By Carey Phillips

 

After an unscheduled week off, Smoky Mountain’s football team will return to action Friday for the Mountain Seven Conference opener against Pisgah.

The game will be played at Erwin due to significant damage to Pisgah Memorial Stadium caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred. Kickoff time is 7:30 p.m.

The Mustangs (2-1) were slated to play last Friday at Robbinsville, but that game was canceled because of COVID-19 issues in the Black Knights’ program.

“You always want to start off the conference on the right foot,” SM Coach Ricky Brindley said. “Our goal is always to compete for conference championships. This is a great way to start.”

He knows Pisgah’s ground-oriented offensive attack will be a challenge.

“They have several great ball carriers from the quarterback (Logan Free) to the tailback (Dez Rodriguez) to the wing (Ian Rogers),” Brindley said. “All three of them are very physical downhill runners. They can be difficult to tackle.”

Coach Brett Chappell’s team uses what Brindley termed a shotgun wing T offense along with a 4-3 defense.

Middle linebacker Bailey Stockton is the returning conference defensive player of the year.

“He is a great football player,” Brindley said.

“They are deep up front,” he added. “They are able to platoon on the lines, which helps them in the second half of games.”

Pisgah is 3-0 after Friday’s 38-14 win over Pickens, South Carolina. Free, Rodriguez and Rogers all had more than 100 yards rushing in that game.

The Bears also have wins over Enka (28-0) and Mountain Heritage (19-2).

“The key for us is going to be matching their physicality,” Brindley said. “We’ve got to be able to play as passionately and violently as they do. We need to be able to get our defense off the field, and we need to be able to throw the football.”

With the open date, the team practiced Tuesday through Thursday last week and began preparing for Pisgah.

“Everything was fantastic,” Brindley said. “I felt we got a great jump on our preparation for them, particularly on the defensive side. We also were able to let our bodies heal a little bit, just from the bumps and bruises and the normal wear and tear of football.”

The Bears have dominated the series 28-5, but the last two meetings have been decided in overtime. The Mustangs won 19-13 in 2019, and Pisgah took a 20-14 win in the 2021 spring season.