ERWIN — With star quarterback Curt Phillips running the show, Sullivan South is noted for its outstanding passing attack. However, it was the Rebels’ rushing attack that propelled them to a 48-7 Mountain Lakes Conference victory over Unicoi County on Friday night at Gentry Stadium.
All seven touchdowns for the Rebels (2-0, 1-0) came on the ground.
Phillips crossed the goal line three times. Running back Taylor Fletcher had two end zone visits, and Brad Shanks and Bobby Taylor each rushed for one touchdown.
“I can’t say enough about how Brad Shanks and Taylor Fletcher ran the football,” South coach Stacy Carter said. “Our offensive line up front moved them. It was something that we were challenging our kids to do and they stepped up.
“I give the offensive line all the credit in the world and those two running backs played fantastic.”
The Blue Devils (0-1, 2-1) had control early.
They struck first on a 19-yard pass from D.W. Whitson to Drew Rice for a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Unicoi finished the first period with 18 offensive plays for 84 yards — compared to six plays and 14 yards for South.
However, the Rebels apparently were just getting warmed up.
Over the next three quarters, South racked up 343 yards of total offense and its defense held Unicoi to just 74 yards.
“We played tough early,” Blue Devils coach Doug Cooper said. “We just have to do that for four quarters.
“It’s still a learning process, but we’re going to keep trying to get better every week.”
Phillips, Fletcher and Shanks all hit paydirt in a second-quarter turnaround. Unicoi had a chance to cut into the lead near the end of the half when Corey Headley returned a kickoff 73 yards to the South 23. After penalties backed the Devils to the 43, he made a 34-yard reception to put them at the 9-yard line.
They weren’t able to convert on the next three plays, however, and the Rebels took the 21-7 lead into the locker room.
South proceeded to put away the game in the third quarter with three more touchdowns for a 41-7 lead.
Phillips ended up with 12 completions in 21 attempts for 130 yards. Shanks added a strong effort with 12 carries for 114 yards. South had 33 rushing attempts overall for 203 yards.
Whitson led the Unicoi offense by hitting on 6 of 19 passes for 108 yards. Drew Rice was his preferred target with five catches for 71 yards. Headley also came up big for the Devils with 122 yards on six kick and punt returns.
Ethan Bennett was the workhorse of the Unicoi backfield with 38 yards on 15 carries.
Many area sports writers have called South the best team in Northeast Tennessee. On Friday night, the Rebels made a believer out of Cooper.
“You have to say they are the best team in our conference,” Cooper said. “They have every aspect. They play tremendous defense. They can run the ball. They can throw the ball. They’re good on special teams and Phillips is just a special talent.”
With their lofty status, the Rebels have a bull’s-eye on their backs every week.
“It’s better to be in this position than to be in another position,” Carter noted. “We’ve still got some work to do. We’re young in a lot of areas, but these kids work as hard as any bunch I’ve ever had. They have a lot of motivation and a lot of people on this team are doing good things.”
South will try to continue its winning ways next Friday at Greeneville.
Unicoi faces another tough challenge when it hosts Class 1A power Hampton.