Nov. 1—Although Tuscola was riding high after upsetting Pisgah in the County Clash and skunking East Henderson, the Mountaineers are coming off a bitter 42-14 loss to West Henderson to end the regular season.
But Hibriten is better than their 5-5 record indicates. The Panthers capped their regular season with two straight wins and have battled hard all year in a tough 3A/4A conference.
When Tuscola leaves Lenoir, will they walk out winners? Or will this season end on Friday night?
Date & Location: 7 p.m., Nov. 3, in Lenoir
Last Meeting: Hibriten beat Tuscola 44-25 in 2011 in Lenoir
Last Playoff Meeting: Tuscola won 28-27 in 2009/10 in Lenoir (third round of playoffs)
Tuscola in review
In light of last week's 42-14 loss to West Henderson, it seems like longer than three weeks ago that the Mountaineers upended Pisgah in the annual County Clash.
Although the offense and defense were outmatched against the Falcons, it says more about West Henderson than Tuscola. The Falcons are just plain stacked on both sides of the ball.
But none of that matters this week. No. 9 Hibriten is waiting in Lenoir, and their only goal is domination and a round two ticket. Tuscola has all the pieces to make this a game, but it remains to be seen which version we'll see: the group that posted 200-plus rushing yards on Pisgah or the one that had 55 against West Henderson.
Mountaineers to watch
Senior quarterback Jed West is a true dual-threat. He's scored 30 touchdowns this season — 16 passing and 14 rushing. But last week was a tough day at the office: he threw for three interceptions and only scored twice. If he can refocus and take what Hibriten's defense gives him, he could be in for a bounce-back game.
Wide receivers Bryant Oancea and K.J. Vang will enter Friday's game as West's top targets. While Oancea has the size at 6 feet, 3 inches, Vang has the speed and shiftiness. They'll need sure hands this week to help their quarterback out.
Junior tailback Gavin Langley had a tough outing against West Henderson last week, rushing four times for seven yards. But when he gets going, he's tough to stop. He'll be buying his offensive linemen some extra Big Macs this week in hopes they'll push the pile against Hibriten.
Defensively, three names need to have big games: freshman Ty Walker, sophomore Carter Purvis and junior Walker Bolden. When these three play lights out, Tuscola's defense is as good as any in Western North Carolina. But a tough loss last week to the Falcons will test their mental fortitude as they'll have to turn around quickly for round one of the playoffs.
Hibriten in review
The Panthers went 5-5 this season and finished second in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference with a 3-2 record.
After starting 2-1, which included a 50-7 drubbing of West Caldwell to start Sempter, Hibriten went 1-4 in the middle portion of the season, including two tough losses to in-conference foes Ashe County (55-14) and Watauga (41-21).
But the Panthers wouldn't let the season slip out of their hands. Hiriten capped the regular season with two wins over conference rivals Alexander Central (32-31 OT) and South Caldwell (28-14) to finish second in the conference.
Panthers to watch
Since Hibriten does not upload stats into MaxPreps, we cannot give you an in-depth preview of their roster.
Inside the Xs and Os
Expect this one to be a shootout.
Offensively, Tuscola averages 28.3 points per game, while Hibriten's defense gives up 31.1 per game. Hibriten's offense averages 24.3 points per game, while the Tuscola defense gives up 24.6 points per game.
Both offenses seemed primed for another big day, considering the defenses give up 24-plus points per game. The winner on Friday night could be decided by the defense that takes a stand at a crucial point in the game.
And from some of the performances we've seen from Tuscola's group, I expect the Mountaineers defense will at least get an opportunity to play the hero in Lenoir.
If Tuscola wins: Jed West scores four times, and the defense comes up with a critical stop to win the game.
If Hibriten wins: The Panthers outpace the Mountaineers on offense and the Hibriten defense snags a crucial takeaway to seal the win.