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D-B, South eye conference crowns; Burton hopes to rebound against Gate City

Bill Lane and George Thwaites • Oct 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

It’s showtime for both Dobyns-Bennett and Sullivan South as their respective football conferences schedules come to an end Friday night.

They face similar situations.

D-B (9-0, 5-0) will be at Science Hill (7-2, 4-1) trying to nail down the Big East Conference championship outright. The Indians are already assured of at least a tie for it. D-B has won the 13 of the 16 Big East titles.

The Indians could be denied the Region 1-5A crown if Science Hill wins and Jefferson County beats Bearden — in which case Science Hill would be the region’s No. 1 representative in the playoffs and the Big East co-champion.

In this scenario, Bearden could put the race in a three-way tie by winning. This would send D-B to the playoffs as the region’s top team on the basis of its overall record.

South (9-0, 6-0) goes to Tennessee High (7-2, 6-0) for a game that will decide the Mountain Lakes Conference championship. Should the Rebels win, it would clinch their fourth consecutive MLC crown.

The South-Tennessee High winner will be the MLC and Region 1-4A champion. The conference schedule maker couldn’t have set it up any better.

D-B is ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press 5A state poll. South stands No. 3 in the 4A poll.

Because of TSSAA reclassification, the Big East and MLC will disband after this season.

Justin Sylvester, his sprained ankle mended, will return to the D-B lineup as its safety. His use as a wide receiver will be guarded. “We need him,’’ D-B coach Graham Clark said. “Justin has been practicing. He’s ready.’’

Clark has high regard for Science Hill. “It’s a talented team,’’ he said. “(The Hilltoppers) have a lot of offensive weapons and nobody in their defensive unit runs the 40-yard dash in over 4.9 seconds.

“Isaac Kinley, their quarterback, makes things happen. They can do a lot with him. He’s got some wheels. Before last week’s game he had kept the ball for 648 yards. Armando Canepa, entering that game, had 459 yards.’’

Science Hill’s defensive players to watch are linebacker Jeff Green, who has 70-plus tackles, and the ball-hawking Kinley, a safety.

Clark expects a run-oriented attack by Scott Smith’s Hilltoppers. “They line up with two tight ends and a wing and come at you,’’ he said.

D-B’s focus will be on special teams. “We’ll have to do things right,’’ Clark said. “Science Hill has blocked three punts in the last two weeks.’’

The Tribe has a 14-game win streak going against the ‘Toppers. Science Hill’s last victory came in 1994. These two teams met twice in 1998.

D-B’s big guns on offense are quarterback Jamie Crawford, running back Chris Sensabaugh and wide receiver Ashlon Adams, a transfer from Science Hill.

Between them, Sensabaugh and Crawford have nearly 1,500 yards rushing. Crawford has completed 65 percent of his passes.

South’s offensive leaders are running back Taylor Fletcher, quarterback Bradley Davenport and wide receiver Kaleb Kitzmiller. Fletcher has rushed for 1,133 yards and Davenport for 796. Davenport, a 63 percent passer, has thrown for 1,120 yards. His prime receiver is Kitzmiller, who’s had 36 catches for 406 yards.

The Rebels are averaging 409 yards rushing and 47 points a game.

Tennessee High is averaging 319 yards rushing, 91 passing and 26 points per outing.

THS tailback Keenan Shepard has gained 1,226 yards and scored 15 times. Quarterback Tyler Harmon has hit on 66 percent of his passes, accounting for 819 yards. John Ellis Davis has 16 catches for 181 yards.

“Tennessee High has a great running attack,’’ South coach Stacy Carter said. “Shepard is one of the best runners in the entire area. He’s physical. You’ve got to get a hand on him before he gets going. (The Vikings) set up the pass well with their offense.’’

Fullback Bradley Tallman is another offensive key. He plows out short yardage, blocks effectively and catches screen passes.

“Whoever can get the best field position will have an advantage,’’ Carter said. “Tennessee High takes pride in its defense.’’

The Vikings have been more impressive of late, with players gradually coming off the injury list.

THS halfback Matt Pendleton has suffered another injury and won’t be playing this season.

Preview capsules

Cherokee (5-4, 3-3) at Volunteer (2-7, 2-4)

Last year’s 19-15 Volunteer victory left a bad taste in the mouths of Cherokee partisans. Time ran out with a pileup at the goal line as the Chiefs attempted to score.

This time it will be Cherokee going to the 4A playoffs if it can pull off a win or if Daniel Boone loses to Morristown East. It will be the last Five Rivers Conference game for both schools.

“We’re going to have to play well to win,’’ Volunteer coach Scott Rider said. “Our offensive line has shown signs of improvement the last three weeks. If we get good play there and move the ball with the right mix of passes and runs, we’ve got a chance. Otherwise, it could be a long night.’’

