Brett Chappell cut his football teeth in a mill town.
Pisgah’s second-year coach rushed for 5,296 yards between 1990 and 1993 at Rosman. At the time, it was a Western North Carolina record.
But three major manufacturers – Agfa, Coats American and RFS Ecusta – shut down their plants about a decade later. And Transylvania County football has never been the same.
“I had family members who worked in those factories,” Chappell said.
“It was really was such a big way of life for a lot of people here in Western North Carolina.”
If the billowing smoke wasn’t an indication, a deeper trip into eastern Haywood County shows that Evergreen Packaging is still pumping life into all parts of the local economy. And since the paper company is within walking distance to Pisgah’s campus, players are wearing “Mill Town” on the bumper plate of their helmets. There are also railroad-track stickers affixed to the headgear.
Chappell said it’s a new touch he wanted to add to the Western North Carolina Athletic Conference portion of this season for the Black Bears (4-3, 2-1), who are at home Friday to face Tuscola (4-3, 3-0).
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. from Pisgah Memorial Stadium.
“What a great opportunity for our county,” Chappell said.
“This will be my first experience with having (a Pisgah-Tuscola game) at home and I’m looking forward to it, just like I know our kids are.”
Friday might as well be an annual holiday in Haywood.
Streets empty out in both communities, except the ones surrounding the football stadium, of course. Crowd sizes have ranged from 10,000 to 12,000 in the past. The winner of the 50-50 raffle drawing has taken home more than $5,000 in recent years, whereas the pot is usually a few hundred dollars at most WNC games.
The rivalry is so big that 2002 Black Bears graduate Aaron Griffin is producing a documentary “Rumble in the Mountains.” Griffin will be filming footage from this year’s game and hopes to have DVDs available for purchase before the start of the 2015 season.
Beyond all the hype, Pisgah and Lucas Hall (622 yards and three touchdowns with six interceptions) need to alleviate some offensive woes. The Black Bears had 340 yards in last Friday’s 3-0 shutout at West Henderson, but were unable to score a touchdown for the second consecutive game.
Jesse Martinez (183 yards, one touchdown) had all but 72 of that yardage at West Henderson.
Other key rushers are Trevor Johnson (336 yards, four touchdowns), Daniel Van Vaerenbergh (329 yards, two touchdowns) and Michael Parrott (223 yards, one touchdown). Trey Morgan (15 receptions for 218 yards and one touchdown) and Isaiah Fisher (10 receptions for 106 yards) are the two most likely options at receiver. Colton Shuler (9.8 tackles per game), Garrett Jones (8.3) and Trevor Johnson (7.5) power a defense which blanked West Henderson and has held three other opponents (Enka, East Henderson and Hayesville) to single digits.
Gardner-Webb baseball recruit Mason Fox has made three field goals the past three weeks, including a 38-yard game-winner last Friday in Mills River.
“I’m very pleased with where we’re at defensively,” Chappell said.
“And the biggest thing with the offense is that we have to capitalize when we get inside the red zone. We moved it from one 20 (yard line) to the other 20 great last week. We’ve played two really good defenses back to back (Franklin and West Henderson) and we’re excited about getting back on the field. Everybody felt like Tuscola would get better once they got a little time under their belt, and you’re starting to see that now.”
Indeed, Jonathan Martinez (8.3 tackles per game), Zack Webster (6.7), Houston McCracken (5.7) and the rest of the Mountaineers defense forced five turnovers a week ago.
Four different Tuscola players scored touchdowns. Damon McDaniels (eight receptions for 328 yards and four touchdowns) had a 17-yard scoring run and also caught a 62-yard touchdown from Parker Allen (902 passing yards, 275 rushing yards and 16 combined touchdowns). Caleb Ferguson (574 yards, five touchdowns) and Webster began the onslaught with first-quarter touchdowns.
The Tuscola offense did not lose a fumble for the first time this season. Allen is one decent game way from 1,000 yards with three receivers who average 23 or more yards per catch – McDaniels (48.5), Nathan Messer (25.1) and McCracken (23.7).
First-year Mountaineers coach Tommy Pursley has won 230 career games at the high school level, which is the second-most among active WNC coaches.
Even though Pursley said, “we’re playing our best right now,” he has also been quick to chastise Tuscola players who have said they were holding out their best football for Friday.
“I’ve heard some of our kids say ‘wait till the Pisgah game and see how I’m going to bring it,” Pursley said.
“What? You should be playing hard every week. Why is this game any different? I understand the importance of this game to the two communities and to the rivalry. But the message I’m trying to get across to our kids is that you should be reaching deeper every week, not just this one. To me, this game is important because Pisgah is a good football team, and we’re both fighting for position in this conference and to get a good seed (in the NCHSAA playoffs).”
The Mountaineers lead this all-time series, 26-23-1.
For the sixth consecutive year, the Pisgah-Tuscola game is being showcased by The Great American Rivalry Series. That means that there will be scholarship opportunities for both schools and a trophy will go to the winner.
TUSCOLA AT PISGAH
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Pick: Pisgah by 3.
Following is a look at the last five football games between Pisgah and Tuscola. The Mountaineers lead the overall series, 26-23-1.
- 2013: Pisgah 27, Tuscola 7.
- 2012: Tuscola 24, Pisgah 21.
- 2011: Tuscola 28, Pisgah 27.
- 2010: Pisgah 17, Tuscola 14.
- 2009: Tuscola 41, Pisgah 10.
MORE ONLINE: Log onto CITIZEN-TIMES.com/hshuddle for a live blog from Friday’s Roberson at Erwin football game. Score updates from other Western North Carolina games will be available at CITIZEN-TIMES.com.