Tuscola picked up a massive road win Friday, topping Asheville 20-14 to move to 3-1 in conference play and 3-4 overall for the season.
A mammoth opening drive by Tuscola drained nearly nine minutes off the clock before the Asheville offense even took the field. The Mountaineers successfully converted on three fourth-down tries during the drive, and senior fullback Jonathan Smart punched it in from two yards out to add the exclamation point.
“That was a beautiful drive,” said Head Coach JT Postell after the win. “That was probably one of the best drives I have ever been a part of as a head coach or as an assistant coach.”
Asheville was unable to capitalize on its first offensive possession, and the Mountaineers followed up their opening ground trudge with an aerial encore on drive number two. Coleman Bryson, who was filling in at quarterback for injured starter Nick Rich, hit Gavin Tannerhill over the top of the Asheville defense for a 64-yard touchdown to put Tuscola up 14-0 before the end of the first quarter.
“We knew they were starting to creep up into the box more and more so we knew we were going to have to be able to take some shots down the field,” Postell said of deep ball from Bryson to Tannerhill. “Our guys did a great job executing that. Coleman made a great read and a great thrown, and Gavin ran a great route and ran well after the catch.”
The Cougars answered to begin the second quarter. Quarterback Three Hillier connected with Famous Pasley on consecutive completions of 35 and 31 yards, the latter for a touchdown, to cut the Tuscola lead in half.
The teams would then swap touchdowns, Tuscola scoring on a 1-yard dive by Garrett Fox and Tuscola on a 15-yard screen pass from Hillier to Vasili Paulk. A single missed extra-point attempt kept the Mountaineer’s halftime lead at 20-14.
An offensively uneventful third quarter kept the punters of both teams busy and the score stuck at 20-14. The fourth quarter proved to be another exercise in clock management for Tuscola. The Mountaineers received an Asheville punt with six minutes to go in the game and let Fox and the running attack bleed the clock down to 1:14. The Mountaineers turned it over on downs deep in Asheville territory, setting up a final attempt for the Cougars to drive the field for a tie or the win.
After watching Tuscola do it all night, Asheville High converted on a fourth down try of its own, as Hillier hit Pasley for a 20-yard reception with 41 seconds remaining. Hillier followed it up with another deep completion, this one for 37 yards to Cedric Gordon. With no timeouts remaining and time running out, the Cougars hurried to the line and snapped the ball. Hillier was surrounded by a gang of Tuscola defenders and threw a hurried pass that was intercepted with 15 seconds remaining.
Tuscola took a knee and the celebration was on. According to Postell, the win marked the first time a Tuscola team had won a game on Asheville’s field in over two decades. The win also snapped a two-game losing skid for the Mountaineers.
“I’m really proud of them and what they did tonight,” said Postell. “This win tonight puts us in a good spot in conference play. I know we are in at least second place, and we start talking about playoffs now and this puts us in a pretty good position.”
The Mountaineers will host North Buncombe on Friday, October 18 with a chance to bump their overall record to the .500 mark.