KINGSPORT — State-ranked Sullivan South (2-1, 1-0) returns to the football field Friday night with wounded pride but still regarded as a favorite against Johnson County (2-1, 1-0), which has earned much respect since jumping into the 4A arena.
Last week’s 24-20 ambush at Greeneville served as a wakeup call for the Rebels, who now must focus on winning the Mountain Lakes Conference championship.
“I don’t think we’ll have any problem getting up for this one,’’ South coach Stacy Carter said. “We may not play a wonderful game but we’ll be up. We’ve made no structural changes. It’s just a matter of execution. We didn’t execute at all against Greeneville.’’
Greeneville won the inter-conference game with a short field goal in the final seconds. South, score tied, had missed a similar one just minutes earlier.
“Johnson County does a good job,’’ Carter said. “That’s a hard-nosed team. They always play us tough.’’
Senior lineman Blake Rasnake, who had to be treated for heat exhaustion at Greeneville, will sit this one out as a precautionary measure. Otherwise, South gets a clean bill of health.
Curt Phillips, South’s dynamic 6-foot-3, 218-pound senior, is rated the top quarterback in Tennessee and the second best in the Southeast by Prep Star magazine. Listed ahead of him is Casey Kelly of Sarasota, Fla. Both are among that publication’s Dream Team Top 135.
“It is entirely possible Phillips will rank among the 10 best in the country before the season is over,’’ the writer of the mag article opined.
Phillips, who’s already eclipsed a number of school records with his passing and running, has made a verbal commitment to the University of Wisconsin.
In less than 2 1/2 seasons, the 6-foot-3, 218-pound senior has accounted for 5,775 yards — 3,674 passing and 2,101 running. This year he has carried for 198 yards and passed for 519.
All told, he has had a hand in 68 touchdowns, throwing for 37 and keeping for 31. From the Rebels’ patented shotgun formation, he essentially becomes a third running back. The other two runners are Taylor Fletcher (30 carries, 161 yards) and Brad Shanks (19-135).
South’s top receivers are Kaleb Kitzmiller (9 catches, 181 yards), Seth Johnson (12-171) and Houston Martin (7-82).
The visiting Longhorns, who’ve switched from a power-I offense to a spread formation this year, are well stocked with skill personnel.
Running back Tyler Leonard has rushed 50 times for 353 yards. Quarterback Austin Phipps has kept the ball 27 times for 96 yards and hit on 11 of 32 passes for 229 yards.
However, Johnson County’s big-play guy is 5-9, 160-pound junior Christian Prudhomme. He has caught four passes for 121 yards and three TDs; scored 33 points; is perfect on six extra-point attempts and three field goal tries, and averages 35.2 yards on punt returns.
South, Johnson County, North and Tennessee High are tied for first place in the MLC with 1-0 records. Sullivan East, Unicoi County, Elizabethton and Central comprise the lower division — each at 0-1.
Dobyns-Bennett (1-3, 0-1) at Jefferson Co. (2-2, 0-1)
Last week: Dobyns-Bennett lost to Oak Ridge 14-7; Jefferson County defeated Morristown East 14-2.
Back story: Last year D-B won 46-7.
Players to watch: Jeff County LB Jonathan Yeary, RB Christian McFall, RB Will Brooks, QB Zac Long; D-B RB Robert Hogg, HB Justin Sylvester, WR Lane Dukart, LB Jason Michael, LB Clayton Kilgore, FB Lane Taylor.
Last word: Since taking over the D-B reins, coach Graham Clark is 15-0 against the once proud Patriots. But with wins over both Morristown schools, East and West, Jeff County is showing signs of a resurgence. “They’ve got to have a lot of confidence,’’ Clark said. “They’re back in the split-backfield veer, an offense the kids believe in. (New coach) Justin Anderson played under (former Patriots coach) Craig Kisabeth and at Carson-Newman College. Jeff County is quite larger on defense than on offense. It’s going to be a challenge but we’ve always played well on that field.’’
D-B’s 14-7 loss to No. 2-ranked Oak Ridge was an opportunity missed because of a second-half letdown. “I know I’ve been sinning,’’ Clark said, “but surely I’ve paid for it by now.’’ A 13-play, 88-yard scoring drive against the Wildcats, D-B’s best of the season, was heartening for a team still searching for continuity on offense.
Sevier County (1-3, 1-0) at Science Hill (2-1, 0-0)
Last week: Sevier County lost to Knox West 41-14; Science Hill defeated Morristown West 21-0.
Back story: Last year Sevier County won 36-24.
Players to watch: Sevier QB Taylor Helton, TB Shawn Hodge, RB Tyler Thomas, T Will Hewitt, G Patrick Sutton, C Steven Michaluk; Science Hill TB Soloman Duannah, QB Daniel Sharp, LB Aaron Trent, WR Javin Joslin, SB Ashlon Adams, TB Issac Kinley.
