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Prep Football Previews: D-B travels to Sevier County; Gate City hosts Clintwood

Bill Lane and Jack Goodson • Oct 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM

It was spawned by the formation of the Big East Conference when the TSSAA decided to link schools along the interstate highways from Kingsport to Jacksboro.

Dobyns-Bennett’s rivalry with Sevier County has become an intense feud. Seldom does their showdown not determine the conference champion.

They will tangle Friday night in Sevierville. Even though neither has its usual win-loss record, the game may have championship ramifications — of a sort.

D-B is 3-3, 1-1 and Sevier County 3-4, 2-1. Both schools are looking up at Bearden (6-1, 3-0) but Sevier County has yet to face the Bulldogs.

Many of D-B’s games with Sevier County have been won or lost in the final minutes.

“Sevier County makes you work hard in preparation for the game,’’ D-B coach Graham Clark said. “They do a lot of things well, and you have to be mentally alert. They even have six different punt formations.’’

For the first time in memory, D-B wasn’t picked to win the Big East title. Bearden, a veteran team, got the nod.

Sevier County was second in a preseason poll of coaches and D-B third. Each drew two first-place votes.

“They are kind of similar to us,’’ Clark said. “They had to deal with a lot of inexperience early in the season. They seem to be playing well right now. It’s a typical Sevier County team — aggressive defensively.

“They’re coming off two big wins, over Seymour (35-14) and Campbell County (36-7). It’s always a competitive game for us.’’

The major strength of Sevier County’s teams lies in the pursuit of its linebackers.

“They have good ones in Daniel Cotter, Andrew Feezel and Tyler Thomas,’’ Clark said. “All three run extremely well. They flat out get to the football.’’

Even though the Smoky Bears have been outscored by opponents 180-160, their offense has perked up in the past few weeks.

“Sevier County has a nice balance between the run and the pass,’’ Clark said. “Tailback Shawn Hodge (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) can run a long way in a hurry. Right guard Will Hewitt (6-4, 285) has the reputation of being a great blocker.’’

D-B had last week off and is anxious to swing back into action.

“We seem to play well down there,’’ Clark said. “We always look forward to playing Sevier County on that field.’’

The Indians get a reasonably clean bill of health for the game. “We’ve had a stomach bug going around that’s bothered some of the players,’’ Clark said, “but our bones and joints are pretty good. To keep those bones good you’ve got to stay out of the joints.’’

Justin Sylvester is D-B’s leading rusher with 226 yards on 41 carries, followed by Robert Hogg with 220 on 41 runs and newcomer Chris Sensabaugh with 161 on 15 rushes. A freshman who got a battlefield promotion, Sensabaugh rushed nine times for 142 yards and three touchdowns against Elizabethton.

Alan Hinson has thrown 14 knockdown blocks and Casey Halsey has sprung runners for TDs seven times with clearing blocks.

Defensively, the big stoppers have been Hogg (45 tackles), Jason Michael (42), Taylor (41), Zach Fleming (34), Will Bateman (34), Clayton Kilgore (34) and Daniel Preston (24).

Sullivan East (5-1, 2-1) at Sullivan South (5-1, 3-0)

Last week: East defeated Elizabethton 20-14; South defeated Central 49-6.

Back story: A sidelight to this showdown of top contenders for the Mountain Lakes Conference title is the coaches’ background. South coach Stacy Carter was offensive coordinator at East under Ralph Nelson. They once were teammates at South.

Players to watch: South: QB Curt Phillips, WRs Houston Martin, Kaleb Kitzmiller and Seth Johnson, RBs Taylor Fletcher and Brad Shanks; East: QB Tyler Gaby, RB Caleb Looney, WR/CB Matthias Maines.

Last word: South has outscored its opponents 232-72. The Rebels are tied with Tennessee High for the MLC lead. East is tied with Johnson County for third place.

“This game is East’s big chance in the conference,’’ Carter said. “Ralph’s team gets after you on defense, scores with its special teams and has impressive players in Looney, Maines and Gaby. Offense is East’s primary strength.

