NEWLAND — After a regular season full of twists, turns and Covid affecting team schedules and contests, the Avery Vikings and Mitchell Mountaineers are set to renew acquaintances this Friday, April 9, in the annual Avery Journal-Times Border Battle Classic.
Avery has dropped two consecutive games after a 2-0 start, having fallen in a high-scoring seesaw affair at Owen last week and coming up short at Polk the prior week. Meanwhile, the Mitchell Mountaineers continue to reload and win within its program, as the club boasts a 5-0 record after 14-0 shutout win on Thursday, April 1, at Forest Hills, a substitute matchup to replace originally scheduled opposition Polk County, who had to enter Covid protocols and shut down its program for two weeks.
Mitchell manhandled Avery at Memorial Stadium when the teams last met in November 2019, with the Mountaineers retaining the Border Battle Trophy by way of a 51-6 victory. Mitchell has won the last six games in the series, with Avery’s last victory coming in 2013, a 21-14 win in Ledger. Avery leads the all-time series by a thin 23-22-1 margin since 1975.
Scouting the Mountaineers
The Mitchell Mountaineers are coached by seventh-year head coach, and the school’s winningest football coach, Travise Pitman. Mitchell finished the 2019 season with a 12-2 overall record, coming up one touchdown short of appearing in the 1AA state championship game, falling 35-28 to East Surry.
With the loss of 16 seniors off that state semifinals club, and only three offensive and five defensive starters returning to this year’s team, in addition to a season-opening leg injury suffered by senior leader Ty Pitman, many assumed that 2020 would be a rebuilding year in Ledger. The Mountaineers have shown the capacity instead to reload, however, as new faces on the offensive line have morphed into a formidable force, while skill players have stepped up to the challenges of filling the gap and maintaining the winning ways of Mitchell football.
Providing steady hands of leadership in the Mitchell Spread offense has been sophomore quarterback Ty Turbyfill, who has completed 29-of-55 passes for 451 yards and six touchdowns. Turbyfill also has added 421 rushing yards on a team-high 85 carries, with 421 yards and five touchdowns.
Additional offensive punch has been provided by a host of teammates. Senior Tanner Duncan leads the Mountaineers in rushing with 481 yards on 65 carries, with four touchdowns, while fellow senior Caius Arrington leads the team in receiving with 13 catches for 227 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps Mitchell’s most explosive player on the offensive side of the ball has been Ty Sparks, who leads the club with four touchdown receptions, highlighted by a four-catch, 99-yard, three-touchdown performance in Mitchell’s home win over Mountain Heritage on March 19.
Defensively, Mitchell will play with four down lineman, but will also send multiple linebackers into the gaps to blitz when they sense an opponent will be running the football.
Junior Carter Hoyle leads the team with 49 tackles, including five tackles for loss, with 37 tackles by teammate Gabe Brandt. Four additional players, Arrington, T. Duncan, Mason Bullis and Xander Gardner, have each tallied more than 20 tackles through five games this season.
The low down
Senior Night at MacDonald Stadium will be an emotional conclusion to the regular season for Avery Vikings seniors, with the heightened significance of a game that could be a major player in determining the conference regular season champion and postseason ramifications.
Avery’s offense managed to put 43 points on the scoreboard last week at Owen, but a number of big plays surrendered, especially in the passing game by the relatively young Vikings ssecondary, was a liability that Owen exploited to the tune of a 50-point night.
Mitchell shut out the Warhorses in the meeting between the schools earlier this season, and Mitchell has yet to surrender more than 14 points in a game this season.
For Avery to snap its recent losing skid to the Mountaineers, the defense must show marked improvement from the previous two weeks, where the club has given up an average of 46 points and 467 yards in total offense.
Offensively, the Vikings passing game may be the most difficult the Mountaineers have faced this season. While Mitchell has been strong defensively against run-heavy offenses like Mountain Heritage, a strong passing performance from Hoilman may help open up running lanes for he, Chad Giarrusso, and the Avery attack.
By the numbers
2 — interceptions by the Avery defense in last week’s game at Owen
3 — touchdown receptions by Viking senior wide receiver David McCollum in last week’s 50-43 loss at Owen
5 — touchdown receptions by the Mitchell Mountaineers as a team this season
6 — average yards per rush gained by the Mitchell offense through five games this season
277 — total rushing yards on 43 carries in Mitchell’s win last week at Forest Hills.
508 — yards of total offense gained by the Vikings in last week’s game at Owen (310 passing, 198 rushing)
1175 — Mitchell team rushing yards this spring season
1189 — passing yards by Avery’s Troy Hoilman through four games this spring, with 11 touchdowns
Read next week’s edition of The AJT for a recap of this week’s game with Mitchell, as well as any potential postseason berth for the Big Red.