Some would call it a brazen move by a first-year coach in Haywood County.
Pisgah’s Brett Chappell admits he recently took a stroll around Weatherby Stadium on one of his off days.
Chappell’s intent was to get a lay of the land for a game between his Black Bears (5-2, 2-1) and Tuscola (6-1, 3-0) in Waynesville.
All that was missing was about 10,000 or more high school football fans.
Tonight’s meeting is the 50th between the Haywood rivals. Along with drawing its usual big crowd, the game will go a long way toward shaping this season’s Western North Carolina Athletic Conference championship picture as well.
Kickoff is set for 7:30.
“I’m just looking forward to getting over there,” Chappell said. “Our kids are more familiar with what to expect than I am. It will be new to me to step into that stadium (as Pisgah’s coach). But it should be a special atmosphere. Anytime you get together two communities in the same county, with the kind of history this rivalry has, it’s special. And to boot this year, you’re looking at two teams that are playing some good football.”
Indeed, the Mountaineers are tied for first place in the WNCAC with Franklin (7-0, 3-0), while the Black Bears are just a game back.
Chappell coached at another WNCAC school (East Henderson) for eight years, so he is very familiar with Weatherby under ordinary circumstances.
But nothing is ordinary about this night, which is an unofficial holiday in Haywood. For the fifth consecutive season, the iHigh.com Great American Rivalry Series is spotlighting the rivalry and will provide a live video feed of tonight’s game.
Tuscola leads the all-time series, 26-22-1. And the last three games have been decided by three or fewer points, including the Mountaineers’ 24-21 win last year in Canton.
Tuscola coach Brandon Allen is a former Pisgah player.
“It’s one of those weeks you look forward to all year, with the buildup and excitement,” Allen said.
“So much goes on, and the unfortunate thing is that someone has to lose once Friday rolls around. The good thing as a coach is we don’t have to do a whole lot of motivating (in practice). You don’t have to push the kids this week, you almost have to hold them back.”
Pisgah senior McKinley Brown (1,418 yards and 18 touchdowns with five interceptions) has the most passing yards of any WNCAC quarterback and threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns in last Friday’s 56-14 home win over West Henderson.
His receiving corps is made up of Jesse Anderson (32 receptions for 444 yards and seven touchdowns), Hunter Wike (22 receptions for 585 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Jesse Martinez (15 receptions for 244 yards and two touchdowns). Vadrey Couch (56 tackles), Dylan Hannah (45) and the rest of the Pisgah defense have only allowed one player (Franklin’s Jeremiah Young) to rush for 100 or more yards in a game.
Pisgah’s two losses have come on the road to WNC’s two unbeaten teams (46-31 at Erwin on Sept. 6) and (14-13 at Franklin on Oct. 4).
“Pisgah can hurt you in so many ways,” Allen said.
“McKinley Brown is a superb quarterback who can hurt you running or throwing. On top of that, he’s a great athlete and a competitor. And they’ve got some great receivers and skill people on the perimeter. They are big and physical up front. And defensively, I think this might be the toughest defense we’ve faced all year. We’ve got our work cut out for us. (Chappell) has done a tremendous job and the kids have bought in. There’s an excitement over there right now that I haven’t seen in a few years.”
Tuscola junior Bryce Myers (911 yards, 11 touchdowns) was named the 2012 Great American Rivalry Series most valuable player of this game.
Woody Cornwell (825 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception) has thrown most of his passes in the direction of Damon McDaniels (14 receptions for 335 yards and two touchdowns) and Adam Chambers (14 receptions for 188 yards and four touchdowns).
Ben Greene and Jon Martinez have each made a team-high 49 tackles, followed by Houston McCracken (47).
“When you look at Tuscola, you see a team that’s had a good season and is pretty sound in what they do,” Chappell said.
“They are a more run-heavy team, but their quarterback does a good job passing the ball. They’re solid up front with good size and their linebacking corps on the defensive side of the ball is impressive. I think it’s going to be a pretty good matchup.”