Just 32 teams from across the state are left in postseason play after the quarterfinal round of the high school football playoffs Friday night, and five of them are from WNC.
Those five will play for Western Regional championships in 7:30 p.m. kickoffs on Dec. 1, with those winners advancing to the eight state championship games on Dec. 9.
In the 3AA division, No. 2 Reynolds (13-1) will host No. 12 Sun Valley (11-3). The Rockets advanced with a 17-7 win over No. 3 South Iredell.
2A No. 2 seed Mountain Heritage (13-0) travels to No. 1 Reidsville (14-0). The Cougars won their quarterfinal game 30-20 vs. No. 3 Hendersonville.
The 1A match-up ensures a local team will play for a state title when No. 2 Cherokee (12-1) plays at No. 1 Mitchell (12-1). Cherokee routed No. 3 Thomas Jefferson 47-20 while the Mountaineers got past No. 5 Robbinsville 45-25.
Defending state champion and No. 6 seed Murphy (12-2) will travel to 1AA top seed Mount Airy (13-0) after knocking off No. 7 East Surry 49-27.
Some of the top performances from Friday night’s play include:
Tye Mintz, Cherokee
The Braves’ senior quarterback ran wild in their victory, rushing 14 times for 363 yards and five touchdowns.
He had scoring runs of 85, 84, 56, 54 and 8 yards and also threw a 46-yard touchdown to younger brother Cade Mintz. Tye Mintz finished with 433 yards of offense.
His rushing total is neither a WNC nor a Smoky Mountain Conference record. Murphy’s Willie Brown ran for 457 yards in a 1974 game vs. Swain.
Trey Robinson, Mountain Heritage
Another game, another milestone for WNC’s all-time leading rusher. The Cougars’ senior quarterback ran 38 times for 268 yards to go over 3,000 yards for the season and scored two touchdowns to lead the way past Hendersonville.
He also passed for two scores, throwing a 24-yard TD to Michael McCoy and 9 yards to Jacob Morse.
Robinson now has rushed for 3,004 yards this season (51 yards shy of Casey Randolph’s school record 3,055 rushing yards set in 2009). Robinson’s career rushing yards increased to 8,410.
Slade McTaggart, Murphy
The Bulldogs’ running back gained 180 yards on 15 carries and scored on runs of 56 and 25 yards. Teammate Chase Roberts added 91 yards and three scores.
Rylee Anderson, Robbinsville
The Black Knights’ runner capped an impressive sophomore season in the loss at Mitchell.
Anderson went over the 2,000-yard rushing mark with a 31-carry, 191-yard effort that included scoring runs of 17 and 2 yards. He finished the season with 2,012 yards on the ground and 18 scores.
The Rockets’ offense has gotten a lot of attention this season with some explosive play, but now the defense has stepped up again to win a playoff game.
While the offense has scored just 21 and 17 points the last two games as the competition stiffened, the defense led by linebacker Frank Torres has limited three straight opponents to just seven points each.
Ditto for the Cougars, who have piled up some amazing offensive numbers while winning 13 games in a row. But defense won Friday night’s rematch with Hendersonville. Coach Joey Robinson slowed down Hendersonville’s dangerous passing game with a three-man front and dropping eight in pass coverage, most often using a 3-4-4 alignment that the Bearcats struggled to score against.
The Bulldogs pounded out 437 yards rushing to win their 28th consecutive playoff game at home. Murphy is 11-1 all-time in Western Regional finals, including 5-0 in the previous seven years.
The Mountaineers haven’t been pushed often this season, but they responded to an 18-18 game at halftime by scoring 27 second-half points vs. Robbinsville.
Playing in the Western Regional final for a third straight season, Mitchell is 1-1 in those games, losing to Murphy last year after winning in 2015.
After winning their fourth postseason game over the past two years, the Braves will have some motivation in their Western Regional matchup at Mitchell. The Mountaineers knocked Cherokee out of the playoffs by a 45-14 count last year in third-round play.