Beyond the Scoreboard: Intriguing matchups ahead for Week 3 of WNC football playoffs

Cherokee vs. Swain, 09-29-17
Beyond the Scoreboard: Intriguing matchups ahead for Week 3 of WNC football playoffs

The result of nine Western North Carolina teams winning second-round playoff games last Friday night is the creation of some intriguing matchups for quarterfinal play in the Western Regionals this week.

The six games featuring local teams are highlighted by three WNC vs. WNC battles, five teams playing at home, a rematch between two former conference rivals and the potential for a repeat of last year’s postseason matchup.

A closer look at each game, all of which start at 7:30 p.m.

3AA – No. 3 South Iredell (11-2) at No. 2 Reynolds (12-1) – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – a 3-A power that has been blowing through opponents all season, a perennial playoff team featuring a big-armed quarterback with eye-popping statistics.

These two teams are very similar, especially at quarterback, where two stars have combined to throw for 81 touchdowns.

Reynolds has junior Alex Flinn (3,209 yards, 40 TDs). South Iredell counters with senior Brady Pope (3,743 yards, 41 TDs), who has thrown for over 10,000 yards in his career.

The Vikings are 83-23 over the past eight years and won a state 2AA title in 2012 under coach Scott Miller.

The Rockets are 110-35 over 11 years under Shane Laws, with a 2009 4A state championship.

South Iredell has outscored opponents 540-246, Reynolds has a 565-148 edge.

Winner plays: No. 1 Mount Tabor (11-2) or No. 12 Sun Valley (10-3)

Pick: Reynolds by 1.

2A - No. 3 Hendersonville (10-3) at No. 2 Mountain Heritage (12-0) – The Bearcats are Heritage’s Kryptonite.

Since early in the 2015 season, the Cougars have won 29 of 31 regular-season games. Both losses are to Hendersonville, 42-22 last season and 48-44 in 2015.

In a stretch that also began early in the schedule three years ago, Mountain Heritage has won 19 of its last 20 games at home. That lone defeat was last year to the Bearcats.

The schools shared the Western Highlands 2-A Conference regular-season title with Mitchell in 2015 and ’16.

In a defensive battle earlier this season, Heritage won 28-22 when quarterback Trey Robinson scored on a 3-yard run with 18 seconds left to play at Hendersonville.

Hendersonville is on a six-game winning streak and touts a 3,000-yard passer (Alex Williford for the second straight season) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Tykel Landrum for a third straight season and Kalin Ensley).

The Cougars’ game plan will be to keep the ball away from those threats with a time-consuming ground game that has pounded out 4,848 yards this season, led by Robinson (2,736 yards, 37 TDs).

Winner Plays: No. 1 Reidsville (13-0) or No. 4 South Columbus (12-1)

Pick: Mountain Heritage by 2.

2AA – No. 3 Franklin (13-0) at No. 2 Hibriten (13-0) – Interesting pattern for the Panthers in recent years – when they bow out of the playoffs, it is with a thud.

Since 2009, Franklin is an impressive 85-32 under coach Josh Brooks, but the average margin of defeat in their playoff losses has been 28 points.

That thread could continue this week against a powerhouse that is 27-1 over the past two seasons. Hibriten has dominated opponents all year, outscoring teams 581-53. The defense has posted seven shutouts and allowed just two offenses to score in double figures.

Franklin has also overwhelmed some teams (scoring margin of 465-150) thanks to a stout defense and 1,000-yard rushers Brock Kloeppel and Grant Stiles.

Franklin has gotten past the quarterfinal round just once in the last 17 playoff seasons, and once again this appears to be the end of the line.

Winner Plays: No. 4 Mount Pleasant (11-2) or No. 8 Shelby (11-2)

Pick: Hibriten by 11.

1A – No. 5 Robbinsville (9-4) at No. 1 Mitchell (11-1) – The playoff-tested Mountaineers have been rolling all season, scoring 40 or more points eight times while outscoring opponents by nearly 400 points (534-154).

A strong ground game has been very efficient, averaging 275 yards a game and spreading the wealth – four runners have gained between 457 and 730 yards, and only one has carried the ball as much as 100 times.

The glue is senior quarterback Ben Young, who is 46-10 as a starter (10-3 in the playoffs).

The Black Knights bring a ton of tradition to the postseason – a NC record 13 state 1A titles, the latest in 2014.

Robbinsville has been good enough to rout most of the below .500 teams on the schedule, but lost four games to quality playoff opponents – Christ School, Murphy, Cherokee and Swain County.

Sophomore Rylee Anderson (1,821 yards, 16 TDs) leads a solid running game.

Winner Plays: No. 2 Cherokee (11-1) or No. 3 Thomas Jefferson (11-1)

Pick: Mitchell by 12.

1A – No. 3 Thomas Jefferson (11-1) at No. 2 Cherokee (11-1) – The Braves are playing inspired football for coach Kent Briggs, who is battling cancer for a second time and has been coaching through treatments this season.

Briggs has done a great job of turning around the program. After six straight losing seasons, Cherokee is 20-5 the past two years.

The offense features 1,000-yard rushers Isiah Evans (1,103 yards, 19 TDs) and Tye MIntz (1,084 yards, 22 TDs). Mintz, who has more than 9,000 career total yards, is also an effective passer (1,767 yards, 15 scores).

If Cherokee and Mitchell win, they would play each other in the playoffs for a second straight year. The Mountaineers won 45-14 in third-round play in 2016 after beating the Braves 21-0 in the regular season.

A charter school in Rutherford Academy, Thomas Jefferson has also made an impressive turnaround under coach Jerry Cash. After going 1-32 from 2009-2011, the Gryphons are 41-11 the past four seasons.

Outscoring opponents 493-216, the offense averages 275 yards a game on the ground and has scored 40 or more points seven times.

Winner Plays: No. 1 Mitchell (11-1) or No. 5 Robbinsville (9-4).

Pick: Cherokee by 4.

1AA – No. 7 East Surry (9-4) at No. 6 Murphy (11-2) – The Bulldogs haven’t lost a playoff game at home since 2008, and since then they are 27-0 when hosting postseason opponents.

During that span, coach David Gentry has won three state crowns and taken two other teams to the championship game, part of a Hall of Fame resume of 393 career wins and seven state titles.

Murphy is balanced offensively and showed some grit last week, scoring 14 late points to rally from a fourth-quarter deficit to beat a No. 3 seed on the road.

East Surry is a solid, playoff-tested program that has averaged more than 10 wins a year over the past five seasons.

Coming in with a six-game winning streak, the Cardinals have been rolling offensively, averaging 45 points a game.

Winner Plays: No. 1 Mount Airy (12-0) or No. 4 Bessemer City (11-1)

Pick: Murphy by 7.