KINGSPORT — Quarterback Curt Phillips filled up the stat sheet, but Sullivan South’s ferocious defense and unyielding run game were the story in a 56-6 whitewashing of Sullivan East on Friday night in Death Valley.
Thanks to the defense, the Rebels (6-1, 4-0 Mountain Lakes Conference) started every possession of the first half on their own side of midfield.
And when Phillips turned over the ball twice before halftime, Taylor Fletcher had his back. Fletcher began shredding a Patriots defense that was clearly keying on South’s star senior signal-caller.
“Those were a couple stupid turnovers,” Phillips said of the lost fumble and interception, both of which came in the second quarter. “We just went in there at halftime and talked about taking care of the ball.”
As a result of the two turnovers, East (5-2, 2-2) was still very much in the ballgame at the midway point, trailing just 28-6.
But Phillips came out of the locker room determined to bounce back from his first-half miscues.
He ran for two scores and connected on a 40-yard strike to Kaleb Kitzmiller in the third quarter before watching the rest of the game from the sidelines.
Phillips finished with six total touchdowns, four through the air and two on the ground, racking up 97 rushing yards and 106 passing yards.
“The first half was the worst he’s played all year,” South coach Stacy Carter said. “But he’s still the best player around. He was just trying to pierce it in there with that big arm of his.”
With Phillips faltering a bit in the first half, Fletcher picked up the pace, rushing for 89 yards on nine carries in the first two quarters. He finished with 128 yards on 13 runs, including a 10-yard TD late in the second quarter.
“Our backs were incredible all night,” Phillips said. “And the offensive line was just blowing (East) off the ball.”
The Patriots came into the game with a rather simple goal: keep their offense on the field and Phillips on the sideline.
However, after losing 23 yards on two runs and a sack on the opening drive of the game, East was forced to punt.
Three plays later, the Rebels were in the end zone and the Patriots found themselves playing from behind, a position they held the rest of the game.
“We got in a situation where we had to stretch the field and throw it instead of running time off the clock,” East coach Ralph Nelson said.
Once the lead ballooned to 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, South sat back and waited for the pass. The result was a rough night for East QB Tyler Gaby, who completed just 2 of 14 passes for 20 yards with a pair of interceptions.
Caleb Looney was a bright spot for East. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound sophomore broke loose for a 71-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to bring the Patriots within 21-6.
Looney finished with 117 yards on 13 carries, accounting for virtually all of East’s offense. After gaining 121 yards in the first half, the Patriots managed only 25 yards over the final two periods.
Meanwhile, South rolled up 307 yards on the ground and 106 through the air, for a grand total of 413 yards of offense.
“Our running game was much better than it has ever been,” Carter said.
Kitzmiller finished with two receiving touchdowns while Ty Garvin and Seth Johnson also caught a TD each.