It’s Week 8 of the WNC high school football season, but Week 1 of conference play for two six-team 2-A leagues, the Western Highlands and the Mountain Six.
And there are compelling matchups in the opening games for four teams that could very well determine who is atop the standings four weeks from now.
A look at some of the top games Friday night:
Mitchell (6-0) at Mountain Heritage (5-0), 7:30 pm
These two neighboring counties have shared the WHC regular-season title each of the past two seasons, and the winner of this game will be the heavy favorite to take home a trophy for a third straight year.
Both teams feature strong running games and solid defense, along with superb quarterback play.
Each squad has also rolled over their non-conference opponents by dominating margins.
Seniors Trey Robinson at Mountain Heritage and Ben Young of the Mountaineers have combined for more than 20,000 total yards as four-year starters and together have a 74-20 won-loss record.
The Cougars have won each of the last two meetings; Mitchell leads the all-time series 29-17.
The Cougars are ranked third in the WLOS WNC Football Top 10 Poll, Mitchell is fifth.
Franklin (6-0) at Hendersonville (4-2), 7:30 pm
The Panthers, No. 2 in the WNC Poll, are very good at league play; a 37-5 record and four conference titles since 2011.
With a point differential of 246-57, Franklin hasn’t been pushed much this season.
The Bearcats have several big-play threats, led by quarterback Alex Williford (1,323 yards, 14 TDs) plus receivers Tykel Landrum (580 yards, 5 TDs) and Kalin Ensley (462 yards, 8 TDs).
Franklin counters with an offense of several talented players in the backfield, including tailback Grant Stiles (640 yards rushing, 12 scores) and quarterback Andrew Moore (549 yards, 5 TDs).
Amazingly, in records that go back to the 1950s, these two programs haven’t played for at least 60 years, if ever.
This is the first of several key matchups this season in a deep Mountain Six Conference in which just one team was below .500 in non-conference play and the top four teams are a combined 19-5.
Tuscola (4-2, 2-1) at Asheville (4-3, 4-0), 7 pm
Interesting Western Mountain Athletic 3-A Conference match-up between two teams battling for a higher playoff berth and to prove they can beat a quality opponent.
Each team has four wins, but none against an opponent that is above .500.
The records of the four teams the Cougars have beaten are a combined 7-18, for Tuscola it is 9-16.
The Mountaineers do most of their offensive damage out of their ground-oriented triple option, with Bailee Ewart (482 yards, three TDs) among four runners with 250 or more yards rushing.
Asheville is dangerous through the air with quarterback Three Hillier (1,288 yards, 10 TDs) and on the ground Corey Clement (624 yards, 5 sc ores).
Erwin (2-4, 2-2) at Roberson (1-5, 1-2), 7 pm
WNC’s two most perplexing teams that have way too much offensive talent to be a combined 3-9 battle in an intriguing WMA battle.
Ensley Field may need new lights for the scoreboard after this one.
The Warriors have won two straight since Kendrick Weaver (721 yards passing, four scores) stepped up for injured quarterback Riley Towles, and he has a stable of quick-hit receivers led by Simeon Thompson and Bryan Anuel, who have combined for 39 catches, 629 yards and three TDs.
Roberson likes to play up top with quarterback Ty Gossett (1,187 yards, 7 TDs), and his most frequent target is Barshia Young (378 yards, 3 TDs).