Beyond the Scoreboard: Smoky Mountain Conference, the league of football state champions

Smoky Mountain Conference, the league of football state champions
Photo credit: Eierschneider / CC BY 2.0

A total of 19 WNC football teams have the same dream as 224 schools from across the state as the playoffs begin Friday night – to bring home a state title.

It is a rare feat - unless you play in the Smoky Mountain Conference.

The 1A or 1AA champion in football has come from the SMC an amazing 25 times since 1972, when the NC High School Athletic Association started recognizing one state champion after allowing the Eastern and Western Regional champions to meet for a unified title.

In fact, the 1A schools started playing east vs. west in 1969, giving Robbinsville two of its state record 13 titles since the Black Knights also won it all in 1969 and ’70.

Robbinsville (13), plus Murphy and Swain (8 each) have combined for 29 state titles in their history of playing in the SMC, with Murphy’s ’74 crown and Swain’s 79 championship coming as 2A schools.

Four other 2-A state titles were earned by Smoky Mountain programs, Franklin (’76) and three from Sylva-Webster under legendary coach Charles “Babe” Howell (1972, ’73 and ’80).

Those 25 1A titles since 1972 provides the majority of the crowns won by WNC schools, since there are only 14 other state championships in 4A, 3A and 2A classes from this area in the last 45 years.

Those crowns, in addition to the six 2A titles listed above, are owned by 4A Reynolds (1999, 2002 and 2009), 3A Pisgah (‘75 and ’76), 3-A Tuscola (’72), 3A Brevard (’82) and 3A Asheville High (2005).

Murphy, the defending state 1A champion, has continued the SMC’s success in the state title area. The Bulldogs have won three crowns (also in ’11 and ’13) in the last six years, while fellow league members Robbinsville (2014) and Swain (2011, 1AA) have also brought home championship trophies, giving the conference five titles in the last six years.

That gives the SMC a rather incredible 31 state football titles since 1972.

The next best WNC conference for state champions is the Mountain Athletic Conference with four (Brevard in ’82, Reynolds in ’99 and 2009 and Asheville High in 2005). Reynolds’ ’02 4-A championship came as a member of the Northwestern Conference.

The other three WNC state champions came out of the Parkway Conference (Pisgah in ’75 and ’76 and Tuscola in ’72). That Tuscola title is listed as a co-championship because the Mountaineers and Samford played to a 14-14 tie, and for some inexplicable reason there was no overtime to decide the crown.

The SMC has had some amazing runs over the decades.

In a 21-year span (1972-1992), 23 state titleists came out of the league, 17 1A teams and six 2A schools. The league boasted at least one state champion in 18 of those 21 years, and five times in eight years (’73-80) SMC teams brought home two crowns.

The conference won six 2A titles in nine years (‘72-’80), and its 1-A domination was even more complete.

A 20-year run (’73-92) included 17 championships, with streaks of five straight years (’79 through ’83, all by Robbinsville) and eight seasons in a row (Swain in ’85 and ’88-90, Murphy in ’85, ’86 and ’91 and Robbinsville in ’92).

Six SMC schools are in the playoffs this year – 1A Cherokee (10-1), Robbinsville (7-4), Hayesville (3-8) and Rosman (2-9), plus 1AA Murphy (9-2) and Swain (7-4).

And look for some of those teams to make deep runs. Over the past 10 years, Murphy (30-7), Swain (22-9) and Robbinsville (18-9) are 1-2-3 in WNC in playoff victories.

WNC state football titles since 1972

  1. Robbinsville – 11
  2. (tie) Murphy – 8
  3. (tie) Swain – 8
  4. (tie) Reynolds – 3
  5. (tie) Sylva-Webster – 3
  6. Pisgah – 2
  7. (tie) Asheville High – 1
  8. (tie) Brevard – 1
  9. (tie) Franklin – 1
  10. (tie) Tuscola – 1

WNC state titles by conference since 1972

  1. Smoky Mountain – 31
  2. Mountain Athletic – 4
  3. Parkway – 3
  4. Northwestern - 1