“We continue to get better each week. We’re growing up and the longer we go the better we should be on defense with a group that’s still young.’’

Phillips, a preseason All-American, adds to the school records each time he gains yardage or completes a pass. Placekicker Jordan Willingham also is having a productive season.

David Crockett (1-5, 0-3) at Volunteer (2-4, 1-2)

Last week: Crockett lost to Cherokee 14-7; Volunteer lost to Greeneville 17-7.

Back story: It’s getting down to the nitty-gritty for the Five Rivers Conference’s four qualifying positions in the playoffs. Volunteer can ill afford another loss and Crockett may already be mathematically eliminated at this juncture.

Players to watch: Volunteer: QB Keith Cradic, TB Shane Barlow, LB Jordan Sandidge; Crockett: RB Jamie Copas, QB Eric Richardson, WR Barry Vandelinder, LB Tyler Shipley.

Last word: Barlow, held to 50 yards by Greeneville, still is averaging more than 100 per game. Cradic’s passing and general leadership make the Falcons dangerous at any given time. The physically imposing Sandidge is averaging 11 tackles.

Copas is Crockett’s rushing leader with 362 yards. Vandelinder has 11 catches for 249 yards. Richardson has completed 28 of 57 passes for 444 yards. Shipley has been responsible for a team-high 35 tackles.

“It’s pretty much a must-win for both of us,’’ Volunteer coach Scott Rider said. “We need to even our record to stay in striking distance of the playoffs. Keith has had to throw more the last couple of games. We want to continue to have a good mix of running and passing. We generally have a good performance when Shane is gaining yardage. The key to our defense is how well our linebackers are playing, so we’ve got to keep them free to make tackles.’’

Boone (4-2, 2-1) at Morristown West (3-3, 3-0)

Last week: Boone defeated Cocke County 33-14; West defeated city rival East 10-0.

Back story: West is the only team still unbeaten in the Five Rivers Conference standings, but the Trojans aren’t as dominant as they’ve been in years past. Boone, clicking in all phases of its game, is capable to knocking off the Trojans.

Players to watch: Boone: RB Mitchell Masters, WR Nick Jones, WR Jody Powell, LB Matt Duncan; M-West: QB Logan Wild, FS Jamere Hogue.

Last word: West is 3-0 and being chased by Boone, Greeneville and East, all at 3-1. If the Trailblazers lose, they’ll have to refocus on being a first-round visitor provided they do qualify for the 4A playoffs. Early-season injuries changed Boone’s outlook, but Jeremy Jenkins and his staff have managed to revamp a competitive lineup.

North (2-4, 1-2) at Elizabethton (2-4, 1-2)

Last week: North lost to Tennessee High 17-6; Elizabethton lost to Sullivan East 20-14.

Back story: North and Elizabethton both are trying to get on a winning track. This could be a crossroads game for the success of each.

Players to watch: North: RB Hunter McReynolds, QB Dustin Doran, RB Eric Pearcy, WR Jeff Clawson, G Isaac Moore, LB Tyler Breeding, C Matt Summey; Elizabethton: WR Wendell Loving, WR Justin Fuqua, RB Derek Carr, RB Cody Forbes, RB Brooks Price, QB Wes Anderson, DL Jordan Ray.

Last word: North is content to advance the ball and keep the chains and clock moving. This could be an effective weapon against Elizabethton, whose air game has the potential to put points on the scoreboard in a hurry.

Sullivan Central (0-6, 0-3) at Unicoi County (2-4, 0-3)

Last week: Central lost to South 49-6; Unicoi County lost to Johnson County 17-0.

Back story: Since Doug Cooper took the reins, he has gradually helped Unicoi County restore its gridiron pride. Central, mired in a long losing streak, could pull out of it with a win.

Players to watch: Central: RB Robert Herring, CB Austin Box, C-LB Chris St. Louis; Unicoi: Unicoi County: HB Ethan Bennett, HB Logan Edwards, QB D.W. Whitson, TE Drew Rice, WR Corey Headley.

Last word: This is likely the last chance for gas for Central and Unicoi County. Both are 0-3 in the MLC standings.

