Christmas lights and stockings are hung in homes across Western North Carolina.
The radio airwaves are full of seasonal carols and hymns. And everyone is finishing the last of their turkey leftovers from Thanksgiving.
It must be that time of the year when Murphy and Swain County are still alive in the NCHSAA football playoffs.
The Bulldogs (11-3) will go for an unprecedented fourth consecutive regional championship tonight when they welcome Albemarle (11-3) to Cherokee County in 1-A.
Meanwhile, the two-time defending 1-AA Western Regional champion Maroon Devils (11-2) must hit the road to West Montgomery (13-1) in their bid for a third consecutive title.
Four Murphy players have been part of every regional run — seniors Kenton Braswell, Davis Gentry, Justin Martin and Austin Satterfield.
As for Swain, seniors Dakota Brown, Devon Cooper, Cody Epps, John Miller, Dylan Morgan, Hayden Neadeau, Ryan Reichert, Zack Weeks and Blake Wright have a third consecutive state-championship appearance in their sights.
“It’s pretty dang awesome when you think we’ve got a chance to win four of these with some kids I brought up as ninth graders,” Murphy coach David Gentry said.
“The kids are excited about it, our community is excited about it. When you line up for practice in August, getting to a state championship game is the ultimate goal. I guess when maybe it’s all over, we’ll look back and say, ‘Boy, that was a pretty good run.’ Right now, all you can do is get ready for Albemarle.”
Current members of the Smoky Mountain Conference have won more state football championships (23) than any other league in WNC.
Murphy lost in last year’s 1-A state-championship game to Plymouth, 20-15. Swain County then took the field immediately after at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh and fell to 1-AA foe Southwest Onslow, 44-34.
Both teams won state titles the year before, giving WNC its first multi-state-championship year in football since 1982.
Swain County beat Murphy, 36-27, when they played Nov. 8 in Bryson City.
“Getting an opportunity to play in three straight (regional-championship) games is almost unheard of, and that’s what we’ve told the kids,” Maroon Devils coach Neil Blankenship said.
“It’s the goal every year at Swain to get to this point and further. They’ve worked extremely hard to meet that expectation. They’re a great team. We may not have as much talent as last year, but as far as playing as a team, they do that extremely well.”
Weeks said that every year gets sweeter for the past regional-championship game participants.
“We’ve been blessed with a lot of good coaches and athletes,” Weeks said.
“Every one of us has played greater roles as we’ve grown up.”
“Getting to play in a game like this is indescribable,” Neadeau added.
“You never really experience anything like it.”