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High stakes tonight: Titans visit Cougars with first place on the line

High stakes tonight: Titans visit Cougars with first place on the line

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The last time the McDowell Titans played in a football game this important this late in the season, none of the team’s current players had even been born.

Such is the significance of tonight’s game at Asheville High (7 p.m. kickoff).

The Titans (5-1 overall, 3-0 The Mountain 3A/4A Conference) and Cougars (5-2, 3-0) meet at 7 p.m. with sole possession of first place in the conference standings at stake.

It’s the biggest game for the Titans since 2001, when McDowell and A.C. Reynolds, who were both unbeaten in conference play at 5-0, met in the regular-season finale for all the marbles.

“It’s a big one,” said Titans head coach Darrell Brewer. “The kids know. They’ve been told, and not from me — I think a lot of people are talking about it.

“But I think it’s nice that these kids have an opportunity to be sitting where they are and have a chance to play in a game like this.”

Both teams would benefit greatly from a win, but the Cougars could practically wrap up the title tonight with a victory. Asheville has already slid past TMC heavyweight Reynolds, edging the Rockets 6-5 Oct. 1. After tonight, only North Buncombe and Enka — with a combined record of 1-6 — would stand between the Cougars and a perfect conference season.

But a victory would mean a lot to the Titans as well. A win tonight and one next week at home against Erwin, and McDowell would enter the finale at A.C. Reynolds assured of no worse than a tie for the conference championship. It’s been almost three decades since the Titans won a conference title; the Titans went 6-0 in league play en route to a Northwestern 4A crown in 1992.

But none of that speculation comes into play unless McDowell beats Asheville, and that won’t be easy.

The Cougars got off to an 0-2 start, but have roared back to win five straight. And they’ve won them convincingly, by an average score of 33-8. The Cougars’ defense has been especially solid, holding high-scoring Reynolds to just a field goal and a safety two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Asheville’s explosive offense has shown steady improvement since the start of the season.

“We’re going to have to be very physical on both sides of the football,” said Brewer. “We have to limit our mistakes, tackle well and block well, and we have to hold onto the football.”

Brewer said the Cougars have the potential to score from anywhere on the field.

“The bad thing about this team (Asheville) is, if we make a mistake on defense, they may house it on us,” he said. “But if they make a mistake on defense, we might get 15 yards. They have speed all over the place. They have speed to burn.”

That’s especially true of junior quarterback Khalil Conley. Conley is 47-of-84 passing for 873 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions, and has run for 319 yards and four more scores on 49 carries.

“He’s scary,” said Brewer. “They can all run, and he can fly. He actually scares me more when he pulls it than when he stands back there and throws it.”

When Conley does throw it, his favorite target has been senior wide receiver Sayvon Hayden-Gibson (6-0, 160), who leads the team with 15 catches for 433 yards and six scores. Senior running back Caleb Madden (5-9, 155) is Asheville’s leading rusher with 411 yards and a TD on 51 carries. Senior Tre McGahee (5-11, 165) has run for 289 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 45 attempts.

Defensively, the Cougars have gotten contributions from a number of players.

Senior linebacker Micah Wood leads the team with 64 tackles, including three for losses. Fellow senior linebacker Otis Walton-Thatch (6-2, 215) has made 46 stops, including three for losses. Junior defensive back Deshaun Whitmire (6-0, 177) has picked off a team-high five passes and has 42 tackles. Defensive lineman D.J. Jones (5-10, 185) has a team-high six tackles for losses and three quarterback sacks.

The Titans will benefit from the return of leading rusher Blake Boswell, who missed last week’s game with a sprained ankle. Brewer said Boswell could likely have played in McDowell’s 36-7 win over Enka last Friday, but didn’t out of an abundance of caution. “Bos has had a good week of practice,” said Brewer.

Boswell (89 carries, 516 yards, 6TDs) will likely get plenty of help in the backfield from senior Kiyaun Selby (42-293-2TDs) and freshman Josh Ellis (28-249-3TDs). The duo combined to run for 221 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries in Boswell’s absence last week.