Greeneville (3-3, 1-1) at Cherokee (3-3, 1-2)

Last week: Greeneville defeated Volunteer 17-7; Cherokee defeated Crockett 14-7.

Back story: Under new coach Steve McCurry, the Greene Devils have a renewed attitude and know how to capitalize on breaks. Against the muscular Chiefs, they’ll need to make sure those chin straps are fastened tightly.

Players to watch: Greeneville: LB Ryan Duncan, G Nathan Whitehead, LB/S Lance Bailey, DE Joel Brimer, DL Charlie Arrington, QB Jordan Greenway; Cherokee: FB Tyler Carter, RB Landon House, QB David Cantrell, WR Matt Hale.

Last word: Cherokee seems to be kicking into gear for a late-season drive. The Chiefs have to emerge victorious this week to stay afloat in the race for a playoff position.

Southwest Virginia

GATE CITY — Talking to Clintwood coach Rick Mullins this week, you’d think he was prepping for a taping of ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights.”

“I think you can expect a physical game,” Mullins said, when asked about the Green Wave’s upcoming clash with Gate City. “Any time you play Gate City, you better be prepared physically.”

Though there’s no three- knockdown rule in effect, Friday night’s non-district encounter at Legion Field may well go the full 12 rounds.

Last October, Clintwood (3-2) rallied to defeat the Blue Devils 17-14 in overtime. It was the last meeting between the two schools as members of the Lonesome Pine District.

Gate City (4-2), now a part of the Clinch Mountain District, had two separate chances to escape with a win — both unsuccessful. The Blue Devils were denied a first down late in regulation that could’ve put away the game, and then watched as Tihlee Anderson came up inches short of a touchdown in OT.

If that doesn’t add up to to plenty of motivation for the Blue Devils, what will?

“I’m sure Coach (Nick) Colobro is just like myself,” Mullins said. “Every game you lose, you look for a way it might’ve gone your way.

“I’m sure he’s got those kids ready to play.”

Both schools are coming off impressive wins.

Clintwood, fully rested after a bye week, should still feel rosy after an 8-7 victory over Powell Valley on Sept. 28. Gate City, on the other hand, victimized John Battle 41-3 last week.

Mullins has been impressed with the Blue Devils thus far this season

“Gate City is getting better each week,” he said. “They are hitting their stride which, as a coach, is something you want to see right about now.”

For the Devils to gain a bit of revenge, the rushing game must produce. Against Battle, they totaled 403 yards on the ground.

If that is to happen, Tyler Parks will likely be the catalyst. The senior running back has 10 touchdowns and a team-high 697 rushing yards on 92 carries. Anderson has passed for 441 yards and ran for another 288 at quarterback. He has 11 total TDs.

Running back Chris Robinson (68-373, 4 TDs) should be a major factor for Clintwood. Derek Robbins (30-211, 3 TDs) is a nice complement.

At quarterback, Heath Counts has completed 47 of 73 passes for 517 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll likely be targeting Ryan Lyle (13-134) or Tyler Mullins (9-126).

After Friday, the Green Wave close their slate with three consecutive LPD contests. Regardless, Mullins feels each remaining game is critical.

“When you get to this point of the season, every game is important,” he said, “not only for wins and losses, but to improve. We just want to get better every week and build on every game.”

SW Va. Capsules

John Battle (1-5) at Lee High (4-1)

Last week: John Battle was on the wrong end of a 41-3 drubbing from Gate City. Lee High was off.

Back story: This will be the first meeting between the schools as members of the Clinch Mountain District and their first overall in more than a decade. The last time the two got together — 1993 — Lee won 42-6.

Who to watch: Lee wields a versatile two-headed backfield, with Jordan Haynes (67-467, 3 TDs) and Michael Rutledge (37-181, 5 TDs). Under center, Tyler Mullins, who has 458 yards passing, usually targets Gary Stafford (16-283). Battle’s pass-heavy offense features Cody Calloway at quarterback (404 yards passing, 3 TDs).

Last word: This will be Lee’s first foray into district play — its next four games are Clinch Mountain encounters.

