Two football teams looking for their first win of the season will collide Friday when Smoky Mountain travels to Cherokee for a 7:30 p.m. non-conference game.
The Mustangs fell to 0-2 with last Friday’s 24-21 loss at Swain. The Braves are 0-2 following a 47-12 loss at Choctaw Central in Mississippi.
SM Coach Ricky Brindley said the effectiveness of the Braves’ offense could depend in large part on the availability of quarterback Bobby Crowe. He was injured during a season-opening 43-6 loss to Polk County and did not play against Choctaw.
“He’s very talented,” Brindley said of Crowe. “He’s accurate and has got a great deal of arm strength.”
Brindley said Cherokee’s Sterling Santa Maria is a threat on offense at H-back and on defense at outside linebacker.
“He is a big physical kid,” the coach said. “We’ve got to do a good job with him.”
Cherokee is coached by Dave Napert, who was coach of the Mustangs from 2011-15.
The Braves use a 4-2 box defense and multiple offensive formations.
“We’ve got to be able to get off the field on third down,” Brindley said. “We’ve got to get stops and get our offense back on the field. We’ve got to be consistent on our execution. We’ve got to stop taking two steps forward and one step back. We need to be more balanced.”
That means getting more out of the passing game, which has produced 101 yards in two games. SM has had 89 rushing plays and attempted just 18 passes.
Quarterback Chris Wilburn came off the bench at Swain to complete four of eight passes for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Brindley said starting quarterback Caleb Lominac continues to be hampered by a shoulder injury sustained in a scrimmage against West Henderson.
“We’ve got to get Caleb healthy so he can be at his full capabilities,” the coach said.
Cherokee holds a 5-3 advantage in the series, but SM won 28-12 last season.
The Mustangs were held to 193 yards rushing at Swain one week after compiling 329 yards on the ground in a 26-21 loss to Robbinsville.
“They were very talented in the box,” Brindley said of Swain’s defense. “They were good up front and at linebacker, which made it difficult and very challenging.”
The Maroon Devils scored what proved to be the winning TD on a 76-yard pass from Damian Lossiah to Connor Hyatt with 3:34 left in the game. They also had a 49-yard pass completion and a 46-yard run in the first half, which led to a TD and field goal, respectively.
“They hit two huge pass plays and had a long run,” Brindley said. “That was simply us not taking care of assignments.”
Swain converted a pair of fake punts, one of which led to a TD, in the second half.
“The first fake punt led to a touchdown, and that was difficult,” Brindley said. “You’re hoping to get off the field, and they converted. We didn’t execute as well as we should have.”
Brindley said the defensive line played well and singled out linemen Colin Crowe and Lawson Wike for their performances.