KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett, because of its rich tradition in football, might as well have bull’s-eyes emblazoned on its football uniforms.
The Indians usually become a target once they step onto the field. It will be a bit different Thursday night when D-B invades William Blount.
With home-field advantage, Region 2 power William Blount is a two-point favorite.
The Governors (1-0) have knocked D-B (1-0) out of the TSSAA playoffs twice in recent years. The 13-10 first-round upset at J. Fred Johnson Stadium last November humiliated the state’s top-ranked 5A team.
Making matters worse, William Blount’s playbook is now practically a carbon copy of D-B’s. Offensively, the Govs have switched from power to finesse. Defensively, they stunt and blitz from kickoff to final gun.
“It’s a very exciting challenge for us to play William Blount,’’ D-B coach Graham Clark said Wednesday. “They’ve beaten us the last three times. They are very talented. Their team reminds us of the one we had last year.
“They’ve gone from a Wing-T offense to one that slings it all over the field. Their defensive unit blitzes. They’re a lot like us. They’re doing many of the things we did last season.’’
However, the teams aren’t identical just yet. D-B is taking more of a ball-control approach on offense. The Indians rushed for 215 yards in a 19-13 season-opening win over Tennessee High. Robert Hogg, playing for the first time at running back, gained 110 yards in 13 carries.
When Sullivan South dropped D-B from its schedule, Clark liked the idea of picking up the Govs in that slot.
“You must play good people to be able to beat good people,’’ he said.
William Blount’s big gun is 165-pound running back Darren Garner, who gained 120 yards last week in a surprising 27-0 win over Sevier County. Garner runs the 40 dash in slightly less than 4.4 seconds.
“We just hope to contain him,’’ Clark said, “and not give up big plays.’’
Tyler Burstrom, the Govs’ veteran quarterback, spreads his passes around to various receivers, the most impressive one being 6-foot-3, 185-pound Brad Cochran.
Burstrom hit on 12 of 23 passes against the Smoky Bears.
The Govs have other standouts in punter Kase Whitehead, 220-pound middle linebacker Cole Lail and defensive ends T.J. Walker (6-3, 220) and Brock Gordley (6-2, 210).
“They are very athletic,’’ Clark said of Walker and Gordley.
Whitehead’s punting is a weapon. Committed to Marshall University, he provides the Governors with more than adequate field position.
“He can boom it,’’ Clark said.
D-B’s superlatives against Tennessee High were linebacker Jason Michael with 10 tackles, defensive end Will Bateman with nine stops and tackle/nose guard Daniel Preston, who was impressive on both sides of the ball.
It is D-B’s second straight Thursday game. There was a calendar mix-up when the schools first agreed to play and William Blount officials wanted to avoid conflict with the Maryville-Alcoa game on Friday night.
NE Tennessee Preview Capsules
Sullivan East (0-0) at Volunteer (0-0)
Last week: This is the mutual season opener.
Back story: Last year East won 23-6.
Who to watch: East QB Tyler Gaby, WR Matthias Maines, RBs Caleb Looney, Tyler Crowder and A.J. Roberts; Volunteer QB Keith Cradic, TB Shane Barlow, LB Jordan Sandidge.
Last word: “We’ve built a pretty good rivalry with Volunteer,’’ East coach Ralph Nelson said. “(The Falcons) are impressive on both sides of the ball. They manage the game well and have a good quarterback and running back. We’ve lost guard Preston Frye (6-6, 295) because of a broken ankle and tight end Jeremy James (6-4, 190) because of a broken collarbone.’’
Scott Rider, the Falcons’ coach, said: “The boys are tired of practicing and I am too. We’ve had an extra week this year and that’s been good because we’re in better condition. We’re going to have our hands full with East. We saw enough in the Mountain Lakes Jamboree to know they have a good mix of veteran players and younger guys who are unproven. Gaby had a breakout game against us last year, and he appears to be a smart player. We don’t have any stars — our players have bought into the system.’’
Sullivan North (0-1) at Sullivan Central (0-1)
Last week: North lost to David Crockett 28-0. Central lost to Virginia High 20-17 in overtime.
