Asheville High versus Reynolds brings up a lot of images and memories – dramatic clashes, down-to-the-wire finishes, numerous battles for conference championships.
But mostly it has been about excellence in high school football, Buncombe County’s two best programs for a long time.
Since 1960, the Rockets (27) and Cougars (21) have won a combined 48 conference or division titles.
Over the past 20 years, one or both have won league titles in 19 of those seasons (Roberson’s 2004 Mountain Athletic Conference title the only exception).
Since 1955, both programs have more than 460 wins (Asheville 466, Reynolds, 462).
Reynolds has been the more dominant program of late, winners of 38 straight games against WNC opponents and 30 in a row against conference foes, a streak that dates back four years.
The Rockets (6-1, 4-0), who play at Cougars Stadium (5-3, 4-1) on Friday night to decide first place in the Western Mountain Athletic Conference, need one win to clinch a 14th straight wining season.
Asheville has been even more consistent – it is one victory away from increasing its streak of non-losing seasons to 30 consecutive years, a 4-6 mark in 1987 the program’s last season under .500.
So, it is against that backdrop of sustained success that these two superior programs once again do battle for a very familiar perch - the top of the league standings.
After a surprising season-opening loss at Southern Durham, the Rockets have won six straight and have returned to the form that has them on one of the most dominating runs in the history of this area.
The offense is clicking along with quarterback Alex Flinn, an East Carolina commitment who has thrown for 5,708 yards and 61 touchdowns over 23 games the past two seasons.
The Rockets will be without leading rusher I’dre Bell (457 yards, 7 TDs), who is out for the next few weeks with a knee injury but is expected back for the playoffs.
Markeese Jackson (172 yards, 10 yards per carry) will get the start at tailback, and coach Shane Laws has plenty of depth at the position if needed.
Jhan Patterson (37 catches, 740 yards, five scores) is the Rockets’ top receiver.
Defensively, Eli Hembree is seven stops away from his second straight season of more than 100 tackles.
The Cougars are an explosive passing team, with the combination of Three Hillier and Famous Pasley. Hillier, a 5-7 gunslinger, has already passed the 2,000-yard passing mark for a second straight season, and, over his last 20 games, he has thrown for 4,715 yards and 41 scores.
Pasley has 40 receptions this season and ranks second in WNC in receiving yards (773) and receiving TDs (14).
While Asheville has done a lot of damage through the air, Laws sees an improved running game behind Tristen McAfee (565 yards, 8 TDs) and emerging star Vyshonne Franklin as a key to the Cougars’ bouncing back from a 1-2 start.
“They run the spread offense where they can still get the ball to their athletes, but they look like they have gone back more to their power running game and using their big backs,” said Laws.
“They will challenge us, but we’ve been real pleased with the way our defense has played. We’re going to have to play well Friday night, because it’s a look we’re not used to.
“They can throw the ball, but they can also do some things in the box. We’ll be aggressive because that’s our M.O., but we also have to be intelligent and locked in on each play.”
Asheville High, which has a career winning record against every Buncombe County program, leads the all-time series against Reynolds 20-17. The Rockets have won each of the last three meetings by a combined score of 123-37.
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