Erwin was shorthanded, and it showed.
The Warriors still did not get any mercy from Asheville High.
The Cougars improved to 42-2 in Mountain Athletic Conference home games since 2000 with a convincing 21-7 win Friday at Memorial Stadium.
Even with a torn meniscus in his left knee, Jalyn Folston ran and caught a touchdown as Asheville clinched its school-record ninth consecutive conference championship.
The Cougars (9-2) and previously unbeaten Erwin (9-1) came into Friday with 5-0 records in the MAC’s 3-A division.
The Warriors were one of just 13 undefeated football teams left in the NCHSAA, but fell behind 21-0 after Reggie Battle tacked on a third touchdown (a 4-yard run) with 14 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Charlotte recruit Markevis Davis and Fred Lindsey recovered fumbles for the Cougars. Alex Paulk had an interception with 3:45 to go in regulation, which essentially put the game away.
“I’m so proud to be a Cougar,” Asheville coach Danny Wilkins said.
“Our defensive staff did a tremendous job tonight. We knew that (Erwin) was missing some players, but we couldn’t control that. Our kids really did a great job executing the game plan. It was a great all-around night.”
The Warriors came into Friday averaging an area-best 55.3 points per game. But they did not get on the scoreboard until the 11:42 mark of the fourth quarter when DeAngelo Collington pushed his way into the end zone from 2 yards out.
The Cougars were well on their way to another conference championship by then.
Facing fourth down and 2 from the Erwin 22-yard line, Cameron Ray took a handoff and then lobbed a halfback pass to a wide-open Folston with 5:10 to go in the second quarter. Folston also scored on a 59-yard run at the 9:33 mark of the third quarter.
“This is a great win for us,” Folston said. “Everybody doubted us. But we were able to slow the game down. Our coaches kept reminding us of (Thursday night’s) Oregon-Stanford game. That inspired us.”
Battle finished with a team-high 124 rushing yards. Folston added 87 on just three carries, and Ray had 85. Asheville piled up 315 rushing yards.
“Asheville did a great job tonight, my hat’s off to them,” Warriors coach Mike Sexton said.
“We shot ourselves in the foot way too many times tonight, and you can’t do that in a conference championship game.”
Erwin quarterback Austin Brown rushed for 106 yards and passed for 69 more.
He and the Warriors took the field without three suspended players, including their top two receivers — seniors Jonathan Allen (59 receptions for 933 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Jordan Tigar (35 receptions for 573 yards and six touchdowns).
Along with a third player, whose identity is unknown, the trio was charged with possession of marijuana earlier this week. Unless their charges are dropped, the three players will miss a minimum of three games.
The NCHSAA will release playoff brackets today. Asheville and Erwin are expected to fall into the 3-AA category. The Warriors beat the Cougars, 41-34, in last year’s first round of the state playoffs.