Back story: Last year North won 9-3.
Who to watch: Central QB Duke Moretz, RB Robert Herring, WR Drew McLaughlin, DL Chris St. Louis, DL Josh Russell; North QB Dustin Doran, G Isaac Moore, LB Tyler Breeding.
Last word: It’s nearly impossible to get any closer to victory — only to lose — than Central did at Virginia High. It came down to the last play and a Bearcat runner scored on fourth down from the 4-inch line to erase a 17-14 Central lead in overtime. “Moretz (92 yards, 17 carries) stepped up and played better than I could have asked him to,’’ Cougars coach Scott Nelson said. “He ran the offense almost to perfection, throwing and running. Herring had a lot of good runs when it counted. Our whole line started coming together, learning the system. St. Louis and Russell made big plays. McLaughlin, who had a 62-yard TD catch, showed signs of maturity. We did a lot of good things and were in position to win most of the way. The North game is going to be a knockdown, drag-out affair. We’re both in need of a win and nobody’s going to hold anything back. It’s a big grudge match.’’
North coach Robbie Norris thought the Duke shined like new money against Virginia High. “Central has gone to a spread offense after being a power-oriented team last year,’’ he said. “(The Cougars) line up in a shotgun 95 percent of the time and the offense is centered around Moretz. He is always a threat to run and many of his keepers are designed plays. Our QB (Doran) ran well against Crockett and the offensive line did a good job blocking. We’re a lot more concerned with ourselves at this time than we are of them. We’re just trying to improve.’’
Christian Academy of Knoxville (1-0) at Cherokee (1-0)
Last week: Christian Academy of Knoxville defeated Boyd Buchanan 14-0. Cherokee defeated Rutledge 21-0.
Back story: This will be their first meeting.
Who to watch: Cherokee RB Tyler Carter, LBs Brian Hake and Chance Burke; CAK QB Chris Gates.
Last word: Hake and Burke each made 14 tackles for Cherokee in its opener. Carter ran 14 times for 122 yards. “Our whole defense played well,’’ Chiefs coach Mike Sivert said. “Eight running backs got in on the action.’’
About playing CAK, Sivert said: “They called for a game and I didn’t hang up fast enough. CAK plays well on both sides of the ball. They attack with a no-huddle offense and have a lot of formations. They’ve turned out three outstanding quarterbacks in a row. Chris Gates, who threw for 1,800 yards last year, is back. They’re a 2A school in a region with (defending state champion) Alcoa. They can’t get by Alcoa and nobody else can either. The best thing we can do is keep the ball away from them.’’
Daniel Boone (0-0) at South Greene (0-1)
Last week: South Greene lost to Unicoi County 32-13. Boone did not play.
Back story: Last year Boone won 26-7.
Who to watch: Boone QB Spencer White, WRs Ben Underwood, Nick Jones, Cody Powell and Adam Venter, HBs Mitchell Masters and Jeremy Hood; South Greene HB Shane Packard.
Last word: Boone halfbacks Cameron Jarrett and Blake Shropshire are sidelined with injuries. Masters and Hood will be counted on to take up the slack. “South Greene is always physical and plays a grind-it-out style, throwing the ball occasionally,’’ Boone coach Jeremy Jenkins said. “We’ve got to keep (the Rebels) in long-yardage situations. We’re getting anxious to hit somebody different. Jarrett and Shropshire are out but, otherwise, we’re about as healthy as we have been. We are relying heavily on Spencer, the quarterback, and our four wide receivers.’’
Jenkins will be aiming his run defense at South Greene halfback Shane Packard, who gained 123 yards in 28 carries on opening night.
Southwest Virginia previews
Appalachia travels to Norton this week to engage in Region D’s most historically significant Division 1 football rivalry.
On the field, the Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0 Lonesome Pine District) can be expected to get after J.I. Burton with the usual ferocity. The Raiders (1-0, 0-0) won’t hold anything back, either.
Off the field, however, both programs are of one accord when it comes to pending appeals by Clintwood, Coeburn and Castlewood to drop down to Division 1 this season.
