There are striking similarities in their approach to the game that indicate Sullivan South and Greeneville might be reading the same playbook.
Both operate from shotgun formations, and neither huddles up before an offensive play.
They have explosive offenses capable of breaking open a close contest at any moment and flexible defenses that come alive in critical situations.
No. 3-ranked South (12-0) invades Greeneville (10-2) Friday for the opportunity to advance to the TSSAA Class 4A football playoff semifinals.
The Rebels defeated Greeneville 35-20 on Sept. 12 but since that time there has been a shuffle in the Greene Devils’ offensive lineup.
After double-threat quarterback Jordan Greenway was suspended from the team for disciplinary reasons, running back Trevon Hall took his place. Jeremy Barner, who did not play against South because of a leg injury, claimed the running back position vacated by Hall.
“Essentially, Greeneville has two running backs in the lineup, with Barner standing beside Hall,’’ South coach Stacy Carter said. “They are still playing like crazy.’
“They like to get the ball to their athletes in space,” Carter added. “Their passing game is now more short-range stuff — not downfield throws like Greenway made.’’
Greeneville has won nine games in succession.
In last week’s 30-23 victory over Region 1 runner-up Tennessee High, Hall completed 16 of 20 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown. He also kept the ball 21 times for 96 yards and a TD. Barner had 10 carries for 71 yards and two scores.
Two Greeneville pass receivers were very active. T.J. Rollins had seven catches for 93 yards and Rob Wright got four receptions for 71 yards.
Greeneville’s program was resuscitated a year ago by coach Steve McCurry, who came over the mountain from Asheville, N.C. He guided A.C. Reynolds High School to a 35-13 record and three conference championships in four seasons. His 2006 team went unbeaten in the regular season. In two years at Greeneville his record is 22-5.
The Rebels have made a meteoric rise under Carter, who’s dominated the Mountain Lakes Conference with four straight titles.
South’s high-powered offense is led by quarterback Bradley Davenport and running back Taylor Fletcher.
Davenport has hit on 113 of 184 passes for 1,589 yards and 21 TDs with only five interceptions, and he’s rushed for 969 yards and 10 scores.
The 180-pound Fletcher has scored 34 TDs — 30 on the run and four as a receiver. He’s rushed for 1,477 yards and caught 18 balls for an additional 262 yards.
Kaleb Kitzmiller is the Rebels’ leading receiver with 803 yards and 12 TDs on 53 catches. Seth Watterson has 15 receptions and Ashton Zanoni 13. The offensive line is anchored by 265-pound guard Hunter Beedle.
South middle linebacker Ty Garvin had 17 tackles last week in the 37-27 victory over Morristown East. Dylan Ellis came up from his safety position for 16 stops. Others who’ve stood out on defense in recent games include T.J. Blanken, Jake Logue and Zanoni.
Carter is still looking for the Rebels to click in the playoffs as they did in the MLC race.
“In the playoffs we’ve yet to have a complete performance,” the South coach noted. “We’ve thrown well at times and run well at times, but there’s not been a good mix. We’re still making mistakes than can be corrected.’’
Look for a wide-open offensive exchange on Greeneville’s new field turf. South scrimmaged on artificial surface at Carson-Newman College and played 7-on-7 competition at J. Fred Johnson Stadium in the preseason.
The South/Greeneville winner likely will play Maryville, the No. 1 team in the state, next week.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Gate City, Lebanon meet for spot in Division 2 semifinals
GATE CITY — Gate City’s football team has a lot going for it headed into Saturday’s Region D, Division 2 championship game with Lebanon at Virginia-Wise.
But then again, so do the Pioneers.
“We know we’re going to be playing pretty good football teams and we’re playing pretty good ourselves — or we still wouldn’t be here,” Gate City coach Nick Colobro sagely observed.
Gate City (9-2) faces Lebanon (8-3) in the opening game of Saturday’s Region D doubleheader. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m.
Making their 16th appearance in a regional championship under Colobro, the Blue Devils retain much of the personnel from last year’s squad that made a surprising run to the Division 2 state finals. Tailback Joseph Vaughn, who broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark in last week’s win over Powell Valley, has stepped into the role filled by veteran running back Tyler Parks last season.
Vaughn played a big part in the Blue Devils’ 20-7 win over Lebanon back in September. But that’ll hardly discourage the Pioneers.
“In high school, two months is an eternity. It’s like playing an entirely different team, ” said Lebanon coach John Adams, whose last regional title game matchup was against Giles in Region C two seasons ago.
