KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett’s defensive backs will have to be on their toes when William Blount invades J. Fred Johnson Stadium on Friday night.
The Governors emphasize passing more than running. Freshman quarterback Zach Owens (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) hit on 16-of-32 throws in a 17-9 loss to Sevier County on opening night.
William Blount has two all-state picks in its lineup — middle linebacker Cole Lail (6-2, 235) and defensive back/wide receiver Don Cope (5-11, 175). A preseason all-stater, running back Darren Garner, will miss the game because of a broken collar bone suffered during a scrimmage. He’s been replaced by Caleb Elkins (5-10, 185).
“Lail is a three-year starter who runs well and has a good nose for finding the football,’’ D-B coach Graham Clark said. “Cope, who has very good speed, got three interceptions last year against (Class 4A state champion) Maryville. William Blount has another player worthy of all-state honors in defensive end Brock Gordley (6-1, 235). He’s strong, fast and tough.’’
Lail made more than 100 tackles in 2007. Cope was credited with more than 900 yards receiving and 80-plus tackles as a junior.
Lail, Cope, Garner are all listed as Murphy Fair preseason 5A all-staters along with D-B center Ryan Church.
William Blount attacks from a shotgun formation, spreads the field and has an assortment of receivers.
Richie Wilhite — normally the defensive coordinator — is serving as the Govs’ interim coach, filling in for Scott Meadows who has taken a one-year leave of absence for personal reasons.
D-B will be without sophomore tailback Chris Sensabaugh, who suffered a hyperextended elbow in the Tribes’ 42-13 victory over Tennessee High. He’ll also miss next week’s game at Bearden.
Justin Sylvester, who scored four touchdowns and racked up 164 yards rushing in relief last Thursday, will be the starting tailback.
D-B sophomore Derrick Steele is averaging 30.5 yards on two kickoff returns.
The Indians have a 7-3 edge in the series with William Blount, dating back to 1993. The Indians were up 6-0 when the Govs left Region 1-5A in 1998 and joined Region 2. William Blount beat the Indians last season 24-14 in a game decided in the last two minutes.
“We have some guys banged up,’’ Clark said, “but others are stepping up. I’m a firm believer that a team improves more between the first and second games than at any other time in the season. I think we’ve made progress but won’t really know how much until Friday.’’
Jacksonville’s Jaguars will play the Washington Redskins in a televised NFL exhibition at 7 o’clock tonight and D-B secondary coach Brian Barrett is making it required viewing for his defensive backs. Former Indian players Gerald Sensabaugh and Patrick Ghee will be at the safety positions — Sensabaugh for the Jaguars and Ghee for the Redskins.
Northeast Tennessee preview capsules
Cherokee (1-0) at Christian Academy of Knoxville (0-1)
The Chiefs’ priority will be stopping Keenan Kolinsky (6-1, 215), CAK’s all-state candidate running back. Cherokee saw firsthand last year what he could do when CAK beat the Hawkins County school 42-21. Kolinsky rushed for 1,257 yards and 13 touchdowns on 190 carries and also caught 28 passes for 219 yards and two more TDs in 2007. CAK returns four starters in the offensive line — guard Andrew Pharaoh, center Andrew Frazer, tackle Matt Mabry and tackle Steven Fortner. CAK was beaten 21-14 by powerful Boyd Buchanan last week.
Sullivan Central (0-1) at Sullivan North (1-0)
North’s opening win over David Crockett wasn’t that much of a surprise, but the 34-6 score was. Robbie Norris and his staff have the Raiders playing both offense and defense with enthusiasm and high efficiency. Central lost a 19-17 heartbreaker to Virginia High, and knocking off its Sullivan County neighbor would be a step in the right direction.
South Greene (1-0) at Daniel Boone (0-0)
The Boone field will be dedicated in honor of its retired longtime coach, Ken Green. Jeremy Jenkins’ Trailblazers will make their 2008 debut, unveiling a four-player rotation at running back — Jeremy Hood, Jacob Mathis, Jimmy Starkey and Blake Shiropshire. Boone has beaten the Rebels by similar scores the last two years — 26-7 and 28-7. South Greene defeated Unicoi County 31-14 in its first game of 2008.
