There are 11 headstones, each depicting an opponent the Rebels have already beaten. There’s a stake at an empty spot that reads: “Reserved for G.’’
That G obviously stands for Greeneville, the team that on Sept. 14 handed South its only football loss this year — 24-21 — with a field goal by Chad Castainca in the final seconds.
South (11-1) has since reeled off nine straight victories. Greeneville (9-2) lost early to Kentucky power Mercer County 14-9 and to Daniel Boone 14-0. The Greene Devils have seemingly been invincible in their last nine games.
South will host Greeneville Friday night in the TSSAA’s 4A state playoff quarterfinals. One faces the final curtain.
“We feel these are two good teams and both are on a roll,’’ South coach Stacy Carter said. “Something’s got to give. (The Devils) are a better team than they were when we played them; we are, too. We’ll see who’s improved more.’’
Never has Northeast Tennessee seen a more productive quarterback than South’s Curt Phillips who runs, throws and plays defense like a man possessed.
In a span of less than three seasons, the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Phillips has accounted for nearly 8,000 yards of offense and enough touchdowns to savor forever.
Greeneville has a powerful weapon of its own — 5-5, 145-pound tailback Jeremy Barner, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
“He’s very good and we expect them to feed No. 7 the ball,’’ Carter said. “Their quarterback — Jordan Greenway — is a gunslinger. He’s definitely a playmaker.’’
Greeneville has a mammoth-size offensive line, anchored by 6-6, 360-pound tackle Cline Everhart. Flanking him are 260-pound Cody Duncan, 230-pound Irvin Hernandez and 250-pound Nathan Whitehead.
“Greeneville is big up front offensively,’’ Carter said, “and its defensive players all have jersey numbers of backs and ends. The defensive emphasis is on quickness.’’
South’s ace card may be personnel the Devils did not have to contend with the first time. Center/defensive end T.J. Blanken was hurt on the first play and sat out the remainder of the game. Defensive back Michael Acero was out with an injury. Phillips, who did not play defense then, has become a terror at safety/kick returner.
“We’ve got to run the ball well,’’ Carter said. “We have something besides Curt’s running and passing. Taylor Fletcher has lifted our running game.
“Those 21 points at Greeneville were the lowest scoring total we’ve had. We got about 370 yards of offense but didn’t play well.’’
South can counter Greeneville’s accurate placekicker with one of its own — Jordan Willingham, whose 60 extra points in a season rank 11th on the all-time list in Tennessee. He eclipsed Kevin Hudson’s school record of 32 around midseason.
The No. 4-ranked Rebels had their last full-scale workout Wednesday. With school out, they hit the practice field early.
South’s scout team, simulating the Greeneville offense, paid particular attention to the player posing as Barner. Phillips, as usual, gave his pass receivers — Kaleb Kitzmiller, Seth Johnson and Houston Martin — quite a workout with his bullet-like releases.
Steve McCurry, brought in from Asheville, N.C., as coach to return Greeneville to its former glory, is well on his way in the rebuilding process.
McCurry showed Five Rivers Conference foes just about every trick in the book.
While the loser mothballs its uniforms, the winner will move on to play either Maryville or Red Bank in the semifinals on Nov. 30. Both teams are undefeated.
The ultimate goal of all is to be playing for the state championship on Dec. 8 in the BlueCross Bowl at Murfreesboro.
Game time at South is 7 p.m.