Mountaineers will play 2 nonconference, 5 conference contests starting in February
LEDGER — The Mitchell High School varsity football team’s 2020-21 schedule is set.
The Mountaineers will play seven games— two nonconference contests and five Western Highlands Conference games.
The 2020 high school football season was originally scheduled to start this past August but was delayed due to the ongoing pandemic. As a result, games will begin once the calendar flips to 2021.
Mitchell’s first game is set for Friday, Feb. 26 at home against Statesville.
The Mountaineers then hit the road and play at Smoky Mountain on Friday, March 5 before opening conference play on March 12 against visiting Owen.
Mitchell then hosts rival Mountain Heritage on March 19 and wraps up the season with a trip to Madison (March 26), a home contest against Polk (April 2) and a road game at Avery (April 9).
The first round of the North Carolina state playoffs is scheduled for April 16. The second round will be played on April 23 and third round games will be played on April 30.
The state championship games are scheduled for Saturday, May 8.
Mountaineers head coach Travise Pitman said the team struggled to find nonconference opponents for the beginning of the unprecedented, shortened season.
With most teams in Western North Carolina unavailable for the shortened nonconference slate, the Mountaineers were forced to introduce less familiar opponents in Statesville and Smoky Mountain.
Statesville, a 3A program, finished the regular season undefeated in 2019. The team’s only loss came in a playoff game against Kings Mountain.
The Greyhounds thrashed North Buncombe 49-7 in their first playoff game and finished the season with a 12-1 record.
“That’s a game that will be a tough test for us,” Pitman said. “They’ll be a very tough opponent.”
Mitchell’s second regular season game at Smoky Mountain should also present a challenge, Pitman added.
Smoky Mountain, a 2A program, has finished with a winning record in each of the past two seasons and has a 16-8 overall record during that stretch.
“The way they’re setting up the playoffs, it’s going off of how you finish within your conference,” Pitman said. “Nonconference is really a non-factor but we have to look at it as ways to make ourselves better for when conference play starts.”
Pitman said the Western Highlands Conference should be wide open during the shortened season, with teams that return more starters holding a slight advantage.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “We have so many kids that will be starting for the first time at the varsity level. It’s going to be one of those seasons where we have to learn quickly and make adjustments with personnel and other stuff that would make us more efficient on offense and defense.”
Mitchell (12-2) and Mountain Heritage (11-2) finished at the top of the Western Highlands Conference in 2019. Polk started the season strong and cruised to a 9-4 finish, Owen won three of its final four games to finish 7-5, Avery finished 5-7 and Madison finished 0-11 to round out the conference standings.
The first football practices are set to begin on Feb. 8. Mitchell will be able to scrimmage once on Feb. 19 before its first game on Feb. 26.
In the meantime, the team is doing the best it can to stay prepared by working out in small groups and utilizing an outdoor weightlifting area.
“We’re going to have to get creative with how we practice and still ensure the kids are being protected,” Pitman said.
Pitman said the biggest issues with the shortened season may end up being weather and the condition of the fields.
“It’s going to be a major issue,” Pitman said. “With it being dark early, are we going to have enough time to get out and practice and do all we need to do? I don’t think all of those things have been factored in.”
The cold, wet weather will also put a major strain on the field in Ledger, Pitman added.
“The grounds are so saturated in February and March,” he said. “It’s going to be an issue on those grass fields. We practice on them in December and it’s a tough issue then because it’s so wet. We will just go through it and see what we can do.”
The schedule is also set for the Mitchell High junior varsity football team.
The junior varsity Mountaineers open the season against Enka on Feb. 19 and then host Smoky Mountain on March 4. The conference schedule then takes the team to Owen on March 11, to Mountain Heritage on March 18 and then back to Ledger to host Madison on March 25.
The junior varsity Mountaineers close the regular season with a road game against Polk on April 1 and a home contest against Avery on April 7.