Volunteer QB Luke Cradic has passed for more than 1,300 yards, distributing the ball to five different receivers. The most productive ones have been Aaron Bennett, Robbie Clemons and R.J. Williams. Rider singled out linebackers Cody Hopkins and Patrick Kochensparger for their steady play over the season.

“Cherokee has a good football team,’’ Rider said. “Running backs Landon House and Coleman Elliott are outstanding players. House, who’s had some injuries, is a hard-nosed runner. The quarterback, Hunter Hamilton, has been steady. Inside linebacker Chance Burke, outside linebacker Brian Hake and lineman Daniel Littleton are solid defensive players. In the last two years, this game has sent the winner to the playoffs.’’

Cherokee leads the Hawkins County series 19-9.

Sullivan North (7-2, 4-2) at Johnson County (6-3, 3-3)

North has already qualified for the 4A playoffs but could go as the third-place team instead of fourth if it beats the Longhorns. This would put Elizabethton in as the No. 4 team. Should Johnson County win, it would be the No. 3 team going to the playoffs and North would go as No. 4.

“We’re having good times over here right now,’’ North coach Robbie Norris said. “Our kids just want to play.’’

Linebacker Carl McGathey is sidelined with an injury, and Brett Jennings will take his place. Speculation is that wide receiver/cornerback Sterling Throp will return for the playoffs. He was injured against Tennessee High.

Johnson County’s versatile Christian Prudhomme is out for the season with a knee injury. Prudhomme was the team’s leading scorer with 77 points. The Longhorns’ top offensive threat is quarterback Austin Phipps, who’s kept the ball for 390 yards and hit on 76 of 152 passes for 1,461 yards and 17 touchdowns. Running back Adam Shelton also has gained 390 yards.

North has a well-balanced team. Slotback Eric Pearcy leads the Raiders in rushing with 684 yards and fullback Hunter McReynolds has gained 391. Speedster Matt Washington, the team’s top scorer with 10 touchdowns, has returned two kickoffs and two fumbles for TDs. The Raiders have outscored opponents by an average of 30-15. Their defense has practically played out of this world, allowing just 3.8 yards per rush.

Sullivan East (4-5, 1-5) at Sullivan Central (1-8, 1-5)

This game has become known affectionately as the “Nelson Bowl.” Brothers Ralph and Scott Nelson are the teams’ head coaches. “I guess our parents will be pulling for one of their boys to win,’’ Ralph, a former University of Tennessee lineman, quipped.

Both squads have had their ups and downs this year. Central experienced a rash of injuries early in the season, but has picked up some momentum as most of its players have returned.

East has been hit hard by recent illnesses. “Our top running back, Caleb Looney, is out with mononucleosis,’’ Ralph Nelson said. “Caleb is the heart and soul of our offense and defense. There’s a 36-hour virus going around. Quarterback Tyler Gaby was a bit wobbly at Johnson County last week. We also have a couple of receivers who are sick. We’re just going to have to play hard and pull together. If we do that, we’ve got a shot at winning.’’

Daniel Boone (5-4, 2-3) at Morristown East (7-2, 5-1)

It would take the combination of a Boone victory and a loss by Cherokee to Volunteer for the Trailblazers to qualify for the 4A playoffs.

M-East is ranked No. 12 in the AP poll and favored to beat the ‘Blazers. Boone made it interesting last year, losing only 21-14 to the Hurricanes.

Southwest Virginia

NORTON — When the spirits gather at Norton’s Lawson-Fitchko Stadium on All-Hallows Eve, J.I. Burton won’t be haunted by the prospect of blemishing a perfect record.

In fact, the outcome of Friday’s non-district football showdown between the Raiders (8-1) and the Blue Devils (8-1) won’t have any practical effect on the postseason prospects for either team.

“This is like a fun-game jamboree. Other than it being for the pride, I don’t think either team can gain anything from it,” said Burton coach Jim Adams. “Gate City is pretty much locked in at No. 1 in their bracket. We’re locked in at No. 2 in ours.”

The Blue Devils are ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press Group A state poll. The Raiders are ranked No. 9. Both — along with No. 6 Clintwood — probably deserve higher rankings, given their recent state playoff histories.

Gate City, which lost to No. 3 Gretna in last year’s Division 2 state championship game, makes no secret of its ambitions to return to Salem. For Blue Devil coach Nick Colobro, the talented, speed-rich Raiders are an ideal opponent to prepare Gate City for the postseason.

In a lot of ways, it’s just like the Clintwood game — which Gate City won 28-27.

“It was a great test that either team could’ve won. You don’t lose when you play a game like that. You gain a lot just from playing in a game like that,” said Colobro.

“I think we’re going to gain a lot of valuable experience playing somebody with their athletic ability. We want to see if we can make adjustments to all their sets ... and to all of their stunts.”

The Blue Devils aren’t likely to see two athletes down the road any more impressive than J.I. Burton slotbacks Jaycob Coleman and Martinez Miles.