Quarterback Gabe Marsh is 55-of-93 for 762 yards and five touchdowns with five picks. One of his two interceptions against Enka last week came on a tipped ball. Tight end Jeremiah Ellis (16 receptions, 238 yards, 2TDs) has been his primary receiver, but junior wide receiver Matthew Spivey (5-153-2TDs) has emerged as a deep threat in recent games, and sophomore Jackson Marsh (16-139) has been reliable as well.

Defensively, senior linebacker Grayson Blackwelder has been a beast, leading the Titans in tackles with 55 and tackles for loss with eight. Sophomore middle linebacker Colby Carr has 36 stops to his credit, with three for losses, and senior lineman Jake Marsh has 32 tackles with five for losses, including two sacks. Junior linebacker/defensive back Majesty Summey has 22 tackles and leads the team with three interceptions.

In addition to Boswell’s return, the Titans will also have senior lineman James Day available this week. Day was sick last week and missed the Enka game. Brewer said the plan is for the all-conference right guard, normally a two-way player, to play offense only tonight.

The Titans will be without the services of veteran defensive coordinator Keith Styles, who is currently under COVID-19 quarantine. Brewer said Styles should be able to return to practice next Monday.

“He does a great job,” said Brewer. “He is sorely missed.”

The Mountain 3A/4A Conference standings 2021

Conf. Overall

McDowell (4A) 3-0 5-1

Asheville (4A) 3-0 5-2

A.C. Reynolds (4A) 3-1 4-3

Erwin (3A) 1-2 3-4

T.C. Roberson (4A) 1-3 2-5

Enka (3A) 1-3 2-5

N. Buncombe (3A) 0-3 0-5

Friday, Oct. 8

McDowell 36, Enka 7

A.C. Reynolds 35, Erwin 14

Asheville 42, T.C. Roberson 7

Tuesday, Oct. 12

Enka 25, T.C. Roberson 14

Friday, Oct. 15

McDowell at Asheville

N. Buncombe at Enka

T.C. Roberson at Erwin

Friday, Oct. 22

Erwin at McDowell

Asheville at N. Buncombe

A.C. Reynolds at T.C. Roberson

N. Henderson at Enka

Friday, Oct. 29

McDowell at A.C. Reynolds

N. Buncombe at Erwin

Enka at Asheville

Franklin at T.C. Roberson

Friday, Aug. 20

McDowell 20, R-S Central 14

Robbinsville 45, Asheville 23

Mitchell 47, Erwin 7

West Forsyth 37, A.C. Reynolds 7

Watauga 33, T.C. Roberson 0

Enka 34, Hayesville 21

Friday, Aug. 27

McDowell at Mitchell (canceled)

Madison 47, N. Buncombe 24

Shelby 15, A.C. Reynolds 12

Kings Mtn. 14, Asheville 0

Mtn. Heritage 28, Erwin 21

T.C. Roberson 42, Tuscola 36

Pisgah at Enka (ppd.)

Monday, Aug. 30

Pisgah 28, Enka 0

Friday, Sept. 3

Andrews 44, N. Buncombe 20

A.C. Reynolds 24, Alexander Central 7

Asheville 16, Brevard 14

Erwin 34, Tuscola 20

Smoky Mtn. 34, T.C. Roberson 12

Enka at Rosman (canceled)

Friday, Sept. 10

McDowell 36, Avery 33

Madison 26, Enka 21

East Henderson at N. Buncombe (canceled)

A.C. Reynolds at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee (canceled)

Erwin 28, Brevard 21

Friday, Sept. 17

McDowell 16, T.C. Roberson 6

A.C. Reynolds at N. Buncombe (ppd.)

