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Rebels, Tribe both travel to kick off 2014 with a bang

George Thwaites • Aug 22, 2014 at 4:51 PM

KINGSPORT — Opening the 2014 football season on the road isn't the biggest concern for Sullivan South and Dobyns-Bennett.

The biggest concerns are what's waiting for them when they get there.

The Rebels make their first gridiron appearance in Rogersville since 1998 when South takes on Cherokee in a non-conference tilt tonight.

The Indians confront the first of a series of challenging non-conference opponents when they ride the bus past Knoxville to face Farragut.

Both games are rematches of last year's thrilling openers. The Tribe outlasted the Admirals 21-20 at J. Fred Johnson Stadium. It took a game-winning field goal from soccer convert Brad Burdine to clinch South's 38-35 win over the Chiefs at Death Valley.

Other season openers of note include Sullivan North traveling to Seymour and Elizabethton at Daniel Boone.

Some fans will make the drive to Rogersville expecting the same fireworks they saw at Pactolus. But quarterback Ryan Gibson, who passed for nearly 300 yards against the Rebels last year, declined to come out for his senior season of football. Receiver Tanner Trent, who had nine catches for 118 yards that night, is also gone.

With so many South veterans returning as improved versions of themselves, including quarterback Dylan Wieger, running back Blake Christian and wide receiver Evan Headrick, the two teams don't appear as evenly matched. By Cherokee coach Mike Sivert's admission, this year's edition equals the youngest squad he's fielded there over his 35-year career.

South coach Sam Haynie is quick to counter that Teagan Trent — a guy who reeled off an 84-yard scoring kickoff return last year — is still wearing a Chiefs headgear. So is a cadre of big, strong offensive and defensive linemen that will challenge for control of the line of scrimmage.

"We have four new offensive linemen and three new defensive linemen ... due to injuries, it's possible we could have five fresh faces across the offensive front," Haynie said.

He expect Cherokee to pound on the Rebels and take selective deep shots..

Experience and talent up front should be a plus over the long haul for Dobyns-Bennett, which will benefit from the return of left tackle Tyler Norris. But the Admirals aren't slouches at the line of scrimmage, either. Farragut lineman Nathan Gilliam recently committed to play for Wake Forest.

Big men are squaring off for battle in the trenches.

Admirals quarterback Bryan Phillips has graduated and been replaced by erstwhile backup Jacob Naumoff with Cole Morgan and Jeremiah Partin numbered among his favorite receivers. Running back Tanner Thomas, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards as sophomore, also returns.

For D-B, former linebacker Rashad Hunter's move to the defensive line has proven profitable. Sam Stewart, who sat out last week's jamboree, returns a veteran head to the secondary for the season opener.

The Tribe defense has graded itself more stringently since Science Hill's pop quiz last week.

"They're still thinking a lot out there. Some of them are still in Algebra II when we go all the way through Algebra VI in high school these days," D-B coach Graham Clark quipped.

"Football is a little more complicated than it used to be. I probably couldn't play nowadays. Of course, a lot of people probably thought I couldn't play back when I did," he said.

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