The Bears have lost their first conference game since 2017.
Both Pisgah and Smoky Mountain entered the night riding four-game winning streaks, leaving many to think it would be a close contest. Fans were not disappointed, as the game ended up going to overtime, where The Mustangs were able score a touchdown to win, 19-13.
Head coach Brett Chappell said the game played out about how he thought it would in many ways, mainly because it came down to which team could take advantage of one more opportunity than the other.
“When you get in close ballgames like that, one team’s going to make more critical play than the other, and I think that’s what you saw,” he said. “We had situations where we had some momentum.”
The Bears, wearing all-black uniforms, tried to make a statement as they slow-walked out of the locker room, but it was the Mustangs who made the game’s first real statement by starting off with a pooch kick, which they recovered on their own 47-yard line.
However, courtesy of a Smoky Mountain holding penalty and a couple incomplete passes in a row, Pisgah got the ball back and took it all the way to the red zone. Then, from the 1-yard line, quarterback Korey Griffith, who also had two nice completions on the drive, punched it in for the game’s first points. Following a failed two-point conversion, Pisgah took a 6-0 lead.
From there, Smoky Mountain showed off its running game to dominate the time of possession battle thanks to strong play from the running backs, speedster Dustin Stephens and power back Will Frady.
With the game at 6-3, Smoky Mountain got the ball with 6:55 left in the half and used the rest of the clock to drive all the way to the Pisgah 3. However, the Mill Town defense, bolstered by a raucous home crowd, did what it does best and held the line, even pushing Frady back a couple times to stop the Mustangs short of the end zone. While Smoky Mountain hit the chip-shot field goal to tie the game going into the break, courtesy of the goal-line stand, Pisgah had the momentum going into halftime.
Neither team was able to gain an advantage throughout the second half until three minutes into the fourth quarter. Pisgah move the ball up to midfield, where on third and 1 Griffith stumbled forward on a keeper, emerged from the scrum, found some room and beat the Smoky Mountain safeties in a footrace to the end zone. Following the extra point, Pisgah took a 13-6 lead.
On his nine carries, Griffith racked up 78 yards total, more than all other Bears rushers combined.
On the next drive, Smoky Mountain answered back. After moving the ball 80 yards, on third and goal with just one yard to go, quarterback Caleb Lominac, who stands about 6-foot-7, kept the ball, and on a second effort, broke the plane to score. After nailing the extra point, the game was knotted up at 13 with 1:50 left.
To make matters worse for the Bears, on the first play of the next drive, Griffith tossed the ball deep down the middle, and it was picked off by a Smoky Mountain safety, giving The Mustangs the ball at their own 15 with a minute left and two time outs. However, Smoky Mountain was content to run the clock down and send the game to overtime.
Pisgah started overtime with the ball. Over three downs, The Bears lost two yards, leaving kicker Wilson Moody with a 30-yard field goal, which went short and wide right. Smoky Mountain was able to capitalize on the very next play as Will Frady powered the ball 10 yards into the end zone for the win.
“They just had a really good push,” Chappell said. “I’m not so sure we got lined up right, but regardless of that fact, it was a really good finish by [Frady]. He’s a really good running back.”
Frady finished the game with 34 rushes for 139 yards and Stephens carried the ball 23 times for 136 yards, and Smoky Mountain had the ball for over twice as long as Pisgah.
“Time of possession was huge for them,” Chappell said. “They kept the ball away from us. We felt like if we could make them throw, that was against what they wanted to do. I think you saw that some … but again, they made one more play than we made.”
But Chappell didn’t seem like he wanted to dwell on the loss too long.
“We’re in a hole now,” he said. “We’re 0-1, and we need to see if we can go run the table.”
The Bears are back in action next week at East Henderson.