Volunteer (0-0) at Sullivan East (0-0)
This should be a battle royale with Volunteer’s aggressive defense facing the productive passing/running tandem of East quarterback Tyler Gaby and halfback Caleb Looney. Gaby passed for 742 yards and Looney rushed for 981 last season. The Patriots scored late to beat Volunteer 28-21 in 2007. The Falcons’ top returnees are three-year starters Wes Carpenter (LB/TE) and Robbie Clemons (LB/WR). New QB Luke Cradic will be looking for Aaron Bennett on downfield passes. Scott Rider’s Falcons will be running the ball by committee, with Cody Riner, Isaac Hutchins, Cody Hopkins and Devon Rogers getting most of the calls.
Southwest Virginia preview
LEBANON — Given all its personnel losses, Powell Valley wasn’t widely expected to be a major player in Region D’s Division 2 playoff hunt this year. Certainly not this early in the football season.
Last week’s 6-0 overtime win against Lee High suddenly increases the prospects for unexpected gridiron wealth in Big Stone Gap.
Fresh from last week’s 16-14 victory at Honaker, Lebanon (1-0) will be on red alert when the Vikings (1-0) arrive in town for a non-district meeting with the Pioneers.
Lebanon coach John Adams, whose team lost 14-9 at Bullitt Park in last year’s meeting, would just as soon avoid another low-scoring game with the Vikings.
“Powell Valley defended 80 plays the other night. That’s pretty good,” Adams said. “They’re going to be hard to beat. They’ve got a lot of pride. Some of the things you count on doing, they don’t let you do.”
Vikings coach Phil Robbins admits that last week’s upset victory over Lee High was a welcome tonic. But it was by no means a cure-all.
“I mean, all you’ve got to do is look at the film. It’s not like, ‘Oh boy, we’ve arrived.’ It’s more like, ‘We’ve got to go to work.’ But it’s a lot easier to get back to work if you snuck one out than if you got beat,” Robbins said.
Offensively, Powell Valley is struggling to reinvent itself. The transition between the Brad Robbins and Cedric Mitchell eras was, in retrospect, a lot smoother than the new day dawning.
The ongoing quarterback competition between Gil Lusk, who was 1-for-6 with four yards and an interception against Lee, and Kenny Burke (2-for-5, 29 yards) did not appear settled in any clear-cut fashion last week. Both saw intense pressure from Lee High stunts and pass rushers.
The Vikings rushing game produced mixed results. Myron Pinkston had some nice carries in regulation. The winning drive in overtime — with Jordan Martin at tailback behind Pinkston at fullback — also showed promise.
“Obviously, our big, major improvement has got to come from our offensive line blocking,” Robbins said.
“We’ve worked a lot on basics and some fundamentals, and we’ll continue to do that. I think we have a lot of potential with our linemen, size-wise and quickness and toughness. We’ve just got to learn to put it all together.”
The graduation of star running back Skyler Musick hasn’t led to any big offensive paradigm shifts at Lebanon. With quarterback Terrell Lee throwing three interceptions last week, the Pioneers’ got the most mileage out of their ground game.
Drew Helbert rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown, while Jerome Cobb pounded his way to 41 yards. Lee finished with 53 yards and a score.
Robbins noted that Helbert may be a more problematic running back to defend than Musick, and Lee is doing a much better job running the option.
“They’ve got the potential to hit the home run on you. We have to batten down the hatches. I hope we can do that and keep it close,” Robbins said.
Both squads have a lot of weight at the front end of the schedule. Powell Valley’s next three opponents include Richlands, J.I. Burton and Clintwood. After this Friday, Lebanon looks forward to a week off, then Gate City and Clintwood.
Southwest Virginia preview capsules
Harlan at Lee High (0-1)
Lee High remains hungry for a win and is probably a little bit angry. After last week’s disappointing OT loss at Powell Valley, the Generals look to get back on track with this Kentucky opponent, which Lee beat 34-6 last year. Tyler Graham had a promising debut at RB last week, collecting 122 yards on 23 carries. Cole Rutherford and Nick Stapleton paced the Lee defense, which played four quarters of shutout football last week.
