Dobyns-Bennett hosts defending TSSAA Class 4A champion Greeneville in a game that features talented skill people on both sides.
It starts with a matchup of senior quarterbacks. The Indians’ Lendon Redwine threw for 2,284 yards last season. The Greene Devils’ Cade Ballard, the reigning Class 4A player of the year, threw for 3,148 yards and 38 touchdowns.
Ballard, who led Greeneville to a 35-21 comeback win over D-B last season, recently committed to play for Army. Three of Ballard’s teammates — receivers Dorien Goddard (Virginia), receiver Will Albright (Tennessee) and tight end Cameron Hite (Wake Forest) — are also committed to FBS schools.
“They’ve got some real good players. Besides the skill guys committed to FBS schools, they have others with FCS offers,” Christian said. “They’re a very skilled team. But we have some skilled players, too. We have to put ourselves in the right position, take care of assignment football and play as hard and physical as we can.”
The Indians can definitely count on that from running back Ian Hicks, who accounted for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Nic Bristol, now listed as wide receiver, rushed for 517 yards on 83 carries with 11 touchdowns.
On the other side, Ballard had 985 yards and 17 touchdowns to lead Greeneville in rushing, and Ty Youngblood added 749 yards and 15 touchdowns while just a sophomore. The speedy Jaevon Gillespie, grandson of NHRA drag racer Allen Johnson, is another threat in the backfield.
Greeneville’s offensive production is also the result of the line up front led by Devin Dye, a 6-foot, 300-pound center. The Greene Devils also have 6-3, 305-pound right guard Chris Everhart at and 6-3, 280-pound left tackle Tommy Taylor.
It will be a task for the Tribe defensive linemen to slow their push so linebacker Jet Harris, who led the team with 101 tackles last season, and others such as Braxton Kulbacki, Nate Whitley and Tyler Lundy can come in and make plays.
The receiver matchup against the D-B secondary will be key. Goodard stands 6-3, Hite is 6-4 and Jordan Gillespie and Albright are both 6-foot.
“The thing that I’m so impressed is how the others block for them,” Christian said. “There are none of them selfish and they fight their tails off.”
Beyond turnovers, the overriding factors that could determine the game are the Indians’ ability to convert on third-down conversions as well as control time of possession.
It is a matchup of strength versus strength with a D-B offensive line led by left tackle Cade Salyers, who had 34 knockdown blocks and 25 touchdown blocks last season. The starting line also features center Nick Starke, left guard Noah Davis, right guard Lucas Patton and right tackle Kyler Banks.
They face a Greeneville defense presenting plenty of depth and size with three tackles over 300 pounds. However, the hardest matchup against the Greene Devils’ 4-3 defense may be stopping ends Jacqes Gillespie-Taylor, who had 78 tackles — including 18 for a loss and 11 sacks — last season, and Logan Shipley, who had 55 tackles, including 10 for a loss.
“Gillespie and Shipley, we had a tough time with them last year,” Christian recalled. “They set the edge hard and you have a hard time kicking them out and blocking those guys. They roll Goddard in as a defensive end as well.”
Youngblood, a throwback, two-way player, is Greeneville’s starting middle linebacker, while Kenny Kershaw racked up 129 tackles as an outside linebacker in 2017.
The defense also features a big secondary with Hite and Albright at the safeties and Dalton McClain and Raymond Knuckles at the corners.
For Christian, the key is D-B clicking as an 11-man unit on both sides of the ball. The Indians face a brutal schedule with Greeneville, one of three opponents that have won state championships the last couple of years. However, the Indians aren’t about to shy away from the competition.
“Things have been done right a long time around here and we want to continue doing it the right way,” Christian said.
“If our kids play assignment football, if we play tough defense and we just continue to execute offensively and move the chains on third down, the score at the end of the game will be what it is.”
In other games Friday night:
SULLIVAN SOUTH AT DANIEL BOONE
It’s a backyard rivalry whose days are coming to a close with the new Sullivan County school opening in 2020.
Boone boasts an edge with talented running back Charlie Cole.
The Trailblazers have won two in a row in this series, including last year’s 34-30 thriller.
SEYMOUR AT DAVID CROCKETT
While the Eagles try to rebuild from last year’s 0-10 campaign under new coach Scott Galyon, the Pioneers hope to continue a string of success that is four years in the running.
First-year head coach Hayden Chandley makes his debut for the Pioneers, and he will be counting on a big game from junior quarterback Cade Larkins, who passed for just under 3,000 yards last season.
CAMPBELL COUNTY AT CHEROKEE
While the Chiefs try to retool their offense without standout quarterback Collin Trent — out for the season with an injury — the Cougars will try to continue the resurgence that produced 39 wins over the last five seasons.
VOLUNTEER AT HAPPY VALLEY
The Warriors left little doubt in last year’s 38-14 victory, but the Falcons have a new coach in Justin Pressley and what they hope will be a new attitude and atmosphere.
Volunteer has totaled just 19 wins over the last 10 years combined.
SCIENCE HILL AT ELIZABETHTON
The Hilltoppers won 50-25 last year and have ripped off eight straight in the series. There were two notable close calls in that stretch, a 1-yard win in 2013 and a double-overtime escape in 2016.
Sports Writer Douglas Fritz contributed to this report.