Asheville 54, N. Davidson 0

Erwin 27, Enka 0

Monday, Sept. 20

A.C. Reynolds 48, North Buncombe 0

Friday, Sept. 24

Chase 47, McDowell 14

T.C. Roberson 34, N. Buncombe 0

A.C. Reynolds 61, Enka 0

Asheville 49, Erwin 14

Friday, Oct. 1

McDowell 53, N. Buncombe 13

Asheville 6, A.C. Reynolds 5

T.C. Roberson at Enka (ppd. Oct. 19)

McDowell Titan football stats 2021 (fall)

McDowell Opponents

First downs 120 92

Rushes-yds. 224-1304 202-1129

Passing 55-93-5-5 42-89-5-4

Passing yds. 762 546

Total yds. 2066 1675

Fumbles/lost 10/2 9/5

Penalties-yds. 33-292 32-257

McDowell 61 75 13 26 – 175

Opponents 34 14 25 47 – 120

Individual stats – Offense

Rushing

Player Att. Yards Avg. TD

Blake Boswell 89 516 5.8 6

Kiyaun Selby 42 293 6.9 2

Josh Ellis 28 249 8.9 3

Gabe Marsh 34 88 2.6 5

Grayson Blackwelder 10 75 7.5 0

Hunter Kirby 03 65 21.7 1

Helon Alvarado ` 07 22 3.1 1

Rickey Carr 09 10 1.1 0

Totals 224 1304 5.8 18

Passing

Player Comp. Att. Yds. TD INT

G. Marsh 55 93 762 5 5

Receiving

Player Rec. Yds. TD

Jeremiah Ellis 16 238 2

Matthew Spivey 5 153 2

Jackson Marsh 16 139 0

Jeryah Cash 8 87 0

Josh Ellis 5 84 1

Blackwelder 2 26 0

Majesty Summey 1 16 0

Marshall Lamb 1 14 0

Carr 1 04 0

Totals 55 762 5

Kickoff/punt returns

Player Ret. Yds. Avg. TD

Hunter Kirby 04 102 25.5 0

Boswell 07 102 14.6 0

Jo. Ellis 03 99 33.0 0

Selby 02 28 14.0 0

Ethan Hensley 02 15 7.5 0

Je. Ellis 01 14 14.0 0

Kicking

Player XPA XPM FGM FGA Blk. Long

Hunter Kirby 06 03 00 00 0 00

Punting Punts Avg.

Kirby 12 36.1

Andres Guerrero 1 44

Scoring

Player TD Rush Rec. Ret. FG XP Pts.

Boswell 6 6 0 0 0 6 42

G. Marsh 5 5 0 0 0 8 38

Jo. Ellis 4 3 1 0 0 4 28

Selby 2 2 0 0 0 4 16

Je. Ellis 2 0 2 0 0 2 14

Spivey 2 0 2 0 0 0 12

Kirby 1 1 0 0 0 3 09

Summey 1 0 0 1 0 0 06

Alvarado 1 1 0 0 0 0 06

Bartlett 0 0 0 0 0 2 02

Totals 24 18 5 1 0 29 173*

*-total includes a team safety

Defense

Tackles

Player Solo Asst. Total

Blackwelder 34 21 55

Colby Carr 23 13 36

Jake Marsh 24 8 32

Kobe Nolan 17 11 28

Dawson Bartlett 15 13 28

Summey 12 10 22

Devyn Cash 14 5 19

Selby 12 4 16

J. Cash 10 5 15

Luke Roberts 10 3 13

Rickey Carr 9 3 12

Matthew Spivey 8 3 11

Joseph Gowan 6 4 10

Tackles for loss

Player TFL

Blackwelder 8

Jak. Marsh 5

Summey 4

Co. Carr 3

Jesse Barrier 2

Bartlett 2

Nolan 1

Luke Roberts 1

Alvarado 1

Selby 1

Sacks: Jak. Marsh 2, Summey, James Day, Gowan 1

Interceptions: Summey 3, D. Cash, Selby 1

Fumble recoveries: J. Cash 2, Alvarado, Co. Carr 1

Caused fumbles: Summey, J. Cash, C. Carr, Day 1

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