“If they let all those Division 2 schools drop to Division 1, you’ll have 15 Division 1 teams vying for four spots,” complained Raiders coach Jimbo Adams. “That’s a six-team swing. You’d have half of the Division 2 teams making the playoffs and 28 percent of the Division 1 teams making it.”
Under the VHSL’s notorious Rye Cove Rule, a team within a given region may petition for assignment to a lower division if enrollment is half (or less than half) of the region’s largest school. Lee High’s average daily enrollment is 797. Coeburn — the largest of the three petitioners — squeaks under the bar with an ADM of 396.
J.I. Burton has an ADM of 223; Appalachia 241.
Appalachia coach Roger Austin pointed out that the Rye Cove Rule won’t apply to the upcoming split in basketball divisions. Applying the rule to one sport and not the other seems arbitrary and inconsistent, he said.
“I kind of understand the reasoning (of the petitioners). They have enrollment that’s kind of in the middle,” Austin said. “But those three teams coming down will make it extremely tough for smaller schools to make the playoffs. Us and Norton have got to stick together, although I don’t know what we can say or do.”
The petitions will be considered in September.
Norton and Appalachia will momentarily set aside their common interests in Friday’s LPD clash at Lawson-Fitchko Stadium.
Last year, the Raiders beat the Bulldogs 47-0 in the regular season and again in the Region D championship game, 62-22.
“We’re looking forward to getting back on the field,” Austin said. “We got outscored 109-22 last year. So we really need to get out there and go at it ... really play and execute.”
The Bulldogs have their work cut out for them. The Raiders return most of the significant skill personnel from a squad Austin admits “got gypped out of a state championship” in 2006. Among the returning offensive luminaries that shone most brightly last week were quarterback Ethan Stewart and slotbacks Jaymil Sensabaugh and Jaycob Coleman.
“I’d say last year’s games are a motivation for Appalachia. That’s what concerns me,” said Burton coach Jimbo Adams, who has no fear of competitive emotions getting out of hand.
“Any two programs that have been in the playoffs as much as us and Appalachia ... there’s a lot of respect for one another. These teams know how much work goes into getting into that position.”
Appalachia’s returning offensive stars include power back Brett Leedy and speedster Morgan Ireson — the LPD’s 100-meter dash champion.
Austin likes having one of the LPD’s fastest running backs. But he doesn’t know how much of an edge that will be when facing Burton’s defense — collectively one of the quickest defensive units in the state.
“They get off blocks so well you can’t keep them blocked,” Austin said. “They’re so fast. They get 11 to the ball. Anything you do, they disrupt you.”
SW Virginia Preview Capsules
Ervinton (0-1) at Coeburn (0-1)
Last week: Clintwood beat Coeburn 55-6. Hurley beat Ervinton 20-14 in overtime.
Back story: This game is Coeburn’s first-ever Cumberland District opener.
Who to watch: Coeburn receiver Tra Nixon, who had three catches for 92 yards against Clintwood.
Last word: Say what you will, this matchup is a prime example of why Coeburn is geographically fitted for Cumberland District membership. At least until Thomas Walker rolls around.
Haysi (1-0) at Clintwood (1-0)
Last week: Haysi beat Grundy 48-0. Clintwood beat Coeburn 55-6.
Back story: This is THE Dickenson County football rivalry.
Who to watch: Haysi FB Caleb Powers, who scored three touchdowns last week against Grundy; Clintwood RB Chris Robinson, who rushed for 109 yards against Coeburn, and QB Heath Counts, who threw three TD passes.
Last word: Haysi dropped down to Division 1 this season, but this game may yet have playoff implications if Clintwood succeeds in its bid to obtain Division 1 status.
Holston (1-0) at Twin Springs (0-1)
Last week: Holston beat St. Paul 27-20. J.J. Kelly beat Twin Springs 50-12.
Back story: Last year, the Titans beat Holston 18-14.
Who to watch: Holston RB Eric Mefford, who rushed for two TDs — including a 45-yard scramble — last week; the entire Titan squad: looking for a hero to emerge.
