Erwin coach Mike Sexton joked earlier this week that the first team to huddle tonight should lose.
No one may be laughing after watching a pair of wide-open, no-huddle spread offenses go at it in arguably the most anticipated game of the year in Mountain Athletic Conference football.
Kickoff between the undefeated Warriors (4-0) and Reynolds (3-2) is set for 7:30.
Considering the weather forecast calls for clear skies and Erwin did not sell any advance tickets or add temporary seating for tonight’s game, Kerr Stadium’s capacity (roughly 3,500) should be reached well before the first exchange of red and green helmet paint.
“Nights like this are what the kids work hard for all year,” Sexton said. “A game like this counts for something.”
Indeed, Erwin (No. 1) and Reynolds (No. 2) are the top two teams in the Citizen-Times Best of the West rankings and were picked in that same order in the MAC coaches preseason poll.
The Rockets (4-A) and Warriors (3-A) each claimed a piece of MAC championships in 2012, but, as of this year, Reynolds is a 3-A athletic program in all sports for the first time since the 1980s.
“It’s a big game for a lot of different reasons,” Rockets coach Shane Laws said.
“It’s a conference game and conference opener against one of the better teams in the league. You know you’re going to have to play well to have a chance at championships in this league, and that’s one of our major goals. If you lose (tonight), it puts you behind the eight ball. It makes it much more difficult to win a championship.”
The offensive numbers for both teams are impressive but would be even better if starters hadn’t been pulled in the second half of blowout wins.
Austin Brown (1,156 yards and 11 touchdowns with three interceptions) is bearing down on his third consecutive 2,000-yard season, which would be a first for an Erwin quarterback.
The senior’s favorite receivers have been a fellow All-WNC selection from 2012, Jonathan Allen (23 receptions for 392 yards and four touchdowns), as well as Chavis Williams (15 receptions for 272 yards and three touchdowns), Jordan Tigar (12 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns) and Tyler Sullins (10 receptions for 105 yards).
The Erwin running game is in good hands with Kelman Simpson (539 yards, 11 touchdowns), who was an All-WNC back as a junior.
Dakota Wright (48 tackles), Tigar (37), Mitchell Chancey (28), DeAngelo Collington (26) and the rest of the Erwin defense have not been in action since a 55-27 rout of visiting Madison on Sept. 13.
Williams is among the state’s early leaders in interceptions (four).
The Rockets are coming off a 52-35 home loss to the second-ranked team in NCHSAA 3-A football (South Point) and have faced five opponents with a combined record of 17-5.
“I feel more ready coming into this one (tonight) than past years,” Laws said. “Our kids have been in a big-game atmosphere and felt what it’s like to have their backs against the wall. And we’ve had to fight our way out of it. No one should be looking around (tonight) and wondering what to do.”
Reynolds was shut out in a rainy, season-opening 28-0 loss at West Forsyth on Aug. 23. But since then, Levi Ledford (988 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions) has averaged 242.5 passing yards a game and has also run for 165 yards and three touchdowns.
Tonight marks the halfway point of junior Jave Jones’ four-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules. Jones led the Rockets in rushing (468 yards, eight touchdowns), but Rico Dowdle (236 yards, three touchdowns) and A.J. Logan (204 yards, two touchdowns) were much more than serviceable a week ago against South Point. The two sophomores combined for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
Ledford has thrown the majority of his passes to C.J. Allen (19 receptions for 293 yards and three touchdowns), Caelan Rhinehardt (14 receptions for 178 yards and one touchdown) and Khiry Lytle (nine receptions for 149 yards and one touchdown). Lytle’s first touchdown catch of the season came against South Point.
“Reynolds does so many things well,” Sexton said. “You look back at (last Friday) and they scored with South Point for much of that game. I thought (Dowdle and Logan) did a great job. They would start for anybody. Reynolds is very potent offensively, and they’ve got a very good, aggressive defense, too. There’s not a weakness there.”
Standouts for the Rockets defense are Andrew Swicegood (49 tackles), Andrew Long (34), Chance Towery (31), Jake Cardillo (29) and Maliek Long (27).
Thomas Blakey already has 19 touchbacks on kickoffs, and the sure-footed senior has made all 25 of his extra-point attempts.