Last word: Sevier County has been playing out of character. Its 1-3 record was hardly expected at the start of the season but the Smoky Bears can never be counted out until the final gun sounds. They were picked at the top of the Big East Conference along with Bearden and still have to be considered a strong contender. Science Hill, under new management, is gradually seeing its team come together. Since the season-opening loss to Sullivan South, coach Scott Smith’s Hilltoppers have been on a steady climb. Duannah, a sprint champion, is considered one of the best breakaway runners in the state.
Unicoi County (2-2, 0-1) at Tennessee High (2-1, 1-0)
Last week: Unicoi County lost to Hampton 9-6; Tennessee High defeated Virginia High 20-0.
Back story: Last year Tennessee High won 55-0.
Players to watch: Tennessee High RB Jeff Baker, RB Xavier King, RB Keenan Shepard, QB Mason Canty, WR Thomas Turnbull, WR Corey Young; Unicoi County HB Ethan Bennett, HB Logan Edwards, QB D.W. Whitson, TE Drew Rice, WR Corey Headley.
Last word: Unicoi County in recent years has been unable to keep the score close against Tennessee High, but is much improved since Doug Cooper took over as head coach last season. Baker is the Vikings’ top rusher with 259 yards in 36 carries, followed by King with 114 yards on 26 runs and Shepard with 100 on 18. Canty, the QB, has completed 12 of 28 passes without an interception for 256 yards. Turnbull has six catches for 121 yards and Young five for 104. THS has outrushed opponents 578-382 in yardage and outpassed them 336-126 in yardage. Bennett leads the Blue Devils with 167 yards in 35 rushes and Edwards has gained 87 yards with 22 carries, and each has scored three TDs. Whitson has hit on 15 of 40 passes without having a pickoff for 263 yards. Rice has nine receptions for 129 yards and two TDs and Headley has three catches for 94 yards.
Sullivan East (2-1, 0-1) at Sullivan North (2-1, 1-0)
Last week: Sullivan East defeated David Crockett 30-8; Sullivan North did not play.
Back story: Last year North won 21-8.
Players to watch: North FB Hunter McReynolds, QB Dustin Doran, RG Isaac Moore, LG Corey Morgan, LT Jacob Perkins; East QB Tyler Gaby, HB Caleb Looney, WR Matthias Maines.
Last word: The most improved area of North’s team has been its offensive line. Standouts are guards Moore and Morgan and left tackle Perkins. Doran, the QB, continues to get better with each day. McReynolds, who ranks third in MLC rushing with 205 yards, has been impressive in his first year on the varsity. Eric Pearcy has added 185 yards on 35 carries.
East’s rushing leader is Looney with 189 yards, ranking him eighth in the conference. Gaby has kept for three TDs and thrown three TD passes. He’s accounted for a total of 355 yards running and throwing. East’s top receiver is Maines with eight catches for 83 yards.
“East’s skill people, particularly Gaby and Looney, are impressive,’’ North coach Robbie Norris said. “We hope it’s going to be an oldtime, hard-hitting game. We’ve got a lot of kids without much experience who’ve stepped up and played well. We try to focus on our own team more than opponents.’’
Sullivan Central (0-3, 0-1) at Elizabethton (1-2, 0-1)
Last week: Sullivan Central lost to Daniel Boone 26-7; Elizabethton did not play.
Back story: Last year Elizabethton won 27-20.
Players to watch: Central QB Duke Moretz, WR/CB Austin Box, C Chris St. Louis, DB Carl Roberts, HB Robert Herring; Elizabethton WR Justin Fuqua, WR Wendell Loving, RB Derek Carr, RB Cody Forbes, QB Wes Anderson.
Last word: Central’s Roberts, who was to have been the starting QB, got injured in the MLC Jamboree. He will return in this game and play defense only. Moretz has rushed 45 times for 194 yards. Herring is the Cougars’ leading rusher with 198 yards on 39 carries. Courtney Bowles has eight catches for 82 yards and also a 36.7-yard average on three punt returns.
Elizabethton’s best punch comes when Anderson throws downfield to either Fuqua or Loving. Fuqua has 12 receptions for 164 yards and Loving eight for 86. Carr has gained 168 yards on 34 rushes and Forbes 109 on 31.
Morristown West (1-3, 1-0) at Crockett (1-2, 0-1)
Last week: Morristown West lost to Science Hill 21-0; Crockett lost to Sullivan East 30-8.
Back story: Last year West won 49-6.
Players to watch: Crockett HB Jamie Copas, HB Austin Hunt, QB Eric Richardson, OLB Tyler Shipley; M-West QB Logan Wild, FS Jamere Hogue.