“We’ve got a stretch against some really good teams that will determine if we have a good season and make the playoffs,” Generals coach Bobby Sanders said.

To get to that point, Sanders knows Lee will have to neutralize John Battle’s spread offense.

“They have really impressive quarterbacks and wide receivers,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot tougher game than the records indicate.”

Powell Valley (3-3) at J.J. Kelly (5-1)

Last week: Powell Valley rebounded from a loss to Clintwood with a 46-13 win over Thomas Walker. J.J. Kelly enjoyed an open week.

Back story: Powell Valley easily dismissed J.J. Kelly last season, winning 42-6.

Who to watch: Myron Pinkston, coming off an eight-carry, 136-yard rushing performance last week, leads Powell Valley with 527 yards. Quarterback Cedric Mitchell has passed for 778 yards. He scored twice a week ago, with one TD coming on an 86-yard kickoff return. J.J. Kelly is led by the dynamic Devan Sproles, who has rushed 57 times for 471 yards and 11 scores. Quarterback Matt Dotson has been efficient (27-of-64, 563 yards).

Last word: Powell Valley has won the past four meetings between the two Lonesome Pine District schools by a combined score of 196-19. But this isn’t the same J.J. Kelly team the LPD has grown accustomed to — just look take a look at its record.

J.I. Burton (6-0) at Honaker (3-3)

Last week: J.I. Burton sprinted past Pound 59-14. Honaker fell 33-32 to Virginia High in a thriller.

Back story: J.I. Burton is averaging 46 points per game. Honaker is allowing 23 points per game, and has given up more than 30 three times.

Who to watch: Burton has a five-headed offensive monster. Jaymil Sensabaugh has 297 yards rushing and seven TDs, but four other players are within 100 yards of him. Jay Coleman (26-264, 4 TDs) had a 71-yard punt return for a score last week. Honaker running back Logan Ball scored thrice in the loss to Virginia High.

Last word: Both teams have scored plenty this season, but Burton has shown a talent for defense as well. The Raiders are allowing just 13 points per contest.

Add the wide array of offensive talent on display for the Raiders and this will prove a difficult task for Honaker.

Coeburn (3-4) at Twin Springs (1-5)

Last week: Rye Cove handed Coeburn its first Cumberland District loss of the season, 40-29. Twin Springs was open.

Back story: Coeburn opened the 2006 season in style with a 55-27 win over Twin Springs.

Who to watch: Cumberland District rushing leader Shane Bright has 905 yards and 11 touchdowns for Coeburn. Blue Knights quarterback Jon Dean has thrown for 494 yards and will be looking to rebound from a four-interception performance last week. Twin Springs will look to Michael Salyer for production on the ground. WR Chris Jordan is a serious deep threat.

Last word: If current history is to be believed, this game will be a shootout.

Castlewood (3-2) at Ervinton (0-6)

Last week: Haysi blitzed Ervinton 55-7. St. Paul edged Castlewood 27-26.

Back story: Ervinton defeated Castlewood 28-26 in a cagey affair last year.

Who to watch: The Castlewood RB tandem of Ryan Phillips and Shane McCall has combined for more than 600 yards rushing. RB James Kiser has shined for the Rebels.

Last word: Things have changed drastically for Ervinton since last year’s historic run to the Region D playoffs. Coach Chris Crabtree is now in charge at Pound but, more importantly, the Rebels are winless. If Castlewood harbors any ambition for a Cumberland title, this is a must-win.

Rye Cove (1-5) at Thomas Walker (2-4)

Last week: Rye Cove picked up a key Cumberland District win over Coeburn, 40-29. Thomas Walker dropped a 46-13 decision to Powell Valley.

Back story: Rye Cove downed Thomas Walker 22-6 a season ago.

Who to watch: Steven Vikara, coming off a 102-yard, two-touchdown performance, paces the War Eagles’ attack (56-360, 12 TDs). Versatile quarterback Zach Hensley was the lone bright spot for Thomas Walker in last week’s defeat, rushing for 104 yards and a score.

Last word: A crucial game in terms of the Cumberland District, where both teams sit at 1-1.

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