“We feel like we’ve improved our passing game,” Adams noted. “Our defense has improved during the last weeks of the season, and our kicking game has improved over the last two or three weeks”
Quarterback Andrew Jessee (52-92-2, 539, 4 TDs) has put up the most consistent passing numbers for the Pioneers. Stephen Martin paces the receivers with 30 catches for 352 yards and a scoring strike.
Scrambling signal caller Tarrell Lee — who has rushed for 532 yards and five touchdowns — missed some time in the first meeting after getting shaken up by a hard hit. A healthy Lee will be a new wrinkle for Gate City’s defense to ponder.
Tailback Drew Helbert (136-1,019, 16 TD) missed the regular-season meeting entirely due to injury. Combined with Lee and running backs Darrell McClanahan (64-406, 3 TD) and Jerome Cobb (79-491, 6 TD), the Pioneers have many options on the ground.
Adams doesn’t think the artificial surface at Carl Smith Stadium will be the telling factor, but it shouldn’t hurt his team’s chances.
“Most of our guys are kind of small and quick. So we’re hoping it’ll help us,” Adams said.
Of course, Gate City quarterback Tihlee Anderson is also small and quick. A mobile and efficient passer, Anderson has done a great job making opponents miss on far more questionable footing.
Whether running an odd or even front, Lebanon’s defense has become bolder and more disruptive. The Blue Devils’ blockers will be expected to be as mentally and physically agile as they are powerful in order to keep the chaos to a minimum.
Postseason expectations always run high at Gate City. But the Blue Devils’ VHSL Hall-of-Fame coach insists on keeping things in perspective.
“Any pressure our kids feel is from within. We try not to put any pressure on them,” Colobro said. “We’re like anybody else. We’d like to be practicing this time next week. But if not, it’s not like it’s the end of the world. It’s not like anybody’s dying or anything.”
Clintwood, Burton set for Div. 1 rematch
NORTON — The footing was wet and soft at Ralph Cummins Stadium in late October when Clintwood beat J.I. Burton 27-13 to virtually clinch the Lonesome Pine District championship.
Saturday’s Region D, Division 1 championship game won’t literally be held on Norton turf, but the artificial surface at Carl Smith Stadium is definitely more to the Raiders’ liking.
The Greenwave (10-1) look to contain J.I. Burton (10-1) one more time in the nightcap of Saturday’s regional championship doubleheader at Virginia-Wise. The game is set to kick off an hour and a half following the conclusion of the 12:30 p.m. Division 2 opener between Gate City and Lebanon.
After last week’s opening round win over Thomas Walker, mud-covered Clintwood was fired up for the rematch. It’s a welcome opportunity to convert any disbelievers.
“Everybody kept making excuses the last game because it was raining. I’m looking forward to showing what we can do,” said Clintwood linebacker Alec Osborne, who leads the team with 81 tackles — including 32 solos, 24 for loss and eight sacks.
Independent of the weather, the fact that Clintwood held the Raiders to 37 yards rushing is an astounding statistic. Aside from that write-off, Burton slotback Jaycob Coleman has rushed for 1,517 yards this year while Martinez Miles has accumulated 1,200 yards.
So what happened?
“They out-blocked us, out-tackled us, and they beat us. They kept us pinned down in the shadow of the goalposts,” said Burton coach Jim Adams, who is taking Norton to its sixth consecutive Region D championship game appearance.
“We don’t feel we performed the way we’re capable of performing. But give them credit. One of our goals to start the season was to win the Lonesome Pine District championship. And we didn’t do it. They did.”
Other than a wrinkle or two, there’s not much reason to expect Clintwood’s defensive game plan to radically differ from the last meeting. They’ll probably keep a closer eye on Burton quarterback Devin Talley, who burned the Wave with a deep throw early last time. The kickoff squad should also be wary of Coleman, who reeled off two huge returns in the prior meeting, including a 92-yard score.
Clintwood’s Chris Robinson has 1,444 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns, including 242 on Burton earlier this season. He’ll no doubt get his usual carries running behind the Greenwave’s brutally efficient line play.
Quarterback Heath Counts (63-105-3, 1,044 yards, 13 TD) will likely air it out more often if conditions warrant. That’s been the philosophy all season.
“The weather last time obviously didn’t bode well with that, but we usually like to throw the ball enough to keep people honest,” Clintwood coach Rick Mullins said. “Heck, we are who we are and they are who they are. I don’t imagine either one of us are going to change much for this game.”
Clintwood played in last year’s Division 1 state championship game in Salem. Prior to that, Burton had been to the state finals three times in five seasons. Incompatible ambitions come to a head Saturday.