Gate City (1-0) at Tazewell (1-0)
Gate City faces its second consecutive non-district opponent from the Southwest District. Storm warning: the Bulldogs edged George Wythe 21-19 last week. RB Matt Muncy and QB Cody Lockhart led Tazewell to victory at Wytheville. The Blue Devils got big plays from QB Tihlee Anderson and all-purpose offensive weapon Dustin Jones in last week’s 27-14 win over Richlands.
J.I. Burton (1-0) at Appalachia (0-1)
This classic matchup between old Lonesome Pine District Division 1 rivals is no longer guaranteed to be part one of a two-part series. The Raiders, who beat Rye Cove 43-6 last week, bristle with big-play potential in the form of Martinez Miles, Jaycob Coleman and Russell Rice. The Bulldogs, who lost 27-14 to Castlewood last week, are leaning heavily on freshman RB Tyler Barker. Appalachia traditionally relishes playing the underdog role. This week, that won’t be a hard sell for coach Roger Austin.
Castlewood (1-0) at Thomas Walker (0-1)
How often does a Cumberland District school open the year with a win against Appalachia? The Blue Devils drilled the Pioneers 42-0 last year and Thomas Walker’s 46-19 loss to Class AA Cumberland Gap doesn’t appear to augur well for Ewing at first glance. But on any given week, last year’s Cumberland District football scores didn’t seem to bear much relation to any other week. RB Ryan Phillips paces Castlewood, having debuted with 191 yards rushing last week. Pioneer RB Zach Hensley — who sat out last week’s game — is one of the fastest players in Southwest Virginia and could pose problems for Castlewood if the Pioneer OL gets him a crease or two.
Clintwood (1-0) at Haysi (1-0)
An overmountain rivalry gets out of the way early as this pair of Dickenson County unbeatens square off at Sand Lick. The ambitious Greenwave, gunning for a second straight appearance at Salem this December, put seven different players in the end zone in last week’s 48-8 win over Coeburn. Heath Counts passed for 139 yards and two scores while RBs Chris Robinson and Devin Elswick saw relatively limited carries in a collective rushing effort. The Tigers, who are led by QB Chris Fleming and receivers Hobert Newberry and Dakota Stanley, opened last week with a 32-18 win over Grundy.
Coeburn (0-1) at Ervinton (1-0)
As overmatched as the Blue Knights were against Clintwood last week, Coeburn is at least twice as highly favored this week against Ervinton, which is playing with a wafer-thin roster. It’s difficult to imagine what the Rebels can do to slow down Coeburn RB Shane Bright, who was last year’s Cumberland rushing champ. But big play threats like Nathan Lee and Lee Turner increase the odds that the Rebels won’t get skunked.
J.J. Kelly (1-0) at Pound (0-1)
After last week’s big win over Twin Springs, the Indian uprising spills over into LPD territory. Devan Sproles rushed for 200 yards last week while QB Matt Dotson passed for 169. QB Justin Mullins paces the Wildcats, who passed for 152 yards in last week’s loss to Patrick Henry.
Twin Springs (0-1) at Holston (1-0)
The Titans will have their hands full with a hard rushing non-district opponent for the second week in a row. Last week, the Cavs got 137 yards and two scored from Jeffrey Bramlett and another 96 from Eric Mefford as they steamrolled St. Paul 42-7.
Twin Valley (0-1) at St. Paul (0-1)
Tyler Phillips leads the Deacons, who look to recoup some self-esteem after last week disappointing opener at Holston. The Panthers are off to an arguably rougher start, having been shut out 33-0 by Bland.
John Battle (0-1) at Virginia High (1-0)
The “country” cousins come calling at Bristol Friday. John Battle RB Michael Johnson was held to 57 yards rushing in last week’s 48-7 loss to Abingdon. The Bearcats had trouble holding on to the football against Central last week — particularly RB Damon Dock. But Dock and backfield counterpart Anthony Jones remain serious rushing threats. LB Shaka Andrew is a big playmaker on the VHS defense.