Last word: The Titans should prove more competitive this week against the Cavaliers. J.J. Kelly is a Division 2 program, after all.
Lebanon (1-0) at Powell Valley (1-0)
Last week: Lebanon beat Honaker 54-34. Powell Valley beat Lee High 21-6.
Back story: Back when Thomas Jones still played for Powell Valley, the Region D champion Vikings narrowly outscored the Region C champion Pioneers in one of the greatest Group A state semifinal games ever played.
Who to watch: Lebanon RB Skyler Musick, who rushed for 237 yards and four TDs last week; Powell Valley RB Myron Pinkston, who rushed for 116 yards and three scores last week.
Last word: Musick might very well prove Lebanon’s best RB since Nathan McGlothlin. Pinkston is most decidedly the best RB Powell Valley has fielded since Julius Jones.
Lee High (0-1) at Harlan, Ky. (0-1)
Last week: Powell Valley beat Lee High 21-7. Cawood, Ky., beat Harlan 12-7.
Back story: A noisy faction of Lee High fans continue to criticize coach Bobby Sanders, despite his having led the Generals to their most-competitive showing against Powell Valley in years.
Who to watch: Lee High QB Tyler Mullins, whose playmaking abilities will become more and more apparent as the offensive line matures; the Generals defensive unit also had an impressive debut last week.
Last word: If you can’t see the progress that has been made at Ben Hur since last season, you probably don’t know much about football.
Pound (0-1) at J.J. Kelly (1-0)
Last week: Patrick Henry beat Pound 48-7. J.J. Kelly beat Twin Springs 50-12.
Back story: J.J. Kelly has proven coach B.I. Salyers’ most challenging assignment. Pound could prove likewise for Wildcats coach Chris Crabtree.
Who to watch: J.J. Kelly RB Devan Sproles, who rushed for 135 yards and five touchdowns last week; Pound’s defense, which obviously had trouble slowing the Rebels down last week.
Last word: Football appears to be on the upswing in Wise. In time, it might also be in Pound.
St. Paul (0-1) at Twin Valley (0-1)
Last week: Holston beat St. Paul 27-20. Bland County beat Twin Valley 23-0.
Back story: St. Paul and Twin Valley are the only two teams in Southwest Virginia with purple in their color schemes.
Who to watch: St. Paul wideout Josh Brooks, who scored two touchdowns last week; Twin Valley’s collective rushing attack, which mustered only 4 yards last week.
Last word: If Twin Valley doesn’t move the ball any better on the ground than last week, the Deacons could make these Purple Panthers look like Pink Panthers.
Tazewell (0-1) at Gate City (0-1)
Last week: George Wythe beat Tazewell 48-6. Richlands beat Gate City 17-0.
Back story: Gate City coach Nick Colobro’s first head coaching assignment in Southwest Virginia was at Tazewell.
Who to watch: Matt Muncy, who scored Tazewell’s lone TD last week; Gate City’s defensive unit, which showed flashes of great promise at Richlands.
Last word: The Blue Devils continue to struggle to find their offensive identity.
Thomas Walker (0-1) at Castlewood (0-1)
Last week: Cumberland Gap beat Thomas Walker 44-6. Appalachia beat Castlewood 20-6.
Back story: The game is the mutual Cumberland District opener.
Who to watch: Castlewood RB Ryan Phillips, who scored the Blue Devils’ lone TD last week; Thomas Walker QB Zach Hensley, who scored on a 51-yard run last week.
Last word: The Pioneers fumbled eight times last week. Castlewood’s aggressive defense will definitely be looking to strip the football.
Virginia High (1-0) at John Battle (0-1)
Last week: Virginia High beat Sullivan Central 20-17. Abingdon beat John Battle 40-7.
Back story: Virtually crosstown rivals, Battle and Virginia High share the same district for the first time since the early 1990s.
Who to watch: Virginia High RB Anthony Jones, who rushed for 126 yards on 17 carries against Central.
Last word: The Bearcats’ country cousins won’t likely fare much better Friday than they did last week against Abingdon.