By Lance Hickey
Asheville – North Buncombe’s quest for home-field advantage in the first round of the state playoffs took a hit, as the BlackHawks fell in heartbreak fashion at Asheville 41-38 on Friday evening.
Asheville capitalized first as the Three Hillier found Famous Pasley for a 38-yard touchdown with 3:42 remaining in the first quarter. Asheville led 6-0 at the end of the first quarter.
North Buncombe had an answer early in the second quarter as Trent Cole would convert on a 13-yard touchdown run to give the BlackHawks a 7-6 advantage with two minutes gone in the second period.
Asheville responded on the Cougars’ next possession as Justin Campbell would score from five yards out to give Asheville a 13-6 lead, following the extra-point-attempt. A Kevin Santiago 32-yard field goal would inch the BlackHawks within three points at 13-10 just before the halftime break.
Asheville had yet another answer as Campbell would score his second touchdown run of the game, this time from four yards out, before North Buncombe’s Joe Jones scored a 1-yard touchdown carry of his own. Asheville led 20-17 at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter proved to be memorable as both teams began to heat up. A Hillier 15-yard touchdown pass to Pasley gave the Cougars a 27-17 lead with seven seconds gone in the fourth quarter.
North Buncombe responded quickly on a 65-yard Jones touchdown run to get the BlackHawks within 27-24. Hillier, yet again, though, would find another receiver for a long touchdown score as Vasili Paulk would convert on a 69-yard touchdown catch and scamper to give Asheville a 34-24 lead with 10:27 remaining in regulation.
The BlackHawks still had hope, as Jones took over for North Buncombe, scoring on a 9-yard touchdown run with 5:57 remaining. Jones received another opportunity to score, following an Asheville punt, converting a 10-yard scamper for a score. North Buncombe took a 38-34 lead with 1:01 left in the game.
Asheville had one more answer, moving the ball the length of the field, as Hillier would eventually find Campbell for a 29-yard passing play for a score with 11 seconds remaining in the game. The BlackHawks were unable to find an answer on their next possession with such little time remaining on the clock.
Asheville would go on to win 41-38 in brisk temperatures on Friday night. The heartbreaking loss to the team now 7-4 in overall play and 4-4 in conference play means the team and their coaches will be on pins and needles during this bye week before more information is released on potential playoff opportunities.
Hawks’ Head Coach Brandon Allen told the Tribune when asked how the changes for a playoff seed looked, “Certainly not what we had anticipated. [It] does not look great, but there is still hope.”