Coleman has rushed for 1,174 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Miles has rushed for 1,002 yards and 17 scores. Both are fast. Both are strong. Both block as well as they run.

Clintwood had success shutting down the Raider rushing attack last week, although slick field conditions certainly played a role. Raiders QB Devin Talley was finally forced to reveal some of Burton’s passing game last week, and also proved a dangerous scrambler in his own right.

“I may be totally wrong, but I don’t think Gate City is going to stop being Gate City just because they’re playing J.I. Burton,” Adams said.

The Blue Devils offense has gotten yeomanlike skill performances to compliment outstanding line play. Running back Joseph Vaughn has rushed for 772 yards and eight TDs, while quarterback Tihlee Anderson has 553 rushing yards and 10 scores. He’s also passed for 495 yards and three scores.

Disruptive speed is part of Burton’s defensive equation as well. It will keep Gate City on its toes at all times.

“Defensively, they’re very quick to the ball. It’s going to be a great challenge for us to see that kind of quickness and see if we can get our tempo up to match,” Colobro said. “There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Hopefully, a wrinkle here and a wrinkle there, maybe we can slow them down a little bit.”

Preview capsules

Clintwood (8-1, 4-0) at Pound (3-6, 1-3)

The No. 6 Greenwave clinched at least a share of the LPD title last week and can seal the deal with a win at Pound. Barring some unforseen catastrophe, Clintwood is likely to go into the Division 1 playoffs as the top seed. Fueled by RB Aaron Balthis, the Wildcats are sure to give this one their all. But it’s difficult to imagine what Pound coach Chris Crabtree can cook up to counter Clintwood’s terrific lineplay, to say nothing of RB Chris Robinson’s single-minded obsession with forward progress.

Coeburn (4-5, 3-2) at Castlewood (6-3, 3-2)

With a 17.0 rating, the Blue Devils appear to be on the bubble for the last remaining Division 1 playoff berth. Fail to win here and the bubble is likely to burst. This game will showcase a pair of opposing running backs who have racked up phenomenal yardage. Castlewood’s Corey Davis has rushed for 1,559 yards and 13 touchdowns. Coeburn’s Shane Bright has rushed for 1,555 yards and 19 scores.

Haysi (7-1) at J.J. Kelly (7-2)

The Tigers, who have a 19.4 rating with two games remaining, look to be the No. 3 seed in the Division 1 playoffs. The Indians, with 124 points and a 20.4 rating, look to be in solid position for the No. 2 seed to the Division 2 regional playoff bracket. QB Chris Fleming leads the Haysi passing attack, while Jarren McCowan, Zack Mondrage and Justin Blair keep the chains moving on the ground. RB Jordan Bates broke the 1,000-yard barrier last week for the Indians. QB Matt Dotson keeps defenses honest with an efficient passing attack.

Lee High (2-6, 1-2) at Virginia High (3-6, 1-2)

The Generals only lost two of their four fumbles last week, but ball security concerns no doubt contributed to Lee High’s 20-7 shortfall to Gate City. Lee High has two more opportunities to salvage something from this season. RB Tyler Graham is knocking on the door of a 1,000-yard rushing season. QB Tyler Mullins has passed for 430 and rushed for 336. RBs Damon Dock and Anthony Jones lead the Bearcat rushing attack; LB Shaka Andrew fires up the defense.

Thomas Walker (5-4, 4-1) at St. Paul (2-7, 1-4)

The Pioneers have a 17.1 power rating and a ghost of a chance to make the Division 1 playoffs. The Deacons aren’t going anywhere, but they can play the spoiler. Thomas Walker RB Zach Hensley has rushed for 1, 199 yards and 16 touchdowns. QB Tyler Phillips, WR Bryce Lawson and RB Denver Fritz lead the Deacons.

Saturday Games

Powell Valley (4-5, 1-3) at Appalachia (1-8, 0-4)

The Vikings are currently third in line for a Division 2 playoff spot with a 17.4 rating. This game has a bittersweet backstory. Travis Turner — Appalachia’s greatest all-time QB and son of late, great Bulldog coach Tom Turner — joined the Powell Valley coaching staff as a quarterbacks coach this season. He had previously played under, and coached beside, current Appalachia coach Roger Austin. Myron Pinkston and Jordan Martin lead the Vikings offense; Dakota Cantrell leads the defense. Tyler Barker and Cody Carter command the Bulldogs, who look to wrap up one of the program’s most difficult campaigns on a strong note.

Twin Springs (5-4, 4-1) at Rye Cove (4-5, 3-2)

Thomas Walker and Castlewood both out-point the Titans, but if the Pioneers stumble at St. Paul, Twin Springs stands to make the Division 1 playoffs as the district champion. QB Michael Salyer, RBs Daniel Smith and Adam Gillenwater and WR Kris Jordan lead the Titans. QB Chase Rollins RBs Steven Vikara and Teddy Parker and FB-LB T.J. Barnette lead the War Eagles.

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