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Cougars secure MAC second seed, render potent Erwin as playoff Road Warriors


Isaiah Poore of Erwin soars sideways and ahead into the end zone, like Superman. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- Asheville Cougars secured the Mountain Athletic Conference second seed and a home playoff opener, by winning 44-25 at Erwin to close the regular season Nov. 3.

This televised rivalry clash Thursday was a tale of two halves. The first half ended with Erwin Warriors ahead by a point at 18-17 after four lead changes, while AHS scored four straight touchdowns in the second half.

Asheville opened up its offense for spread passing under new head coach David Burdette. In result, senior quarterback Devon Davidson set AHS career and yearly marks. He is nearing 4,000 yards, and with half of that in this season.

Asheville’s Dana Campbell Jr. (15) breaks a tackle. He threw a trick-play TD pass. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

But in the second half, the Cougars reverted to their traditional ground game with superb success. Senior Ahmad Shivers ran for four scores and 183 yards, as the shortest (5-foot-5) starter came up big. Visiting fans could shout pirate-like “Shiver me timbers!” for shocking the Kerr Stadium crowd with victory on a warm, still autumn evening.

“Nobody believed we could beat them. Nobody but us,” Burdette enthusiastically told his troops in the post-game huddle. He said players and staff “worked their butts off” and by sticking to the game plan, “that’s why we won.” He was pleased his preseason urging for AHS to play its best by season’s end rang true. Davidson was beaming about conquering a rival, and more by earning the MAC’s second seed.

Playoffs are delayed a week to Nov. 18 statewide, enabling some schools out East this Friday to make up games cancelled by hurricane-related storms. MAC teams likely at home to open playoffs Nov. 18 are the overall and 3A champ A.C. Reynolds, top 4A school T.C. Roberson and 3A runner-up Asheville. Erwin gets relegated to role of Road Warriors.

Top Erwin receiver C.J. Thompson snares a pass. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

WNC career passing leader Damien Ferguson of Erwin threw for 330 yards Thursday. Most were on quick, short routes by fleet receivers C.J. Thompson, Kealin Goode, Trey Martin and Bryan Anuel. Erwin’s offset is Isaiah Poore’s bullish running, behind Gamo Khan (6-4, 320 sr.) and others. Erwin will reload around junior Poore next year.

Poore made a dynamic play as he took a screen left, charged 16 yards and glided forward, low and into the end zone for an an early 12-10 lead.

Also very impressively, the Cougars defense made three picks and yielded no second-half points until the final minute.


Cougar QB Devon Davidson (3) throws on the run, before NG Ethan Lunsford (44) reaches him. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Trickery honored retired longtime coach Danny Wilkins, who seemed to pop in special plays at just the right time. Call it a “souped-up double throw.” Dana Campbell Jr. caught yet another screen, behind the line out left. But this time, the 2015 junior varsity QB passed. He stepped forward a few paces to the 22-yard-line, to ensure maximal velocity and distance. His strike sailed 41 yards to wide-open leading receiver Makaius Brewer down the left sideline. Brewer cruised the remaining 37 yards of a 72-yard scoring play, for a 23-18 lead AHS refused to relinquish.

It worsened as AHS recovered a pooch kickoff and kept rolling, Erwin head coach Mike Sexton noted.


Erwin QB Damien Ferguson (2) throws. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Asheville gets the head-to-head tiebreaker over Erwin in 3A MAC seeding, behind Reynolds (9-2 overall). The Rockets finished unbeaten at 6-0 in the MAC as they did last year, to win the overall title by two games. They won nine straight, including 47-3 at North Buncombe Friday. Erwin had won four in a row, including 26-18 over TCR. AHS won four of five.

Tied for second at 4-2 in the overall 4A/3A MAC are Roberson (8-3 overall), AHS (6-5) and Erwin (6-5). However TCR is 4A, until downsized into a revamped all-3A MAC next year. The Rams beat McDowell (5-6; 2-4) by 49-14 earlier, and Enka 56-6 Friday. They finished two games ahead of MHS in MAC 4A play. The Rams edged Asheville 12-11. Enka earlier beat winless North Buncombe, to avoid the MAC cellar.


Mobile QB Damien Ferguson throws on the run. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

ACR disposed of the other three contenders — AHS by 34-16, TCR by 38-6, and Erwin 49-48 loss in a wild overtime contest decided by a missed extra point.

Reynolds scored three TDs in the fourth, to force OT in that MAC-opening showdown Sept. 23. Nate St. Onge threw for 351 yards, and ex-Warrior Keyal Talbert had 184 all-purpose yards. Poore ran for 234 yards. This was ACR’s third win in a row over Erwin, after the Warriors took two straight.

Erwin’s chief passing combo reached thresholds in ending the regular season. Ferguson leads area passers with 3,218 yards. He ranks 34th nationally, and behind only Sam Hartman (3,733) of Davidson Day (which beat Erwin 41-28 in the ‘16 opener) and Ashe County’s Colin Ellis (3,464) in N.C. Ferguson is the first in WNC to surpass 3,000 aerial yards. He came within seven yards of reaching that plateau last year. He threw for nearly 2,600 yards, as an all-WAC sophomore.

Star QB Damien Ferguson is the face of Erwin football. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Ferguson led Erwin to its best football start ever in ’14, by winning his first nine varsity games. This year he has passed for 32 TDs versus 10 picks. He exceeded all other WNC passers by 900 yards and more.

“Damien has such good arm strength and great accuracy” from “good balance and passing release,” Coach Sexton said. “He’s very poised. He knows schemes even better” as a senior.

More than one-third of his passing yards this year (1,110) went to fellow senior Thompson, who set a WNC mark with six TD catches at tough Franklin. The duo teamed for Erwin’s first and final TDs Thursday. The first was on fourth and goal from the five, on a crossing pattern.

That illustrated how Ferguson may misfire on early downs, but usually bounces back to make clutch passing plays. Often he does so after scrambling. He echoes OC Bucky Tarr’s urging of forgetting mistakes, to move on to the next play, series or game with playoffs a fresh start.

The final chapter is ahead, Ferguson said. “We grew up dreaming about making something out of our senior year. We want to play to the best of our ability, and progress far in the playoffs.”

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