SW Va. football preview: South's visit to Gate City generating lots of buzz

George Thwaites • Sep 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Somehow, it seems amazing that Sullivan South and Gate City never have met before on a football field.

Now that it finally is happening, Friday’s upcoming interstate clash between the Rebels (3-0) and Blue Devils (2-0) at Legion Field has all the makings of a big event.

While some of the crowd projections are far-fetched (can you even get 10,000 people into Legion Field?) there is little question that local interest in this game is sky high. Gate City High School has announced that the gates will open at 5 p.m.

“That’s one of the reasons both schools wanted to do it. Good gates and a lot of fun,” South coach Stacy Carter said. “It’s just a good thing for these two communities to get together.”

Despite Gate City’s proximity to the Model City, interstate football rivalries have been relatively scarce in recent years.

The Blue Devils had a brief interstate series with Sullivan North back in the 1990s. Gate City hasn’t faced Dobyns-Bennett on the gridiron since 1970. That was a state championship season for the Blue Devils, who prevailed 44-14 at Legion Field.

One interesting footnote gratis Bill Lane’s remarkable memory: South quarterback Aaron St. Clair’s father, Robert St. Clair, was calling the signals for D-B in 1970.

Whether or not there’s a filial revenge motive in the making, the younger St. Clair is the latest in a recent line of outstanding Rebels quarterbacks. He set a school single-game passing record of 380 yards against Greeneville two weeks ago, making an early case for his chances of becoming the third straight all-state QB to come out of Pactolus.

Once again, the Rebels have lots of targets for their QB, with Ashton Zanoni pacing a talented receiver corps. Running back Bobby Taylor is ready to carry the mail whenever South’s massive line — an impressive unit even after the tragic loss of Jake Logue — turns its attention from protecting St. Clair to creating creases.

“They’re a senior-laden team. They’re sound in all their stuff,” said Gate City coach Bill Houseright, whose team beat Tazewell 52-27 last week. “They do a good job taking what you give them. They have good size up front. They run the ball effectively and the quarterback makes good decisions back there.”

That being the case, time of possession will be a major bone of contention. Gate City also has a big and powerful offensive front, auguring an intense battle for superiority at the line of scrimmage.

For the second week in a row, running back Joseph Vaughn and quarterback Dusty Clark legged the Devils to victory. Vaughn rushed for 192 yards against Tazewell, scoring four touchdowns. Clark scrambled for 223 yards and scored twice.

“They definitely know what they’re doing,” Carter said. “They’ve got a quarterback that can fly. He gives it to (Vaughn) for some good inside gains then he pulls it out the backside and he’s gone. It kind of reminds me of the stuff Cloudland did when it had the Byrd kid.”

Some have suggested that Friday’s game may be more meaningful to Gate City than to South. This is questionable. The Rebels are riding a more obvious up cycle, but both football programs are accustomed to ruling their respective roosts.

If either team feels like it has anything to prove, one needn’t look any further than last week.

While giving due props to Daniel Boone, Carter believes last week’s 35-27 overtime win at Gray was far closer than it needed to be.

“We were very fortunate to come out with a win,” Carter said. “We were not focused ... we were putting the ball on the ground and doing some things we don’t normally do. Whatever the cause, we just didn’t play very well.”

Houseright, meanwhile, wasn’t crazy about the four touchdowns Gate City allowed Tazewell last week.

“I guess anybody that gives up three or four big plays would like to have them back. But hopefully those are things we can correct,” he said.

Richlands (1-1) at Powell Valley (1-1)

Big Creek transplant Devon Johnson rushed for 136 yards for Richlands in last week’s 45-7 win over Honaker. The Vikings look to get back on track after getting derailed 27-7 by a Lebanon team that seems more formidable with each passing week. Myron Pinkston has rushed for 220 yards and two TDs for Powell Valley, which beat Richlands 34-7 last year.

Ervinton (0-2) at St. Paul (0-2)

The Rebels lost 31-6 to Coeburn last week, but it’s worth remembering that the game was tied at 6 until a punt return and interception return by Hunter Bond in the fourth quarter turned momentum on its ear. Ervinton’s Robbie Rose has made a solid account of himself under less than ideal circumstances. The Deacons, meanwhile, look to be a very different offensive football team this week if QB Tyler Phillips steps on the field.

Happy Valley (1-1) at Clintwood (2-0)

Devin Dotson, Ryan Elswick, Cameron Vanover and J.D. Bevel pace a Greenwave defensive unit that some folks already claim is as impressive as last year’s. The Warriors are looking to regain some ground and self-respect after getting hemmed in by Elizabethton last week. Fun times at Ralph Cummins Stadium.

Honaker (0-2) at Coeburn (1-1)

Where have you gone, Heath Miller? The Tigers turn their lonely eyes to you. Off to their toughest start in recent memory, Doug Hubbard’s troops are eager for their luck to change in a big way. Bond and Adam Hill fuel the Blue Knights, who had 304 yards total offense last week.

J.I. Burton (2-0) at Abingdon (1-0)

The Raiders hope to reap a power points bonanza with this trip to Class AA Abingdon, which beat Patrick Henry 24-7 in a late surge led by Zac Crosswhite. Burton’s Martinez Miles has rushed for 141 yards, caught passes for 84 and scored four TDs — and hasn’t had a single kick or punt return yet. The Raiders clearly miss Jaycob Coleman, but as QB Jansen Bates, SB Russell Rice, WR Timmy Goins and RB Malik Miles grow more accustomed to their roles, they’ll miss him less.

Lebanon (2-0) at Tazewell (1-1)

Andrew Jessee passed for 117 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over the Vikings. That’s starting to look like a per-game average for the Pioneers. Bob Jones (6-99, 3 TD) leads the receiving corps. RB Dylan Smith (38-240, 4 TD) leads the rushing attack. Even after losing senior LB Lucas Smith, the Lebanon defense remained ruthlessly efficient last week. Cody Lockhart calls the signals for the Bulldogs, who have a serious open-field threat in wide receiver Lathel Mountain.

Middlesboro, Ky. (0-3) at Lee High (0-2)

Middlesboro’s wide-open attack is led by QB Chase Roark and RB Cody Foister. Last week, John Hill led Lee High’s rushing stats, chiefly by virtue of his fourth-quarter performance. The Generals lost 33-10 at Middlesboro last year.

Patrick Henry (1-1) at J.J. Kelly (2-0)

Led by QB Jonathan Whiteside, the Rebels opened with a 28-6 win over Bland County. Patrick Henry was hurt by four turnovers against the Falcons last week. It is not unthinkable that the Indians could be 6-0 when they face Powell Valley at Carroll Dale Stadium on Oct. 16. Alex McArthur, Ronnie Matney and Lucas Kerns are pacing the ground attack behind solid line play. The Kelly defense has already accounted for seven fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown.

Twin Springs (0-2) at Chilhowie (1-1)

Titans QB Aaron McCoy has passed for 312 yards and four TDs, three of them to WR Kris Jordan, who already has 18 catches for 147 yards. McCoy’s passing stats should benefit from the return of WR Nathan Sluss (10-102, 1 TD), who sat out last week’s 35-12 loss to Holston. The Warriors, who opened with a 10-7 loss to Marion and beat Grayson County 32-20 last week, are led by RB Tyler Austin.

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