Sullivan South football coach Stacy Carter is hoping to get an advantage from a disadvantage when his Rebels (9-2) take on visiting Knox Catholic (6-5) in the TSSAA’s Class 5A playoffs.
“We’ve not faced a team that big this season,’’ Carter said of the Fighting Irish, who won the 3A state championship a year ago and are stepping up two classifications. “If we can stay close at halftime, we’ll have a good shot at winning.’’
Most of Catholic’s players have to go both ways — offense and defense. Stamina could become a problem for them late in the game. South’s team is well conditioned and has a number of capable backups.
“The longer the game goes undecided,’’ Carter said, “the better our chances are of winning.’’
Catholic has been an enigma. The Irish played state powers Maryville (28-21) and Farragut (20-12) close games, but didn’t fare well against other foes.
“Catholic is the best 6-5 team you’re going to see,’’ Carter said. “It’s a Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde situation, and I have no idea which one we’ll be playing.’’
Fifth-ranked South’s line has plenty of beef but it doesn’t compare with Catholic’s size.
Well-traveled coach Scott Meadows, a proponent of the shotgun offense, has opted to improvise with the talent at hand by attacking from an I-formation.
Tailback Dorian Cozart, a 195-pound senior, carries the ball frequently. Fullback John McDermott (Sr., 195) is his primary blocker. Quarterback Tyler Williamson (Sr., 6-2, 210) likes to pass in the direction of wide receiver Spencer Mackle (Sr., 6-2, 180).
The Irish backs run behind an offensive line that averages 254 pounds. Tight end Reed Bacon, right tackle Kyler Kerbyson (Jr., 285), right guard Alexander Saah (Jr., 245), center Davis Coulter (Jr., 230), left guard Zak Tait (Sr., 300) and left tackle Zach Cooper (Jr., 275) consistently pave the way.
Catholic’s defensive front four weighs in at a 249-pound clip with Jake McElligott (Sr., 210) and Zac Riley (Sr., 210) at ends and Tait and Cooper at tackles. The team has aggressive linebackers in Bacon and Dominic DiGiovanni (Jr., 210).
After a late-season dip, the Rebels opened the playoffs strong last week with a 42-16 victory over Knox Powell. Split-duty quarterbacks Aaron St. Clair and Heath Haden each ran the offense and produced big numbers. St. Clair kept the ball for 100-plus yards and Haden picked up 89. Both were just as effective passing and handled their duties at wide receiver impressively when not under center. Meanwhile, running back Bobby Taylor surpassed 100 yards rushing for the fifth game in a row. In essence, three offensive players accounted for more than 300 yards rushing against Powell. All told, South had 470 yards on offense.
Additionally, wide receiver/defensive back Ashton Zanoni turned in another exceptional performance. Besides catching key passes, he recovered a fumble that resulted in a touchdown and intercepted two passes.
South linebacker Ty Garvin continues to ring up tackles. He has 131 stops this year, bringing his three-season total to 373.
Again, the Rebels will be without all-purpose player Clint Phillips, who has a shoulder separation.
Class 5A Division
Daniel Boone (9-2) at Tennessee High (11-0)
Trailblazers coach Jeremy Jenkins has an ideal scouting report in his office, a game film of top-ranked Tennessee High’s 51-26 victory over Boone late in the season.
THS led only 31-26 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter when two turnovers opened the doors for touchdowns and set off an avalanche of scoring. The Vikings struck for an early 17-0 lead, but Boone had trimmed the deficit to 24-20 by halftime.
“We’re going to try to move the ball offensively and keep their offense off the field,’’ Jenkins said. “Four of their TDs against us were 60 yards or more. They are a big-play team. They love to score quickly and they’ve had a great start in every game. We’d like to get them in third-and-long situations and force some punts. We’ve got to protect our quarterbacks — Kevin Connell and Austin Reppart.’’
Jenkins knows well which THS players will have their hands on the ball: fullback Brad Tallman and running back Keenan Shepard.
This Boone team has become the third in school history to win nine games. The 1999 Trailblazers went 9-4 and the ’05 squad was 9-2.
Class 3A Division
Sullivan North (9-2) at Elizabethton (9-2)
Raiders coach Robbie Norris would be the first to tell you his overachieving team is having to go against an 800-pound gorilla in the No. 8 Cyclones.
“We’ll have to figure out what to do with Elizabethton’s speed,’’ he said. “I think we’ll play better than we did the last time against them (50-12 loss).’’
In all fairness to the Raiders, flu was running rampant through their school and several of the players were feeling its effects. The score was just 23-12 at halftime.
North won nine games in the 1990s and if by chance the Raiders do pull off an upset, this would be the first 10-win season in the annals of North football.
“We’re not satisfied with stopping at nine wins,’’ Norris said. “These are great kids. They’re motivated.’’
Elizabethton attacks from a pro-I spread formation and has running threats in quarterback Ryan Thomas and tailbacks Cody Forbes and Preston Itaro. “You can name the quality players on and on,’’ Norris said. “Elizabethton has them.’’
Eric Pearcy is “Mr. It’’ for the Raiders. He’s their leading scorer and top rusher. Nick Woodward offers an effective second punch.
Most of North’s yardage comes on the ground, fueled by its double-wing offense. Of the Raiders’ per-game offensive average of 261 yards, only 32 has been through the airways. Conversely, Elizabethton averages 334 yards per outing and gets 102 of it passing. The Cyclones’ leading receivers are Taylor Hodge and Zach Boles.