By Carey Phillips
Smoky Mountain will return home Friday to face one of Western North Carolina’s highest scoring teams when North Henderson visits Carr Hooper Stadium/Babe Howell Field for a 7:30 p.m. Mountain Seven Conference game.
The Knights (3-1, 1-0) are averaging 44.8 points per game.
“They’ve got some tremendous weapons,” Coach Ricky Brindley said. “The tailback is a really good player.”
That is Hahazh Collington, who played against SM for Hendersonville two years ago as a sophomore.
Quarterback Jaxson Willis directs the spread offense for Coach Jim Beatty’s team
“He throws it pretty well,” Brindley said. “He’s an experienced kid. When he gets it to his weapons, they make plays.”
Brindley said wide receiver Jaylen Croft has also had some explosive plays for North.
“We feel like we’ve got to be able to have some sustained drives and keep their offense off the field,” the coach said. “We have to finish drives in the red zone and get points.”
The Knights have used 3-4 and 4-3 looks on defense and are allowing 37 points per game.
“I expect our defense to play very well and get stops,” Brindley said. “We’ve got to be able to tackle well in the open field. We’ve got to have great pursuit. We can’t have just one guy getting to the ball. We’ve got to get several guys to the ball due to their athleticism and their ability to make people miss.”
North has scored at least 35 points in every game with the low number being a 79-35 loss to Hendersonville. Wins have been over Rosman (56-21), Owen (48-34) and West Henderson (40-14) in the conference opener.
“They have had multiple plays this year of 50 or more yards,” Brindley said. “One mistake from an eye discipline standpoint or a missed tackle can turn into seven points really quick.”
SM holds a 7-5 edge in the series and won the last meeting (34-26) in 2016.
The Mustangs opened MSC play Friday with a 28-16 loss to Pisgah. Trailing 21-16, they needed one stop to have a chance to win, but the Bears drove for the clinching touchdown.
“We needed to be able to get the ball back with seven minutes to go in the game and we just couldn’t do it,” Brindley said. “They put together a really good drive, and we didn’t have an answer for it.”
SM gave up a touchdown on the Bears’ first possession but ended the first half tied 7-7.
“We played really well in the first half after their first drive,” he said. “A lot of times you are dealing with not having seen that type of physicality or execution when it comes to running their offense.”
He said the Mustangs responded well with a drive of their own in the next possession.
“In the second half we made some mistakes that we just couldn’t overcome there at the end,” Brindley said.
He singled out Brylen Conlin, who caught four passes for 87 yards.
“Brylen played really well,” Brindley said. “He caught the ball well, and he made plays after the catch. He ran really good routes. Brylen has been an overlooked part of our offense. He is a weapon. He’s got four plays this year of 20 yards or more. He is second on our team in ‘explosive plays.’”
He also cited Jed West, who completed 14 of 25 passes.
“This was his 11th football game ever, and he threw for 200 yards against a really good defense,” Brindley said.
He added that the offensive line played well as linemen allowed no sacks and the team had 300 yards of total offense.
Defensively, the coach singled out Antonio Lorenzo.
“Antonio played well,” Brindley said. “He was put in a difficult position based on what they did, and I thought he handled it very well.”