AJ Gant

AJ Gant and Pisgah open their 2021 season Friday night at home against Sand Rock.

A Pisgah team full of returning players talked this offseason of turning the corner after enduring a 3-7 season a year ago.

Their first chance to do so comes Friday night against fellow Class 2A foe Sand Rock.

"Winning that first (game of the season) is always a confidence booster," said Pisgah head coach Luke Pruitt. "It would be really big to get this one and get some momentum going because winning provides confidence."

The Eagles host Sand Rock Friday at 7 p.m. at Pisgah High School's Sam Kenimer Stadium.

Pisgah hasn't had much luck with the Wildcats through the years, as Sand Rock leads the all-time series 13-4. The Eagles have lost four straight to the Wildcats — Pisgah’s last win in the series was 2014 —  including a 25-3 setback at Sand Rock last season.

"Last year I thought we kind of controlled the first quarter, then Rhyan (Barrett) got hurt and we went to scrambling and we had 14 years olds everywhere. Now we've got 15 year olds everywhere, but at least they've had some experience," Pruitt joked. 

Like Pisgah, Sand Rock returns a large number of starters for second-year head coach Alan Heath. The Wildcats, who went 3-7 with two COVID-19 forfeits last season, had a strong showing in the Cherokee County Jamboree last Thursday, defeating 2A No. 5-ranked North Sand Mountain 28-13 during a two-quarter scrimmage.

Sand Rock quarterback Ace Ashley threw three touchdown passes against the Bison. The Wildcats, who forced two NSM turnovers, also got a 38-yard touchdown run from Trace Haygood while Heath Driver caught a 53-yard touchdown pass and Jacob Cornejo caught TD passes of 1 and 38 yards.

Pruitt said Cornejo is a factor on both offense and defense and the Eagles must “know where he’s at” at all times.

Ashley threw for more than 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns last season for the Wildcats, while receivers Driver, Olin Pruitt and Brian Giles and tight end Logan Grider are his top targets.

“They’ve got some good weapons,” Luke Pruitt said.

Pisgah is coming off of a 14-14 tie with Southeastern in two-quarter scrimmage, and Pruitt said the game film showed the Eagles played better than he initially thought right after the jamboree.

“It’s never as good as you think but never as bad as you think,” Luke Pruitt said. “We had some mistakes, but things we could correct.”

The coach was pleased with how the Eagles responded when they faced adversity during the jamboree. Pisgah twice trailed but rallied to tie the game and also prevented a Southeastern score after Pisgah committed a turnover deep in its own territory.

“Maybe we got the first game jitters out of our system,” Luke Pruitt said. “We’ve got to cut out the mistakes (against Sand Rock), relax and go play.”

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