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Erwin, Asheville in instant MAC rematch

For second straight week, rivals Asheville and Erwin square off

10:57 PM, Nov. 01, 2012 EDT

Erwin quarterback Austin Brown throws a pass during practice o0n Thursday. Brown and his teammates will try and beat Asheville for the second straight week tonight. / John Coutlakis/jcoutlakis@citizen-times.com


Asheville High and Erwin are like two peas in a pod (system).

Neither football team was exactly pining for an instant rematch after the Warriors crushed the Cougars, 61-35, in the Mountain Athletic Conference 3-A finale for both last Friday.

And yet here they are a week later and at the same site (Erwin's Kerr Stadium) for tonight's fourth meeting in two years.

Kickoff is set for 7:30.

How come the NCHSAA couldn't assign No. 12 Asheville (6-4) or sixth-seeded Erwin (7-3) a different opponent for the first round of the NCHSAA 3-AA playoffs?

The pod system was instituted in 2010 by the state association as a response to statewide concerns over fuel costs and travel times for the football playoffs, which crowns more state champions (eight) than any other sport in North Carolina.

As a result, playoff teams are grouped by geography, which frequently leads to conference rematches. The Cougars beat the Warriors, 21-20 and 26-7, in 2011.

"It's awful," Asheville coach Danny Wilkins said.

"Neither one of us wants to do it. We'd rather it not be them, and they'd rather it not be us. But it is what it is, and I'm looking for this to be a lot better game than (last Friday)."

Asheville has a long ways to go in that regard.

The Cougars fell behind 20-0 right out of the gate. Wilkins said that 61 points was the most a team had surrendered in his two decades as an assistant or head coach at Asheville (Wilkins took over the top post from Lou Fogle in 2000).

The positives?

The Cougars had 21 first downs, and senior David Howerton (1,034 yards and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions) went over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his varsity career.

Jermaine Battle (595 yards, seven touchdowns) and Travis Lytle (547 yards, three touchdowns) combined for 289 rushing yards.

Asheville is 7-0 under Wilkins in rematches played in the same season. The Cougars haven't lost a first-round playoff game since 2001.

"It's about making plays," Wilkins said.

"(Erwin) made a lot more than we did Friday. It wasn't an effort issue, it was more about execution. We feel like we left some points out there."

Asheville center Hunter Rector is expected to miss tonight's game with a concussion and will be replaced by Jacob Wright.

Former All-WNC defender Alfredo Maldonado returned to Erwin's lineup for the first time since Sept. 28 to join Darius Lytle (76 tackles) and Josh McDevitt (64) last Friday.

On the other side of the ball, Warriors quarterback Austin Brown (2,209 yards and 21 touchdowns with seven interceptions) surpassed the 2,000-yard mark for the second straight year.

His favorite receivers have been Jonathan Allen (68 receptions for 986 yards and 11 touchdowns), Seth Carter (30 receptions for 405 yards and four touchdowns) and Tyler Sullins (29 receptions for 407 yards and six touchdowns).

Like Brown with his passing, Allen leads Western North Carolina in receiving.

Kelman Simpson (1,267 yards, 15 touchdowns) added 177 yards to his total last Friday as Erwin clinched its first conference football championship in 12 years.

"Our kids executed as well as they have all year," Warriors coach Mike Sexton said.

"They played a great game on both sides of the ball. I know that Asheville will shore up the mistakes that they had. We've got to keep our kids executing at that level, that's the question. It's going to be a battle. You have to get up to beat Asheville."

Sexton does not like the pod system either but said his team cannot afford to think that tonight is going to be another lopsided game. Before last Friday, Erwin had not beaten the Cougars since 2001.

"Friday is done as far as we're concerned," Sexton said.

"Now the concern is (tonight). We're well aware that Asheville has got a bunch of good coaches, they will adjust things and fix things. This game will be very different. It'll be much tougher than the first one."




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