Last word: Copas has carried 30 times for 184 yards and Hunt 18 for 80. Shipley leads the Pioneers in tackles with 15. West is off to its worst start in years, having dropped three of four games. The Trojans, who had a brutal early-season schedule, are still considered the Five Rivers Conference favorite.
Daniel Boone (3-0, 1-0) at Volunteer (1-2, 0-1)
Last week: Boone defeated Sullivan Central 26-7; Volunteer defeated Clintwood, Va. 42-0.
Back story: Last year Volunteer won 27-21 in two overtimes.
Players to watch: Boone HB Mitchell Masters, QB Spenser White, OLB Matt Duncan, S Nick Jones; Volunteer QB Keith Cradic, TB Shane Barlow, LB Jordan Sandidge.
Last word: Boone held a 14-7 lead with three minutes to go in last year’s game but Volunteer rallied to tie and win in two overtimes. Trailblazers coach Jeremy Jenkins expects that type of game again. “Cradic is dangerous every time he takes a snap from center and Barlow is super at tailback,’’ Jenkins said. ‘’(The Falcons) are athletic at the skill positions and physical in the line, especially on defense. Both teams like to run and throw, and it should be a physical game on both sides of the football.’’
Masters has gained 505 yards in three games. Cameron Jarrett, the other Boone star, will sit this one out because of a recurring injury. White has completed 17 of 31 passes for 385 yards and 5 TDs. Duncan is the Trailblazers’ leading tackler and Jones has four interceptions.
Volunteer coach Scott Rider has a high regard for Boone. “Boone plays real good defense and runs the ball well,’’ he said. “They win because they control the clock. Masters may be the most complete player in this area. We’ve got our hands full.’’
Barlow has rushed for 388 yards and Cradic has passed for just over 300 yards in three games. Sandidge has made 30 tackles. “The better our defensive line plays, the more tackles our linebackers will have,’’ Rider said. “It’s a feather in everybody’s cap when they do well.’’
Cherokee (1-2, 0-1) at Morristown East (2-1, 1-0)
Last week: Cherokee did not play; Morristown East lost to Jefferson County 14-2.
Back story: Last year East won 49-20.
Players to watch: M-East LB John Thompson, T Jacob Mills; Cherokee FB Tyler Carter, RB Terrance Kersey, RB Junior Worley, RB Michael Godsey, RB Gabe Brooks, RB Brian Hake, TE Jordan Shively, DB Grant Gillis.
Last word: Things haven’t been going very well for the injury-riddled Hurricanes. Several players are sidelined and star running back Terrell Dockery is no longer with the team. M-East doesn’t have the explosive offense it did a year ago but with nine defensive starters returning, the Hurricanes aren’t going to be anybody’s mark. Cherokee, after taking a week off, is ready to rev up and go. The heart of the Chiefs is their offensive backfield and defensive secondary. Coach Mike Sivert likes to substitute freely with his runners to have fresh legs on the field for the late going.
Southwest Virginia previews
J.I. Burton’s football team has a smart and capable quarterback, fast jet-sweeping slotbacks, a hard-nosed fullback and a swarming, disruptive odd-front defense.
But a covert surveillance network? Shades of Bill Belichick!
Unspoken accusations of intersquad espionage add grist to the mill for Friday’s much-anticipated Lonesome Pine District matchup between J.I. Burton (3-0, 2-0) and Powell Valley (2-1, 0-0) at Bullitt Park.
Both teams enjoyed an open date prior to this week’s showdown, giving both coaching staffs extra time to cook up something special. During the lull, the rumors began to fly that Powell Valley believed Burton operatives were spying on the Vikings.
Raider coach Jimbo Adams might have dismissed such buzz except for the blue tarps reportedly hanging on the fence surrounding Powell Valley’s practice field.
“If they didn’t think we were spying, why would the tarps be up?” asked Adams, who lives in the valley.
“They’ve been watching ESPN’s ‘Spy Gate’ too much. We completely deny it and find it offensive.”
Adding to the Cold War flavor of this contest is Robbins’ unusually tight-lipped approach to this game.
“I have no statements of a positive nature and no statements of a negative nature. It’s the fourth game on our schedule,” said Robbins, who has lost two straight to the Raiders.
Here’s the raw intelligence:
Viking quarterback Cedric Mitchell has passed for 385 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 112. Running back Myron Pinkston has rushed for 299. Delmas Lawson leads the receivers with 11 catches for 182 yards and two scores.
Norton quarterback Ethan Stewart has passed for 310 yards and four TDs. Slotback Jaycob Coleman has rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns, having seven catches for two TDs, Jaymil Sensabaugh has rushed for 156 yards and five TDs, while fullback Josh Miles has rushed for 139 yards and three scores.
