the Mountaineers in rushing (344 yards, one touchdown) and tackles (59). Quarterback Gage Parkins (392 yards and one touchdown with seven interceptions) threw for 178 yards and completed his only touchdown pass of the season to Ryan McKinney (seven receptions for 95 yards) in the August loss to Avery County. As a team, Mitchell has scored just six points in the first quarter this season and has lost seven of its last nine games in this series.
Pick: Avery County by 7.
POLK COUNTY (8-2, 5-1) at HENDERSONVILLE (9-1, 6-0)
Last week: Polk County beat Owen, 28-21; Hendersonville beat Thomas Jefferson, 35-21.
Last year: Hendersonville beat Polk County, 37-12.
Notes: Someone should check Alec Philpott’s pockets for the bus keys. Philpott (1,196 passing yards, 1,001 rushing yards, 27 combined touchdowns) became the first WNC player to amass 1,000 or more yards in multiple offensive categories last Friday. He is also a key defensive back (39 tackles, three interceptions) and the team’s punter (36.1 yards per kick). Bruce Ollis has been the coach in Columbus since 2002 and last Friday was his 100th win with the Wolverines. Hendersonville’s offense is churning out 43.5 points a game thanks to Grant Rivers (1,478 yards and 15 touchdowns with six interceptions), Shrine Bowl receiver D.J. Wilson (29 receptions for 798 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Desean Jackson (1,571 yards, 21 touchdowns). Coach B.J. Laughter said school officials are still discussing the status of suspended receiver Shawn Rogers. Rogers was found guilty of misdemeanor assault and battery on Tuesday. NCHSAA rules state that only athletes convicted of a felony are barred from competition.
Pick: Hendersonville by 7.
THOMAS JEFFERSON (6-4, 2-4) at OWEN (4-6, 3-3)
Last week: Thomas Jefferson lost to Hendersonville, 35-21; Owen lost to Polk County, 28-21.
Last year: Owen beat Thomas Jefferson, 55-28.
Notes: Keep an eye on a couple young backs from eastern Buncombe County, now and in the future. Two sophomores (Owen’s Jager Gardner and Reynolds’ Jave Jones) have rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Gardner began this season as a wide receiver and has hit the benchmark with just 129 carries. That comes out to an average of 8.8 yards a touch. Defensively, the Warhorses get their biggest contributions from Adam Lunsford (88 tackles), Tyler White (70.5) and Eddy Slye (69.5).
Thomas Jefferson senior Mac Martin (1,384 passing yards, 1,055 rushing yards, 27 combined touchdowns) is one of two WHC quarterbacks who have passed and rushed for 1,000 yards. Owen faced the other (Polk County’s Alec Philpott) last Friday.
Pick: Owen by 1.
CHEROKEE (3-6, 1-4) at ROBBINSVILLE (7-3, 3-2)
Last week: Cherokee beat Andrews, 34-23; Robbinsville beat Q. Foundation, 44-6.
Last year: Robbinsville beat Cherokee, 17-14.
Notes: Three cheers for Cherokee. The Braves and Logan Woodard (817 yards and five touchdowns with 10 interceptions) finally put a confounding streak in the rear-view mirror last Friday, winning their first SMC game since 2009. Woodard also leads Cherokee in tackles (50), while Seth Littlejohn is tops in rushing (409 yards, four touchdowns) and receiving (15 receptions for 170 yards and one touchdown).
Former WNC rushing leader Dorian Walkingstick remains sidelined. The senior has tried to return to practice, but each time a hamstring injury has flared up again. Robbinsville’s leading tackler, sophomore linebacker/running back Spencer McCoy, is the son of former Cherokee coach Skooter McCoy. The SMC’s leading tackler (10.9 per game) sat out last week with a high ankle sprain, but returned to practice this week.
Pick: Robbinsville by 14.
HAYESVILLE (3-6, 2-3) at ANDREWS (2-8, 0-5)
Last week: Hayesville lost to Murphy, 55-0; Andrews lost to Cherokee, 34-23.
Last year: Andrews beat Hayesville, 41-12.
Notes: Hayesville has seen it all this football season – from a new coach, to a $912,000 stadium renovation and a controversial fight-filled game with defending NCHSAA 1-AA champion Swain County. The one constant has been Kyle Vardo’s defense. Vardo is second in the SMC with 9.6 tackles per game. Offensively, the Yellow Jackets have taken their cues from Zach Wall (605 yards and one touchdown with 10 interceptions) and Caleb Nuckolls (552 yards, six touchdowns). A victory tonight would allow Hayesville to match its wins total (four) from the past two seasons. Andrews quarterback Jacob Moore passed and ran for a touchdown last Friday.
Pick: Hayesville by 10.
NORTH WILKES (3-7) at MCDOWELL (7-3)
Last week: North Wilkes lost to West Wilkes, 35-28; McDowell beat Enka, 34-12.
Last year: North Wilkes beat McDowell, 28-7.
Notes: McDowell’s straight-forward approach to moving the chains has resulted in one of the biggest turnarounds in WNC. Last Friday was the fourth time that the tandem of Malique O’Neil (1,179 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Trey Anderson (924 yards, eight touchdowns) have rushed for more than 100 yards in the same game.
The Titans and Grant Robinson (1,020 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions) have not qualified for the NCHSAA playoffs since 2003, but that will all change when the pairings come out Saturday. North Wilkes has lost four of its last five games.
The Mountain Valley 1-A/2-A Conference team has not enjoyed a winning season in more than a decade.
Pick: McDowell by 21.
ROSMAN (4-6) at RABUN GAP, Ga. (3-5), 4 p.m.
Last week: Rosman lost to Swain County, 55-7; Rabun Gap beat New Covenant Christian, 28-26.
Last year: Rosman beat Rabun Gap, 47-8.
Notes: Carrying the flag for Transylvania County football has not been easy for Rosman and Duran Scruggs (968 yards, 14 touchdowns). Scruggs could go over the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season tonight. But he and the Tigers’ leading tacklers, Josh Diaz (46) and Christian Davis (45), are trying to help their program avoid its 11th straight losing season. Rabun Gap is 1-11 in the past two years against WNC competition and scored its first win over an area school on Sept. 28 (30-18 over Cherokee). The Eagles have a 1,000-yard rusher in Gerrio Rahming (1,345 yards, 15 touchdowns).
Pick: Rosman by 7.