Cherokee High and Mitchell share more than identical 10-1 records as the top two seeds in the 1A West bracket of the state football playoffs.
The Braves and Mountaineers are also the only two of 19 WNC teams involved in postseason play that received byes for first-round play that opens the playoffs on Friday.
Under a new format for the playoffs, the 4A and 1A divisions have a total of 48 teams each in the brackets, as opposed to 64 schools for the 2A and 3A classes.
That created the need to give byes to the top four seeds in 4A and 1A divisions to balance out the brackets.
The drop from 64 to 48 schools in the highest and lowest classes is to reflect the unbalanced divisions in the latest realignment. The 4A and 1A schools each represent 20 percent of the schools in the state, while the 3A and 2A divisions include 30 percent each.
While getting a bye disrupts the flow of the week-to-week pattern of the game, both local coaches who will be scouting instead of playing this week see the benefits of taking a week off and not risking a first-round upset.
“From the standpoint of getting some rest and taking time to look back on a long season and getting refreshed for the playoffs, I think it’s a good thing,” said coach Travise Pitman of Mitchell, the only WNC team to receive a No. 1 seed.
“It’s one less game you have to win in the playoffs, and it helps with scouting,” said Pitman, whose team will begin play on Nov. 17 against the winner of a pair of 5-6 teams, No. 8 South Stokes or No. 9 Community School of Davidson.
“I guess we’ll find out in two weeks how good the bye is,” Cherokee coach Kent Briggs said with a laugh.
“This time of the year you are always banged up after an entire season of playing, so the bye gives us a chance to recharge and get some guys healthier. The key is to take advantage of the bye, because a week off also knocks you out of your rhythm.”
After roaring through the regular season with 10 straight wins, the Braves lost an emotional 35-12 game at home to Murphy last week, so a week off comes at a good time.
“That was a tough, emotional loss for us, so this gives us a chance to regroup and get refocused for a brand new season,” said Briggs.
No. 2 seed Cherokee will play at home Nov. 17 vs. No. 7 Union Academy (7-4) or No. 10 Alleghany (4-7).
Having high seeds provides more than a bye. Mitchell could get three straight home games through the semifinal round while Cherokee would play two games at home before a possible trip to Mitchell for the Western Regional title.
Mitchell defeated Cherokee 45-14 at home in a third-round playoff game last season.
“After we lost at Murphy (38-13 in the Western Regional final last year), we talked about getting better so we could play at home in the playoffs.”
The Mountaineers have won their last six home games in the playoffs over three years, and overall have won 22 of their last 23 home games over four seasons.
“It’s a big advantage for us to play at home,” said Pitman. “That’s bigger for us than getting a bye.”