By Pete Zamplas
Asheville Cougars dropped a 47-40 mistake-marred shootout with Hendersonville Bearcats at home in the Cat-scratch Classic Friday, but have many pluses heading into the Western Mountain Athletic Conference opener.
Three Hillier passed for five touchdowns and 287 yards.
Cougar receiver Justin Campbell had his breakout game, scoring four times as both red-clad cat teams wore out the scoreboard. Campbell totaled 111 yards. His kickoff return to the AHS 44 gave the Cougars a short field, and chance to win.
After the game, his elder brother Dana Campbell told The Tribune he had kidded Justin he needed to score seven times that night to get from under Dana’s shadow. Four TDs is plenty. It felt “great” to find the end zone that often, though frustrating to lose the game, Justin Campbell said.
Head coach David Burdette’s Cougars won their opener 34-6 over Franklin, then lost 54-22 at Burns and 47-40 to HHS. On the bright side, the offense is averaging 32 points with its version of the Dallas Cowboys’ “Triplets” of a star quarterback (Three Hillier), runner (Vyshonne Franklin) and receiver (Famous Pasley). Franklin, a bullish 215-pound runner, made key gains. All three are seniors; the team reloads around them such as with Campbell.
Hillier fired a bullet to Pasley at the HHS 13 on a 47-yard passing play, then a two-pointer put AHS up 14-7. The Cougars scored a pair of TDs in each of the first two quarters.
Hillier found Campbell for the very first TD, and later on a crossing pattern for a 36-yard TD. The PAT gave AHS a 27-26 lead. HHS scored, and led 34-27 at halftime.
But Asheville tallied the next two TDs. Campbell’s TD reception with 45 seconds left in the third quarter. The PAT gave the Cougars a 40-34 lead and much momentum, heading into the final quarter. But HHS returned the favor in the fourth, by scoring two unanswered TDs for the win.
Both sides made plenty of mistakes. The host team was even more generous with turnovers, and Coach Burdette calls for better focus moving forward. Pasley fumbled a punt return late, setting up HHS at the Cougar 19 for an insurance TD and final score. Penalties wiped out some other long AHS gains. Hillier sometimes connected with the other team in red. A pivotal “pick six” by Caleb Greene snapped a 20-all tie.
HHS also made errors, but one did not count. Late in the game, Bearcat QB Woody Hunter lost the ball deep in his own territory. But the ball was whistled dead before it came loose. That was the correct call. The game was televised on My40. Slow-motion replay on the on-field camera clearly showed Hunter’s knee was down, before the ball came loose.
Asheville (1-2) welcomes T.C. Roberson (0-3) this Friday, while A.C. Reynolds (1-2) hosts Erwin (0-3). Then on Sept. 20, the usual showdown for second place in the WMAC is at Erwin with Asheville in town. Erwin won last year, AHS two years ago in their series. Erwin as usual has its two toughest WMAC foes at the start. An 0-2 start looms, and would doom Warrior title chances, and dims playoff hopes.
First, these contenders want to right their ships. Erwin has much work on offense to go, based on the scoreboard so far. Erwin lost 54-21 to 1A Robbinsville at home Friday, after sputtering in losses to Mitchell 24-7 then 24-3 at tough Heritage.
The Warriors are among several WMAC teams breaking in new starting quarterbacks. Growing pains are aching thus far, but that can change any week now. Count on Erwin to get up against its rivals.
North Buncombe is strongest out of the gate among Buncombe teams, though versus smaller schools. Coach Brandon Allen’s squad doubled up Avery 44-21 Friday, spotting the Vikings an early lead then outscoring them 34 to zip in the second half. The Black Hawks rushed for 453 yards — led by Joe Jones (187) and Trent Cole (165). The Hawks scored at least 60 in their first two wins — 60-20 over Patton, then 63-0 at their local rival Madison.
Roberson has struggled, but flies under the radar as an athletic underdog. TCR lost 48-0 at Kings Mountain Friday, after falling 50-21 at Watauga then 47-0 to Crest in a brutal pre-WMAC schedule.
Tuscola (0-2) lost to Pisgah for the seventh straight year (this time 14-0), but each time before bounced back to contend in its conference. The other WMAC school, North Henderson (0-2), was idle Friday.
Even Reynolds has also struggled, but turned the corner Friday by beating Owen 35-3. Jhari Patterson ran for three TDs, and caught nine Eli Carr passes for 136 yards. This was after losses of 35-23 to East Forsyth, then 58-21 at reigning 2AA champ Shelby.
Owen (1-1), the sole Buncombe team outside the WMAC, got off to a superb start with a 42-24 comeback win at East Henderson. All 42 points came in the second half, as new quarterback Caleb Scott got into gear. Owen has not ducked powerhouse ACR on the schedule.