Erwin junior Austin Brown made the greatest comeback of his career look easy.
Western North Carolina's top passer rallied the Warriors for 27 unanswered points in the last 13 minutes of Friday's 41-34 win over visiting Asheville High in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-AA football playoffs.
Brown's 23-yard bullet to Tyler Sullins with 44.7 seconds to go was the final throw of a 358-yard, five-touchdown night for the quarterback.
With its top rusher (Kelman Simpson) sidelined by an ankle injury, Erwin (8-3) went to a completely empty backfield for the fourth quarter at Kerr Stadium.
Brown heaved three touchdown passes to his favorite receiver, fellow junior Jonathan Allen (7, 31 and 35 yards), who finished with 183 yards. Sullins caught two touchdowns (both 23 yards).
The Warriors advance to play Statesville (12-1) in next week's second round, and in effect, deny Asheville High (6-5) from advancing to that stage of the postseason for the first time since 2001.
"I can't be any more proud of these kids, and I know our community feels the same way," Erwin coach Mike Sexton said. "It was a great battle. And it's just a testament to them that they found a way to pull it out."
Brown went over the 2,000-yard mark for the second straight season in last week's 61-35 regular-season victory over Asheville.
Things were not nearly as easy in Friday's instant rematch.
The Cougars took a 21-6 lead to halftime and milked the clock one punishing run at a time out of a Power-I formation.
Senior David Howerton's first throw of the game was a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Battle at the 6:17 mark of the first quarter.
Travis Lytle capped a 88-yard drive in the second quarter with a 2-yard touchdown run, and Howerton called his own number for a 1-yard keeper with just 32.1 seconds left in the second quarter.
Lytle finished the game with 148 rushing yards. Mylik English-Williams scored on a 25-yard run in the third quarter.
Erwin's first touchdown was a 2-yard run by Simpson, who came into Friday with 1,267 yards for the season.
Asheville's defense also came ready to play. The group led by Bryson Bradley and Sam Withers forced Erwin to turn the ball over on downs at the Cougars' 12-yard line and 38-yard line. Josh Sansbury scored on a 1-yard interception return at the 1:20 mark of the third quarter.
"I felt like we fought hard and played well for the most part," Asheville coach Danny Wilkins said. "We just let it slip away."