“In a game of this magnitude, it isn’t going to be won with magical plays or X’es and O’s. It’s going to come down to blocking and tackling,” Adams said.
Castlewood (2-1, 1-0) at Rye Cove (0-3, 0-0)
Last week:Castlewood beat Twin Valley 52-8. Appalachia beat Rye Cove 44-0.
Back story: Castlewood beat Rye Cove 34-22 at home last year. Rye Cove coach Tom Callaway played on the University of Tennessee’s 1967 SEC championship squad. On Saturday, Callaway and his former teammates will be honored at halftime during Tennessee’s game with Arkansas State and Neyland Stadium.
Who to watch: Castlewood RB Ryan Phillips has rushed for 230 yards and five TDs; RB Shane McCall has rushed for 321 yards and two TDs; QB Cory Davis has passed for 252 yards and four TDs.
Last word: Unconfirmed reports Wednesday indicated that the VHSL Executive Committee had approved appeals by Castlewood, Coeburn and Clintwood to obtain Division 1 status. If so, the Rye Cove Rule has ironically made it more difficult for Rye Cove to make the playoffs.
Clintwood (2-1) at Lebanon (3-1, 1-0)
Last week: Volunteer beat Clintwood 42-0. Lebanon beat Gate City 33-13.
Back story: This is a brand new non-district series. If Clintwood’s appeal was indeed approved, the Green Wave won’t have to deal with the Pioneers again this season and this game will be entirely for pride.
Who to watch:Clintwood QB Heath Counts has passed for 357 yards and three TDs; RB Chris Robinson has rushed for 257 yards and 3 TDs. Pioneer RB Skyler Musick, who broke a 98-yard scoring kickoff return against Gate City last week.
Last word: Robinson, who sat out the entire Volunteer game with a leg injury, is expected to play Friday night. “This is a big game for us. For a couple different reasons. The last couple weeks we’ve been in a funk,” said Clintwood coach Rick Mullins, whose squad went into Volunteer after unplanned open date.
Gate City (1-2) at Appalachia (2-1)
Last week: Lebanon beat Gate City 33-13. Appalachia beat Rye Cove 44-0.
Back story: Appalachia beat Gate City 20-7 at Legion Field last year. This is one of the oldest and coolest football rivalries in Southwest Virginia.
Who to watch: Gate City RB Tyler Parks, who has rushed for 310 yards and four TDs; QB Tihlee Anderson, who has rushed for 180 yards and passed for 270; WR Dustin Jones who had five catches for 97 yards last week at Lebanon. Appalachia RB Morgan Ireson has rushed for 315 yards and three TDs; RB Brett Leedy has rushed for 198 yards and two TDs.
Last word: “It’s just Gate City and Appalachia. I don’t think you need to say any more. We’ve got a great tradition of playing against each other. Hopefully this is going to be a great football game Friday night,” said Blue Devil coach Nick Colobro.
St. Paul (2-1, 1-0) at Twin Springs (0-4, 0-0)
Last week: St. Paul was open. John Battle beat Twin Springs 27-13.
Back story: Last year, St. Paul beat the Titans 42-7 at home.
Who to watch: St. Paul wide out Josh Brooks has rushed for 236 yards while picking up 196 receiving yards; Deacon QB Tyler Phillips has passed for 523 yards and six scoring strikes. Titans RB Daniel Smith has rushed for 275 yards and a touchdown.
Last word: “We’re just going to try to play four quarters of football to the best of our ability,” said Twin Springs coach Jody Wolfe.
Grundy (2-1) at J.J. Kelly (2-1)
Last week: Grundy beat Iager, WVa. 26-6. J.J. Kelly beat Coeburn 58-15.
Back story:This is a brand new non-district series.
Who to watch:Golden Wave ball-carriers Josh Lindsay, Ethan Owens and Josh McCowan, who led Grundy to victory last week. J.J. Kelly RBs Devan Sproles (30-229, 7 TDs), Chris Strouth (39-210, 2 TDs) and Jeremy Gilliam (13-195, 2 TDs).
Last word: The Indians hope to gather in a power-points bonus with this Group AA opponent.
Thomas Walker (2-2, 1-0) at Coeburn (2-2, 1-0)
Last week: Thomas Walker beat Ervinton 19-0. J.J. Kelly beat Coeburn 58-15.
Back story: This is the first-ever Cumberland District gridiron meeting between the two teams and the Pioneers’ second consecutive district road trip. Evidently, the Blue Knights are now a Division 1 team.
Who to watch: Thomas Walker QB Zach Hensley, who led the Pioneers to victory over Ervinton last week. Coeburn fullback Shane Bright has rushed for 644 yards in 97 carries, having scored 97 TDs.
Last word: Thomas Walker’s defense should be looking on the Bright side.