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Wednesday, 21 October 2015 15:25

Pisgah-Tuscola rivalry is as good as it gets

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op coxWhen my daughter, who is a freshman this year at Tuscola High School, made the Color Guard this summer, the first thought I had was that I would soon be seeing high school football games again for the first time since the late 1980s, when I was a fledgling sports writer for the Watauga Democrat in Boone. My second thought was that I would finally get my first real taste of the vaunted Tuscola-Pisgah rivalry, an intense battle that has been going on for more than 50 years.

I have lived here for nearly 25 years, but since I attended neither Tuscola nor Pisgah, I have never really had much of a stake in the outcome in this annual slugfest. Still, during the week of the game especially, it is impossible to go much of anywhere in Haywood County and not hear people talking about the game. For more than two decades, I have listened to stories in the gym, the barber shop, the grocery store, and the dentist’s office — to name just a few places — about the rivalry. It is interesting to see the complete change in tone when people talk about it. It is not just a game. It is serious business.

As a band parent, I volunteer when I can to help at the games. For this year’s game, I was part of a group of parents who met at Waynesville Middle School to feed the band — both bands — before the game. I showed up at around 4 p.m., and the traffic was already thickening around the school, even though the game did not start until 7:30 pm. The parking lot near the band room was already full, and cars lined the side of the road in a haphazard assembly. At 4 p.m., I had to turn around and park about a mile away, next to a cluster of cars where students were busy working on their signs, some of which bore curious messages that I gathered were “inside insults” between the schools. I was afraid to ask and didn’t, until Sunday, when I asked a couple of kids at our church what the signs meant.

 “You don’t want to know,” one girl said.

While we were serving the students pizza and a variety of beverages — I was appointed “drink Nazi,” making sure that no one took more than one drink until we knew everyone had been served — I noticed that everyone was all decked out in black and gold or red and black. Many faces were painted, some with clever artwork. A few of the Tuscola people were wearing T shirts that numbered all the years that the Mountaineers have won the game. At the bottom, it read “26-24-1. What rivalry?”

I chuckled at this, since these teams have been pounding on each other for 50 years and have split the games almost perfectly down the middle. By contrast, I went to Appalachian State University, which supposedly has a rivalry with Western Carolina University. Since 1985, App State has won 26 games and Western Carolina has won two. What rivalry?

My wife had perceptively saved us some seats just behind the student section on the 30-yardline by 3:30 pm, so once we finished feeding the band, we made our way to our seats, still an hour and a half before kickoff. Even then, the stadium was already half full and people were streaming in from every direction. It was very much a college game atmosphere.

By kickoff time, you could not have squeezed a peanut into the stadium. It seemed that the entire population of Haywood County was in attendance, just as I had always been told. I saw an old friend of mine from the gym, fully decked out in his Tuscola gear. We exchanged a few lines from “The Andy Griffith Show,” a ritual dating back nearly 20 years, and then I asked him whether he thought Tuscola would win. His smile instantly melted, and his brow furrowed. There was a fraught pause.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We have a good team this year, but everything’s out the window when these two teams play. I sure hope so. I really do.”

I have seen literally hundreds of football games on all levels, and covered many of them during my tenure as a sports writer. Very often, games that are overly hyped fail to live up to expectations. Not this game. From the opening kickoff, Pisgah and Tuscola battled for four quarters, and then into overtime, before Pisgah finally prevailed thanks to a truly impressive goal line stand. Had the Mountaineers been able to gain just one yard on the final play, they would have won the game, but the Bears put up a stone wall and the quarterback sneak was stopped cold.

Pisgah’s victory now brings the series to 26-25-1. What rivalry? This one, I would say, is about as good as it gets. I’m already looking forward to next year’s game.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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