Throughout the history of the Pisgah-Section football series history, it has been a series mostly about pride.
In the early years of it, the teams were area foes, but when the AHSAA went from four to six classifications in 1984, most seasons the Section-Pisgah matchup was just about being on the winning side of a rivalry game.
This year, however, the matchup has more than just bragging rights at stake.
The Pisgah-Section series is set for one its most important games as the teams enter their annual clash with major playoff implications riding on the outcome.
Kickoff for the pivotal Class 2A Region 7 game is Friday at 7 p.m. at Section Stadium.
Pisgah (4-3, 3-1) can clinch a playoff berth with a win and set up a showdown with Tanner for region championship in Week 9. Meanwhile, Section (4-3, 2-3) needs a win to keep its playoff hope alive.
“It’s a big rivalry game, but then you throw in what all that’s riding on this one, and that just adds to it,” said Section head coach Chris Hammon.
“It’s a big one,” said Pisgah head coach Luke Pruitt. “They’re your neighbor so if you can’t get up to play just because of that, there’s something wrong. Then you’ve got what it means for both us (in the region). You shouldn’t need a pre-game (motivational) speech for this one.”
It’s the 41st meeting between the teams in a series Pisgah leads 28-12. The teams have split the last four meetings, including a 25-12 Section victory last year that clinched the Lions’ first playoff berth since 2007.
A win Friday keeps Section in the thick of a Class 2A Region 7 playoff race loaded with possibilities. Hammon lauded his players for getting back in the race after an 0-3 start to region play. The Lions defeated then region-unbeaten Falkville 21-6 in Week 6 before shutting out Whitesburg Christian 35-0 last week.
“It’s given us our confidence back,” Hammon said of his team’s two-game winning streak. “We lost three starters and then had to shuffle guys around, but we got healthy again and it made a big difference. After (starting 0-3 in the region), we kind of divided up the first half and second half (of the season) and kind of reset our goals. Our guys didn’t give up and have come back and played well.”
Like Section, Pisgah has bounced back from early-season struggles. The Eagles have won four straight games and is fifth in Class 2A in scoring at 41.4 points per game. Last Friday Pisgah turned in its best defensive outing, limiting Ider to a late fourth-quarter touchdown during a 28-6 victory.
“With how we started, the kids just kept trying to do what we asked them to do,” Pruitt said. “We built some confidence along the way. Been playing a lot better. They weren’t playing all that bad when we were 0-3, but they’ve kind of taken it up a notch. They kept working and doing what we asked of them, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Pruitt said his defense will be challenged this week by a Section offense that is 24th in Class 2A in scoring with 30.3 points per game. The Lions’ offense features Jackson County’s leading and fourth-leading rushers in Drake McCutchen (11,74 yards and 15 touchdowns on 115 carries) and Jr. Walker (403 yards on 83 carries) while Jacob Cooper has passed for 562 yards and seven touchdowns and Dominik Blair has 13 catches for 302 yards and four touchdowns.
“No. 23 (McCutchen) is a player and No. 6 makes plays. They’re good at quarterback, running back, No. 1 (Walker) ran it well on us last year. We’ve got find a way to limit their skill guys,” Pruitt said.
Hammon echoed similar thoughts about Pisgah.
“They’ve got a lot of good skill guys that make plays,” Hammon said. “They do a lot of good things on offense. They do a lot of formations and motions to confuse you. They can run and throw and that makes that play-action really tough (to defend).”
Friday’s meeting is the first time the Lions and Eagles have meet when both have had a winning record since 1999.