At least the outcome of all three abbreviated games brought unexpected smiles to the faces of the supposed have-nots.
Elizabethton was the odds-on choice in a poll of coaches to rule the conference, followed by Happy Valley and Sullivan North.
None of these teams were victorious against underdog opponents.
Unicoi County, roaring from behind with a productive passing game, upset North 8-6. Sullivan East, playing with a newfound enthusiasm, took the battle to Elizabethton on its home field and exited with a 7-7 tie. Johnson County, consuming plenty of clock with a conservative ground attack, held Happy Valley to a 0-0 stalemate.
This was a dress rehearsal for conference teams. Reality could set in when the 2011 season officially opens next Friday.
Against Happy Valley, Johnson County had the ball for three-fourths of the 12-minute contest.
The Longhorns moved a few steps at a time from their own 30-yard line to the Happy Valley 23 before running out of downs. The Warriors gave it back three minutes later and Johnson County allowed time to expire.
Rex Grossman completed 19 of 26 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown to help the Washington Redskins beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 16-7 on Friday night in the preseason opener for both teams. tonight,’’ Johnson County coach Mike Atwood said. “This is the style of ball we’ll have to play. We’ll need to keep the ball out of other people’s hands.
“It’s going to be boring but this is the situation we’re in after losing a big senior class two years in a row.’’
North went to work early against Unicoi County, marching 65 yards for a touchdown. Speedster Kiree Thompson took it the last 2 yards for a 6-0 lead with 5:36 remaining.
Unicoi County then came out of its huddle throwing. Quarterback Austin Hensley collaborated with slippery wide receiver Hunter Goddard to gain hunks of yardage.
After Hunter Abbott scored on a 1-yard run, Hensley hit Phillip Franklin with a two-point conversion pass just 24 seconds from the end.
Unicoi County coach Jerad Huskins said: “We’re counting this as a positive. We played hard and with intensity. Execution-wise, we did well at times. Goddard found some holes in the secondary and Hensley got the ball in his hands.’’
North coach Robbie Norris took the loss in stride. “It’s a glorified scrimmage,’’ he said. “We practiced a little before we made the trip, emphasizing preparation for the Volunteer game. It’s a jamboree and nobody got hurt, that’s the good thing.’’
East drove 70 yards for an early touchdown against Elizabethton. Quarterback Daniel Truett pitched a 6-yard scoring strike to 6-foot-4 wide receiver Chance Davis, a newcomer off the basketball team.
The Cyclones retaliated with a 47-yard dash by Zach Moore that set up Clayton Smith’s 11-yard scoring burst.
“It’s a 10-yard field for us,’’ East coach Mike Locke said. “We can’t have negative plays. We have guys who’d never stepped onto a football field. They’re working hard. We’’ll have our ups and downs but this was encouraging.’’
Winners of the individual competitons were North’s Will White for longest kickoff (54 yards); Jacob Jasper, fastest back; Unicoi County’s Devon Guinn, fastest lineman; Elizabethton’s McKinly Berry, longest throw (59 yards); and East’s Justin Suder, longest punt (49 yards).