By Carey Phillips
Smoky Mountain has a chance to win a share of its first conference football championship since 1992 Friday.
In order to do that, the Mustangs (7-3, 3-1) will need some help from one rival and do something against another rival that also hasn’t happened since 1992.
SM will observe Senior Night when Franklin visits Carr Hooper Stadium/Babe Howell Field for a 7:30 p.m. game.
If the Mustangs win and Pisgah defeats Brevard, those teams would finish in a three-way tie for the Mountain Six Conference title. A draw would be held to determine the seeding for the state 2-A and 2-AA playoffs, which will be announced Saturday.
The team drawing the three seed in the league would be treated as a wild card in playoff seeding because the MSC has only two automatic playoff qualifiers.
If Brevard downs Pisgah, SM would be a two seed regardless of the outcome of the Franklin game.
If Pisgah wins and the Mustangs lose, they would go into the playoffs as a wild card.
The Mustangs snapped an 11-game losing streak in the series last year with a 28-21 win. They have not defeated the Panthers in consecutive years since 1992 when Franklin Coach Josh Brooks was SM’s quarterback.
While the Panthers (1-9, 1-3) are having a rare down year, SM Coach Ricky Brind-ley knows they are still dangerous.
“They would like nothing more than to come over here on our Senior Night and beat us and finish their season on a strong note,” Brindley said. “They are a much better team than their record shows. Their non-conference schedule was brutal. They had some injuries that made things difficult on them.”
Franklin has made some personnel changes as the season has gone along, including playing some younger players. One of those is sophomore quarterback Chris McGuire.
“He does a really good job when he gets outside the pocket, and he makes some good throws,” Brindley said.
Evan Klatt is the primary ball carrier.
“He runs very hard,” Brindley said. “You’ve got to put your nose on him and wrap him up.”
The coach has also been impressed by Gavin Riddle and Noah Sitton. He said Riddle, a nose guard/offensive tackle “is very good up front.” He added that Sitton, an inside linebacker, “has a really good nose for the ball.”
“They have been very consistent with what they do offensively and defensively,” Brindley said. “They use a shade 50 defense, and they are going to look to line up and run the football.”
The teams have had five common opponents. They both lost to Swain (24-21 SM, 27-0 Franklin) and Brevard (24-6 SM, 24-7 Franklin). They both have wins over East Henderson (42-0 SM, 27-0 Franklin).
The Panthers lost to Pisgah 42-7 last week, and the Mustangs beat the Bears 19-13 in overtime. SM topped Hendersonville 31-6, and the Bearcats defeated the Panthers 57-12.
Other Franklin losses have been to Asheville (40-6), Murphy (15-7), Rabun Gap, Georgia (45-35), Mitchell (49-0) and Owen (44-7).
SM’s win last year snapped an 11-game losing streak in the series and left the Panthers with a 23-9 advantage.
The Mustangs defeated East Henderson 42-0 Friday, but Brindley saw some things he did not like.
“I was not very pleased with our energy or our execution,” he said. “We certainly discussed that at halftime. I felt like we went through the motions in a lot of places. Even though the scoreboard showed 42-0, it was not our best effort.”
He added, “I felt like we played a little harder and executed a little better in the second half, which showed a little maturity on our part.”
The coach was happy with the performance of Dustin Stephens. He had 180 rushing yards and 81 receiving yards and scored three touchdowns.
“Dustin was tremendous,” Brindley said. “He does a little bit of everything for us. He does everything we ask him to do, and he does it well.”
The Eagles were held to 49 yards of total offense, including minus 4 yards in the second half.
“It’s one of those things where the scoreboard and total yardage showed they did very little, but I still felt like we got into some bad habits,” Brindley said. “There were some details that we needed to be better at.”
The Eagles were hurt by injuries. With two quarterbacks out, they went with third string sophomore Tanner Allison.
They lost Caleb Green to a leg injury on their first possession after he carried three times for 20 yards.
“He was a really good player,” Brindley said. “That hurt them when he went out.”