By Carey Phillips
One week after squandering a 21-0 lead in a 26-21 home loss to Robbinsville, Smoky Mountain’s football team will take to the field again Friday with a 7:30 p.m. game at Swain.
“I’m going to be sick to my stomach until we get to play again,” Coach Ricky Brindley said. “I hope the kids feel the same way. The only thing that will make this feeling go away is to line up and beat somebody.”
If the Mustangs are going to claim their first win of the season in Bryson City, they will need to contain quarterback Damian Lossiah and tailback Bryce Sain, who rushed for 1,254 yards last year.
“Swain presents problems because they’ve got a couple of kids who are very explosive in the quarterback and the Sain kid,” Brindley said. “They can do really good things in space. What they do is assignment-necessary football. If you make one mistake, they can crease you and go to the house.”
Coach Neil Blankenship’s team, which was 7-6 last season, uses the veer on offense and multiple looks on defense, including 30 and 40 fronts.
“They are pretty good up front, particularly on the offensive line,” Brindley said.
Nick Millsaps is one of the anchors on both sides of Swain’s line.
“It comes down to us,” Brindley said. “We’ve got to be able to limit self-inflicted problems and make sure we are consistent on what we are attempting to do on both sides of the football.”
Sain gained 115 yards in the Maroon Devils’ 21-6 victory Friday over Life Christian Academy in College Park, Georgia.
Swain has a 16-14-1 edge in the series, but SM rolled to a 56-6 victory last year.
The Mustangs dominated the early part of Friday’s game and jumped to a 21-0 lead over Robbinsville after the first quarter. The Black Knights rallied to take the lead and stopped a last minute threat after SM had a first-and-goal at the 6.
“That was a difficult one to swallow,” Brindley said. “You felt like you had a chance at the very end to win the game, and we didn’t capitalize. They had not stopped us the entire drive, and we stopped ourselves.”
The Mustangs were unable to overcome a fumbled snap that resulted in a second-and-goal from the 16.
As for what allowed Robbinsville to get back in contention, Brindley said, “We went through a scenario where we got to a point where we became complacent in terms of tackling and signal recognition. We blew multiple signals coming in from the sidelines. When it comes to motioning people and alignments, that complacency gave them the opportunity to get back in the game.”
Another factor was penalties as SM was flagged nine times for 105 yards. Eight of the penalties were for either 10 or 15 yards.
“When you’ve got the ball inside the red zone two or three times and it becomes second-and-35 because of penalties, it’s hard to overcome that,” the coach said.
“Robbinsville did not make any adjustments,” Brindley added. “That was evident in that they couldn’t stop us. We stopped ourselves.”
He pointed to a pair of plays that Robbinsville quarterback Nathan Collins made. The first came late in the first half when he was also sacked but completed a pass on fourth down to set up a touchdown.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to that kid,” Brindley said. “It’s fourth down, and we’ve got him in a tough situation. We had him potentially sacked, and he made an incredible football play.”
Collins had a 37-yard run for the game-winning touchdown.
“You look at the play he made with the go-ahead touchdown,” Brindley said. “We had covered what they were trying to do, and he bent the thing back to the outside and made a play.”
In addition to the penalties, the Mustangs managed just 14 yards passing and had two punts for an average of 7.5 yards.
“We couldn’t move it all night through the air,” Brindley said. “We hurt ourselves with the penalties, and we could not flip the field on a couple of punts. We need to get better in those areas.”
He said losing lineman Mason Fisher, who was ejected in the first half “really hurt.” It was an ejection rather than a disqualification, so Fisher will be eligible to play Friday.
“His backup (Lawson Wike) came in and played phenomenally based on the circumstances,” Brindley said. “In that last drive we continued to run right, and they couldn’t stop us.”
Will Frady carried a school-record 40 times and totaled 276 yards on the ground.
“Will was phenomenal in that he was able to continue to put a beating on their defense for four quarters,” Brindley said. “Anytime you carry the ball that many times, you’ve shown a great deal of stamina and mental toughness.”
The coach also singled out Dustin Stephens.
“Dustin had some really good plays whether it was kick returns or carries,” Brindley said. “He had some really good carries that were called back due to penalties, which negated quite a bit of yardage from him.”