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Originally published: 2012-08-16 11:57:53
Last modified: 2012-08-16 11:57:53

Border rivalry rekindled: Mitchell hosts Avery for season opener

Jamie Shell / (

The time has finally come. 

After an offseason filled with weightlifting, conditioning, practices, coach’s whistles and scrimmages, the 2012 prep football season begins in earnest for the Avery Vikings and Mitchell Mountaineers when the clubs square off this Friday, Aug. 17, at Memorial Stadium in Ledger.

The Vikings, coming off a 6-6 campaign in 2011, hope to mature quickly as a young team with loads of potential take the field together for the first time in a game that counts. 

Mitchell, ironically enough, is in a similar position in 2012 following a 12-2 season that saw the club win a conference championship and advance to the third round of last year’s state 1AA football playoffs. The Mountaineers will look to reload after the departure of numerous seniors, including standouts Justin Hughes, Michael Styles, Ben Smith, Troy Self, Josh McClellan and Dayshawn Blackmon, just to name a few. Avery and Mitchell share the common bond that each team lost to eventual state champion Swain County during last year’s postseason.

Scouting the Mountaineers

Mitchell is led on the field by veteran head coach Russell Barnett. The team returns only 10 lettermen from last season’s club, including just four starters on offense and three starters on defense.

The Mountaineers will utilize the spread offense that has brought it high levels of success in recent seasons, but will look to new faces to trigger the attack, including players such as quarterback Gage Perkins, who saw quite a bit of time on the varsity club a season ago. 

Anchoring the line of scrimmage on offense, as well as playing in Mitchell’s 4-4 defensive scheme will be seniors Jeremiah Dowell (six-feet, three-inches, 230 pounds), Daniel Honeycutt (six-feet, five-inches, 245 pounds) and Daniel Patrella (six-feet, 275 pounds).

“We will be strong on the offensive and defensive lines,” Barnett said in an interview with a state preseason publication. “We have concerns at the skill positions and in the kicking game.”

For Mitchell, like Avery, a key in the early season will be how quickly the squad’s young players can develop at the varsity level.

“Our young skill players need to develop to be successful,” Barnett added.

The low down

The most unpredictable game of the season for any high school club is usually the first one. Both Avery and Mitchell have worked hard to prepare for the season and for this border war. A factor that will play into who earns the first win of the 2012 campaign is simple execution. The team that turns the ball over the least and makes the least amount of mistakes will have the leg up on earning a “W.”

Avery’s youngsters on offense, primarily Tre Jackson at quarterback and Austin Phillips at running back, will need to provide field leadership quickly, while veterans like wide receiver Austin Robbie and running back Luke Childress will need to produce early and have strong opening game performances.

By the numbers:

5 - returning offensive starters for the Avery Vikings from last year’s squad.

6 - number of points scored by Avery in last year’s season opener at MacDonald Stadium against the Mountaineers. Additionally, the total number of rushing touchdowns by Vikings senior running back Luke Childress last season.

23 - touchdown passes by Avery quarterback Alex Villanueva in 2011, 21st highest total for North Carolina high school signal callers.

33 - rushing touchdowns scored by MHS quarterback Justin Hughes in 2011, good for eighth overall in the state.

311 - receiving yards for AHS receiver Austin Robbie, the high total for returning Vikings pass catchers in 2012.

Read next week’s edition of The AJT for a recap of this week’s contest at Mitchell, as well as a preview of next week’s home opener against West Wilkes.