Typically, high schools choose a soft opponent for their homecoming football game. Not so at Tennessee High this season.
Dobyns-Bennett will be the visiting team in Bristol, Tenn., on Friday night. The Indians are far from a punching bag.
“We don’t get to play in a lot of homecoming games,’’ D-B coach Graham Clark said. “When I played for Emory & Henry College, other teams came to our place for their homecomings.’’
Tennessee High will be the sixth top-10 team D-B has faced.
D-B, 2-4 overall and 2-1 in the Big 8 Conference, is unranked for the first time in several years. The Vikings, 6-0 and 3-0, are the state’s second-ranked Class 5A team.
“(The Vikings) are undefeated,’’ Clark said. “That’s the big thing, being 6-0 at this juncture. They’re excited about this team. We’re excited about ours, too.’’
Each squad has a superlative at running back.
Tennessee High’s Keenan Shepard, a 175-pound senior, is the complete package — speedy and powerful. Containing him may be a tall order. Chris Sensabaugh, a 195-pound junior, needs no introduction. He is D-B’s modern-era rushing leader. Sensabaugh, at times, barrels over defenders rather than go around them.
Clark has been impressed by Tennessee High’s sturdy line. “They are not huge,’’ he said, “but that defensive front is extremely aggressive.’’
One of the Tennessee High chargers is 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end Brad Tallman. “Penetration is his game,’’ Clark said. “He also runs at fullback, clearing the way for Shepard with effective blocking.’’
However, what concerns Clark most is the Vikings’ kicking game. Tyler Graham practically punts the ball out of sight.
“We thought about trying to block some of his punts,’’ Clark said, “but he lines up so deep, I’m afraid our guys might get tired running that far back. I’ve actually seen No. 9 punt the ball 50 yards.’’
Both offenses are multiple. Quarterback Taylor Harmon pulls the trigger for THS. David Roop starts the action for D-B.
“Stone Castle after dark is a spooky place,’’ Clark said. “That stadium has a lot of tradition.’’
Despite the Indians’ sluggish start, they are still in contention for the Big 8 title — or at least a share. “We’ve got a shot at it,’’ Clark said, emphasizing that this is a pivotal game.
It took a while for Clark and his staff to get the players down from cloud nine after their stunning 42-28 win over Sullivan South last week.
Sensabaugh, who gained 262 yards last year against Elizabethton, raced for 204 yards in the South game. On the season, Sensabaugh has picked up 825 yards with 116 rushes and scored 42 points despite being a marked man.
The Indians’ top path-clearing blockers have been center Patrick Hansen, guard Tyler Hayworth and tackle Corey Hall. Hansen has delivered 14 pancake blocks, Hayworth 10. Hall is tops in blocks leading to touchdowns with seven. Hansen and Hayworth each has six.
Linebacker Jason Michael is the D-B tackle leader with 58. Rusty Clark, Devin Ricker and Sean Seabolt trail him with 35, 34 and 33, respectively. Derrick Steele has three pass interceptions and has broken up five others.
D-B owns a whopping 59-18 advantage in the series. One game ended in a tie. Tennessee High has the state’s oldest public-school program.
Sullivan South (5-1, 2-1) at Volunteer (0-6, 0-3)
Nobody was more surprised at South’s dismal performance against Dobyns-Bennett than Rebels coach Stacy Carter. “How can a team not be up for a game with 8,000 people watching?’’ he said Wednesday. “I’m still scratching my head, wondering.’’
Carter is hoping the Rebels return to the fast track against Volunteer, a team riddled by injuries. He isn’t taking the Falcons for granted: “We’ve got to come to play. We now know what can happen when you’re not ready. We’ve got to get back to work. We control our own destiny. Maybe the loss to D-B shook us up to a point where we realize nothing is going to be easy.’’
South wide receiver/safety Seth Watterson will miss this game with a recurring shoulder injury. Quarterback Aaron St. Clair won’t return for another two weeks, while his back injury continues to mend.
Daniel Boone (5-1, 2-1) at Science Hill (3-3, 2-1)
Boone seldom gets a crack at Science Hill in the role of favorite but this year is an exception. David Crockett gave the Hilltoppers quite a scare last week before bowing 21-20.
Jeremy Jenkins’ Trailblazers are on the move. They knocked off D-B and Seymour, and took South into overtime. Their youth movement is paying early dividends.
Science Hill’s biggest advantage against Boone will be its quickness. Hilltopper kick returns could pose problems for the Trailblazers. Slotback Ryan Mitchell is Science Hill’s most dangerous runner.
Sullivan Central (0-6, 0-3) at David Crockett (3-3, 1-2)
An air raid by quarterback Taylor Winchell against Crockett could be Central’s best chance for a victory until its Oct. 23 game with Volunteer.
Crockett is likely to dominate time of possession with its vaunted Wing-T offense, putting the Cougars in a situation where they must make the most of every scoring opportunity. Quarterback Michael Gillen and 210-pound senior tailback Choppe Sumo are the Pioneers’ top weapons.