Is balance of power shifting in WNC football?
Sure, it’s just two weeks into the high school season and teams still haven’t started conference play, but is it time to start talking about a shift in the balance of power in Western North Carolina football?
For a long time, the perception was that the best pigskin play came from the Mountain Athletic Conference, where Asheville High, Reynolds and Erwin were consistently strong programs.
Over the past 10 seasons, Asheville (96-31), Reynolds (98-34) and Erwin (77-45) were at most times dominant teams.
But in an admittedly small sample size from last year and early into 2017, there seems to be a change.
The Buncombe-County dominant MAC was somewhat realigned (subtracting McDowell, adding North Henderson, Tuscola and West Henderson) this year but still includes six Buncombe County schools.
What is now the Western Mountain Athletic 3-A Conference has posted a combined 5-12 record, and four schools - including Asheville and Erwin - are 0-2. Tuscola (1-0) is the only team among nine that hasn’t lost a game just two weeks in.
Granted, the WMA has teams that have played challenging non-conference games to open the season - Shelby, Crest, Hendersonville, Mountain Heritage, Mitchell, etc. - but there is evidence that the old MAC doesn’t have the same bite.
Coming off what for them are average seasons - Erwin was 7-6 last year, Asheville 6-6 - both of those perennial powers are 0-2 and have looked toothless.
Each is trying to find its way with new head coaches - David Burdette is 6-8 since taking over for Danny Wilkins with the Cougars, and Erwin’s Rodney Pruett is 0-2 after succeeding Mike Sexton.
Reynolds, which has won 24 straight games against mountain opponents since the middle of the 2014 season but is 3-6 against teams from outside the area in that span, still looks like the class of the league and perhaps WNC.
Roberson has lost two games by seven points to quality opponents Watauga and Crest but still believes it could still be as good as last year’s 8-4 squad.
We’ll know more about Tuscola after this week’s showdown with Pisgah, but for now the WMAC may rank third or even fourth (last) among local conferences.
The Mountain Six 2-A is 4-0 against the WMA and appears to have three quality teams - Hendersonville, Franklin and Pisgah - and three others with potential to be solid - Brevard, East Henderson and Smoky Mountain.
The Western Highlands 2-A/1-A is 2-2 vs. the WMAC and what is believed to be the best teams - Mitchell and Mountain Heritage - each has a win over Erwin.
And way out west, Cherokee, Robbinsville and Swain look talented enough to challenge Smoky Mountain 1-A Conference kingpin Murphy, which has reached the 1-A state title game five time in seven seasons and won three of those games.
In the latest WLOS WNC Football Top 10 Poll, No. 3 Reynolds and No. 8 Tuscola are the only WMAC teams in the rankings.
The Mountain Six boasts three schools, including No. 1 Franklin, while the WHC and SMC also have two teams each in the Top 10.
With 10 weeks left in the regular season and the always revealing conference games yet to be contested, there is plenty of time to figure out if there is a changing of the guard in mountain football.
But early evidence suggests there are some new contenders to reach the top of the hill.
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