With no band and a mostly empty stadium, Asheville High didn’t get much of a home-field advantage for its first-round playoff game Friday night against Cuthbertson.
Fortunately for the Cougars, the visiting Cavaliers were in a generous mood.
No. 15-seeded Cuthbertson received the opening kickoff of each half but coughed the ball up four times, and the second-seeded Cougars eventually pulled away for a 33-7 victory and a berth in the second round of the NCHSAA Class 3-AA playoffs.
Travis Lytle and Cameron Ray scored two touchdowns apiece, Ricky Scott tied Asheville’s single-season record with his seventh interception and Alex Paulk added two picks to lead the Cougars (10-2). They’ll host No. 10 Ledford or No. 7 Weddington next week.
“I knew coming in it wouldn’t be easy. They (Cavaliers) run the ball good and are physical,” Asheville coach Danny Wilkins said. “I knew we wouldn’t play with the same emotion we had last week (in a win over Erwin). I thought we were flat, as a matter of fact.
“I was kind of disappointed in our crowd tonight,” Wilkins said when asked about attendance. “When you win the conference and you’re in the playoffs, and you look up and see just a smattering of people. We ought to do better than that.”
Three Cougars rushed for 85 yards or more: Reggie Battle (105), Lytle (94) and Ray (85).
With cold, wet weather and a blowout in the forecast, players on the field outnumbered spectators in the stands 10 minutes before kickoff.
The ugly weather was around from the start, but the home team’s lopsided win took a while — and some help from Cuthbertson (4-8) — to materialize.
Asheville needed a Houdini-like escape by punter Greg Hinich and three first-half takeaways to begin the business of putting away pesky Cuthbertson.
“The turnovers were big,” said Paulk, who had an interception in each half. “They were driving every time, and those interceptions were right on the goal line. It would have changed the game if they’d scored.”
Asheville had a 6-0 lead when it was forced to punt near midfield in the first quarter. A snap sailed high over Hinich’s head and rolled inside the Cougars’ 20. Hinich outran Cuthbertson gunners to gather the ball, then eluded four would-be tacklers to get off an unorthodox punt that bounced to Cuthbertson’s 37.
The Cougars’ lead was still six several possessions later when Cuthbertson drove inside Asheville’s 35. Quarterback Steven Fusco overthrew his receiver down the right sideline, and Scott plucked the high-arching pass to end the threat with his seventh pick of the season — pulling him even with former Cougars standout and NFL player Crezdon Butler.
Wilkinson said the reason Cuthbertson got the ball to start each half was because Cougars’ team captains made a mistake — electing to kick after the Cavaliers won the pregame coin toss and chose to defer.