KINGSPORT — Sullivan South finds itself just one win away from playing for the TSSAA Class 4A state football championship in the BlueCross Bowl at Murfreesboro.
The Rebels (12-1) defeated Greeneville in a grudge match Friday night 41-14 to reach the playoff semifinals for the second time in history.
That last obstacle the Rebels must clear may be the toughest of all. South must travel to Maryville next Friday to face the nation’s 13th-ranked team (USA Today).
Maryville (13-0) manhandled Red Bank 52-20.
South qualified for the semifinals in 1993 and lost to Cleveland 21-0. Sam Haynie, who was chosen 4A Mr. Football in Tennessee that year, anchored South’s line. He is now the defensive coordinator for the Rebels.
The Rebels’ shotgun quarterback, Curt Phillips, again was a one-man wrecking crew. He rushed 28 times for 264 yards and scored on touchdown runs of 5, 65 and 31 yards. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound senior also completed 12 of 20 passes for another 142 yards.
In early September, Greeneville dealt South its only loss of the season, 24-21. Friday night’s victory marked four wins for the Rebels over Greeneville in their past five meetings.
“It was an outstanding game for our program,’’ South coach Stacy Carter said. “It’s a great opportunity for the seniors and we’re going to ride this wave as long as we can.
“When you get to this level, each game is a challenge. There are no easy yards.’’
Phillips put Greeneville in shock before the crowd of 4,000 could settle in. He raced 75 yards from scrimmage to score on the opening play, but the touchdown was nullified by a holding penalty.
Phillips was just getting warmed up. The 264 yards rushing turned out to be his personal best in a sensational three-year career.
Greeneville coach Steve McCurry, a 22-year veteran, described Phillips as “the best runner I’ve seen at quarterback in my 22 years of coaching.’’
Nothing Phillips ever does surprises Carter and the coaching staff.
“We say we’re a team and Curt handles that better than anybody else,’’ Carter said. “He’s so humble.’’
Each team scored a pair of TDs in the second quarter and went to the halftime break tied 14-14.
Defensive adjustments by South shut down Greeneville’s high-powered offense after intermission. Jeremy Barner finished with 98 yards in 23 carries but got 81 of this on 13 runs in the first half. Trevon Hall added 63 yards on eight rushes.
“We didn’t tackle well on Greeneville’s first two drives. We flip-flopped some of our defensive guys,’’ Haynie said. “We slanted away from No. 7 (Barner) so he’d be going with the flow.
“George Harless, Blake Rasnake and Derrick Fisher in the line and linebackers Clint Phillips and Ty Garvin really stepped up.’’
Phillips drove the Rebels 64 yards on 10 plays to open a 7-0 lead, getting the TD on a 5-yard keeper. Greeneville retaliated with a 65 scoring march on eight plays to tie the score with Barner’s 6-yard run.
It didn’t take South very long to move goalward again. Phillips did it with just one play, a 65-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead.
Again, Greeneville came back. The Greene Devils scored on a seven-play, 63-yard drive. The most significant gain before Barner’s 13-yard TD run was a 23-yard pass from quarterback Jordan Greenway to Grant Jones.
South came out smoking in the second half with scoring drives of 65, 77, 40 and 37 yards. Taylor Fletcher scored on an 8-yard run, Brad Shanks on a 14-yard pass from Phillips, Seth Johnson on a 20-yard pass from Phillips, and Phillips himself on a 31-yard run.
“We didn’t stop Phillips all night,’’ McCurry, the Greeneville coach, said. “He outran us and he ran over us. We went in at halftime 14-all and thought we had a chance to win. I know Maryville has that long win streak going but (the Red Rebels) better watch out for No. 10.’’
Phillips said South’s game plan was to set the tone early. “Greeneville has a tough ballclub and got us the first time. We knew we could score and that we’d have to do a lot of it.’’
Wide receiver Seth Johnson caught eight passes for 78 yards.
“Seth is one of those players that you know where he is at all times,’’ Phillips said. “He reads well and has great hands.
“Houston Martin, another receiver, has been slowed by an injury but he made several key blocks tonight.’’
Johnson said South adapted to Greeneville’s pass coverage.
“Curt was throwing more short routes because (the Devils) were covering us deep,’’ he said.
“This was a good night for us. We advanced and also got revenge for that loss.”
Fletcher, who rushed five times for 30 yards, also caught two passes for 39 yards.
“We had the motivation and it was the right atmosphere for us,’’ Fletcher said. “We all want that TSSAA championship ring.’’