Sullivan South (4-1, 2-0) is getting plenty of recognition across the state. The Rebels are ranked No. 4 by the Associated Press, Prep Performance Ratings and Murphy Fair’s Ratings in 4A.
The Rebels might not get that much respect Friday night at Sullivan Central (0-5, 0-2).
This rivalry goes back to 1980 when South opened its doors and took many students away from Central.
Even though South is a lopsided favorite to beat Central, the only winless team in the Mountain Lakes Conference, coach Stacy Carter of the Rebels isn’t hearing any of it.
“They’ll be ready to play us hard,’’ Carter said. “Everybody is ready for us these days. We’ve got to take it week by week. You never know what might happen.’’
He doesn’t think the win-loss records in this particular series are that significant.
It’s a backyard brawl and Carter realizes Central is eager to get its first win under Scott Nelson, a former South player, and his team must be prepared for every tactic.
“You don’t know what you’ll see when you play them,’’ he said. “We’ve seen them in an I-formation and in a shotgun formation the last two weeks. They’re hungry for a win.’’
Nelson mades no bones about it. He’ll tell you the Cougars’ defensive plan up front. Putting a spy on South quarterback Curt Phillips is a given.
“South has a lot of weapons and the main one is Phillips,’’ he said. “We’re going to try to keep him off balance and contain him. We plan to throw some things at Phillips to make him check off. If we limit what he does, we’ve got a chance.’’
The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Phillips has rushed for 404 yards and 10 touchdowns and completed 58 of 95 passes (.611) for 734 yards and three TDs.
South, the preseason favorite to win the MLC title, is becoming tougher as the season goes along.
“Our defense is getting better, especially against the run,’’ Carter said. “Boone didn’t get much of a push on us last week.’’
South’s running backs — