By Carey Phillips
Smoky Mountain will travel to North Henderson on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. Mountain Seven Conference football game.
Coming off a shootout win over rival Pisgah and with undefeated West Henderson up the following week, the meeting has all the makings of a trap game.
“It’s absolutely a trap game if we’re not focused mentally,” Coach Ricky Brindley said. “It’s going to be a dead environment. There usually aren’t a lot of people there, and the bleachers are a long way from the field. We’ve got to be focused on how we approach the game leading up to it as well as when we get there.”
Coach Jim Beatty’s team uses a spread offense and a 4-3 defense.
Quarterback Jaxson Willis is a returning starter.
“He’s a big, tall, athletic kid,” Brindley said. “We’re definitely going to have to put some pressure on him.”
Mason Gasperson could be used as a wide receiver, or at tailback as he was last year.
“He’s a good player,” Brindley said. We’ve got to do a good job gang tackling him.”
After giving up 256 passing yards against Pisgah, The Mustangs (3-2, 1-0) will be facing another quarterback who can throw.
“They do a really good job in the passing game, particularly the quick game,” Brindley said. “They try to get it out in space and make defenders miss.”
As for a key to the game, Brindley came back to staying focused on the Knights.
“Our mental focus is key,” he said. “We have to be able to approach this game as if it is as important as Swain or Pisgah.”
The Knights (2-2, 0-1) have wins over Rosman (41-0) and Owen (44-34). They have lost to Hendersonville (49-6) and West Henderson (44-14).
The Mustangs hold an 8-5 advantage in the series, including a 49-26 win last year. In that game, Willis threw for 173 yards and Gasperson rushed for 72.
SM won 43-40 over Pisgah last Friday in a game that provided plenty of offensive fireworks but few defensive stops.
“I was really pleased with our ability to move the football,” Brindley said. “The two times we had to punt we stopped ourselves. It was a very exciting game to be a part of but it was also very frustrating at times.”
Much of that frustration had to do with the defense, especially the secondary.
“I was frustrated with the fact that we weren’t as cognizant of details in the back end as we should have been,” the coach said. “We didn’t execute details in coverage and didn’t flip our heads around and find the ball when it was in the air.”
He added, “You’ve got to give Pisgah credit. They made some really acrobatic great catches at times.”
He said the Bears, who came in averaging 11 points a game, hadn’t thrown that much this season.
On the offensive end, Jed West had 374 yards of total offense for the Mustangs. He threw for 191 and ran for 183.
“I thought Jed West was tremendous,” Brindley said. “He picked up where he finished the second half against Robbinsville making plays with his legs and his arm. He was the best player on the field Friday night.”
Isaiah McNeely also had a big game with 123 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
“Our offensive line played as well as they have played all year,” Brindley said. “We executed assignments, and we didn’t have mistakes that were crucial. We were really solid up front, and Isaiah ran it hard.”