As if Haywood County’s historic high school football rivalry needed any added drama, this year’s matchup features important conference and state playoff implications for the first time since 2016, the last time Pisgah and Tuscola were in the same conference.
And coming off a year that forced the Big Game to have limited fans, the community is excited to return to full capacity.
“It’s going to feel really good to have a full-scale Pisgah-Tuscola game again this year,” Haywood County Schools athletic director and associate superintendent Trevor Putnam said. “Our county has experienced so many struggles and tragedies recently. It will be nice to have an event that everyone can celebrate and feel some sense of normalcy.”
As Pisgah and Tuscola both head into the matchup 3-0 in the Mountain Seven conference with three games remaining, the game is for the Mountain Seven lead and potentially the conference title. The top two teams from the conference will advance to playoffs, but the champion has a better chance of getting a first-round home game.
“It’s nuts. It’s already the biggest game in North Carolina, and now we’re playing for a first place conference spot and a playoff berth, and we haven’t won in eight years — it’s crazy,” Tuscola senior lineman and captain Jacob Broom said. “I haven’t slept in a week just thinking about it.”
Mountaineers’ senior fullback and nose guard Jadon Mintz said the game couldn’t mean more to everyone on the roster.
“Just to have a shot at being conference champions and having a playoff spot at home, that’s just going to mean the world to everybody on the team, not just the seniors, but for the next few generations to come,” Mintz said.
After finishing the past two seasons under .500, the Mountaineers are playing some of their best football in recent memory.
“It is a big game, our town is fired up about the opportunity that we’ve put our team in,” Tuscola head coach Chris Brookshire said. “We gotta go out and make plays, coaches gotta be re-energized, players gotta have a great week of practice. We’re going to play our best football game this Friday.”
Tuscola enters the matchup riding a four-game win streak and is fresh off back-to-back shutouts against North Henderson and East Henderson, winning 37-0 and 47-0 respectively. Before the North Henderson game, the last time Tuscola recorded a shutout was in September of 2018 against Enka.
“I think what’s working for us is that we’re quick, we all rally to the football, we take ‘em down,” Tuscola senior linebacker Mason Baker said. “I think we gotta stay aware, stay alert, keep our head on a swivel. We gotta shut down their run game and I think we’ll be good.”
Broom, who was born and raised in Waynesville, fondly remembers the rivalry game from an early age.
“It’s crazy to think that when I was little, I was watching the guys and now I’m those guys,” Broom said. “It’s mind blowing.”
Pisgah, a team that’s played all its “home” games this year at Enka and Erwin high schools because of flood damage to Pisgah Memorial Stadium, will be getting on the bus again for the cross-county trip to historic C. E. Weatherby Stadium.
“I guess it would kind of give us an advantage because we’re used to being on the road,” Pisgah senior outside linebacker Jackson Holland said. “Even though we’re only going over to Tuscola, we’re used to going places and it probably won’t feel very weird or anything.”
The Bears head into the matchup with their only blemish of the season coming on the road at the hands of David Crockett in Jonesborough, Tennessee Sept. 24. Pisgah most recently picked up a 16-0 win at West Henderson, the Bears’ second shutout of the season.
“This game next Friday night will be key, but there’s two more weeks of games after that for both of us,” Pisgah head coach Brett Chappell said. “It’s a big game for us because of the rivalry and we’ll treat it like that and hopefully we’ll be able to go out and do what we need to do to get a win.”
Along with the Mountain Seven lead, the Bears also have an eight-game win-streak against the Mountaineers on the line and lead the all-time series 30-26-1, dating back to 1966 when the Haywood County high schools consolidated into Tuscola and Pisgah.
“I’m looking forward to it. Obviously, it’s always a lot of fun when you get to participate in a rivalry like that,” Holland said. “They have a really good team this year, but we do too and I think it’s going to be a real battle and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Even with the added conference implications, Bears’ senior linebacker Bailey Stockton isn’t sure if making the game more important to either side is possible.
“I don’t know if this game can get any bigger, it’d have to be for the state championship,” Stockton said. “We look at it as that, that huge. So as a senior leader, I’m just trying to get this team ready.”
Having been there before, Stockton said one of the things he’s been telling the younger guys is to enjoy the moment, but not let it get too big.
“It’s very tricky to try to find that balance, because on one hand you want to be crazy hyped and go in there and go hit somebody, but at the same time if you are, you’re not going to have your heads in the game, not going to do things right,” Stockton said.
For a Canton community that’s still dealing with the aftermath of devastating flooding, enjoying another strong season from the Pisgah Bears has been a bright spot.
“It just makes every win feel even better,” Holland said. “If we can be a relief to the community in any way, that just makes everything so much better.”
Although the County Clash is a tremendously heated rivalry, it seems to have more of a uniting effect on the community than anything else. Tons of folks from both sides of Haywood come together for the event to plan and make sure it goes off as successfully as possible.
“So many people have put in countless hours to make this event successful,” Putnam said. “There’s just so many people that contribute to making this a special night.”
Waynesville Police Lt. Tyler Trantham said a team of about 50 law enforcement officers, EMS responders and firefighters will be on hand to keep the event safe. Trantham also said they’ll have a mobile communication center set up on site to help keep everyone on the same page.
“It’s definitely our largest event as far as people go,” Trantham said. “We have Folkmoot parades, Christmas parades, the numerous festivals on Main Street which attract quite a number of people there in one centralized location, but as far as numbers go, it’s probably our largest event that we have to plan for.”
Concession stand frenzyTuscola’s director of concessions, Bill Covin, has had his hands full preparing for Haywood County’s Super Bowl and the massive amount of people his staff will be serving on Friday night.
“This game will draw in ten to twelve thousand people, normal games are maybe a couple thousand,” Covin said. “It’s not that much for all items, but for some items it could be as much as eight to ten times what you would normally sell. So it’s pretty crazy.”
Covin estimated his staff will have 1,000 slices of pizza, 1,800 to 2,000 hot dogs and 1,000 Chick-fil-A sandwiches for sale during the game to go along with the extra popcorn, candy and drinks.
“The logistics of it are kind of crazy,” Covin said.
Covin said he plans to have three extra concession stands set up along with the main one, including a popcorn tent and a pair of trailers. One trailer will be under the home stands with the other in the grassy area closer to the visitors section. The trailers won’t have hot food, but they’ll have drinks and candy for sale to help mitigate the line sizes.
Get your ticketsTickets for the game are on sale now for $7 during business hours at Bob’s Sports Store, Hometown Hardware’s locations in Waynesville and Canton and at Pisgah High School. Tuscola will sell tickets at their main office on Wednesday and Thursday for $10. Massive lines are expected, so make sure to grab a ticket beforehand to cut down on waiting times.