Asheville High coach Danny Wilkins wonders what his team is walking into tonight.
Wilkins won’t truly know until the Cougars (3-2, 0-0) and Reynolds (3-3, 0-1) are situated across from one another in a rivalry game that is the most storied in Buncombe County football.
Between them, the two programs have 15 conference championships and two state titles (2005 and 2009) in the past eight years alone.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 from the Rockets’ Dalton Stadium.
It would be hard for a Hollywood writer to script what has occurred in the recent history of the rivalry.
Asheville rallied from a 29-0 deficit in the final minute of the second quarter to win at Reynolds, 35-29, in 2011. And then last year, former Cougars quarterback David Howerton found senior Danquiries Green for an 80-yard touchdown pass with 21.9 seconds to go in a 34-30 win at Asheville.
It marked the first time in eight years that the home team was victorious.
Take all of that into account and add that the Rockets are coming off a surprisingly-lopsided 69-28 loss at Erwin. And less than 48 hours later, former Reynolds running back A.J. Marion was shot to death by Asheville police during a reported break-in.
Rockets quarterback Levi Ledford (1,173 yards and eight touchdowns with five interceptions) is one of at least five current players who were teammates with Marion during his final varsity season in 2011 — the others are Caelan Rhinehardt, Cameron Burton, Chance Towery and Andrew Long.
Marion began his high school career at Asheville and eventually rushed for 3,902 yards and 39 touchdowns with the Rockets.
“Besides the rivalry, there is some extra fuel to the fire for Reynolds,” Wilkins said.
“They’re a proud program, and I guarantee you they have circled the wagons. We’re going to get the full storm (tonight). The worst thing that could have probably happened for us happened (with the Erwin game). We have got to be ready, emotionally and mentally, to match their desperation, emotion and intensity. And then on top of that, we’ve got to find a way to out-execute them.”
Cougars senior Markevis Davis (45 tackles) became the first current Western North Carolina player to make a college football commitment (Charlotte) earlier this week. Davis plays rover, which is a hybrid defensive back/linebacker position.
Green was an All-MAC selection in 2012 and leads the defense in tackles (72), followed by Bryson Bradley (68) and Fred Lindsey (55).
As for the offense, junior Tevin Salters (557 yards and seven touchdowns and four interceptions) has accumulated all his passing yardage in the past four games.
Cameron Ray (196 yards, four touchdowns) returned from a serious ankle sprain in Asheville’s last outing — a 34-16 home win over the Q. Foundation.
Jermaine Battle (235 yards, two touchdowns) is the Cougars’ leading rusher and has also hauled in a team-high 10 receptions for 124 yards. Travis Lytle has rushed for 204 yards.
“This game is a big deal and a huge one in our conference,” Wilkins said. “We hope we’ve gotten a few extra things done during our bye week. We’ve gotten some people healthy. We’ve been a little more physical and then eased off with some of the kids who needed to heal.”
Ledford (4,122 career passing yards) may be a game or two away from breaking the school record (4,385) held by 2011 graduate Caleb Pressley. His favorite receivers have been C.J. Allen (30 receptions for 418 yards and four touchdowns), Rhinehardt (17 receptions for 189 yards and one touchdown) and Khiry Lytle (12 receptions for 182 yards and two touchdowns).
Reynolds’ top rushing options are Rico Dowdle (299 yards, four touchdowns) and A.J. Logan (203 yards, two touchdowns), while the defense is fronted by Andrew Swicegood (55 tackles), Long (36), Towery (34) and Jake Cardillo (34).
For the second consecutive week, one of the top teams in the MAC 3-A division is coming off a bye week for Rockets coach Shane Laws’ team.
“With everything that has been going on, it’s really been a rough go for this team, but they’ve handled it all about as well as they could,” Laws said.
“We don’t have much choice. We’ve got another good opponent coming in here (tonight). What I’ve told the kids is that it’s Asheville. And they’re another good Asheville team that I know is going to play well and be prepared. I’ve been here 15-16 years, and I’ve yet to see an Asheville team that isn’t ready when they play Reynolds.”
Asheville leads the series with Reynolds, 16-14.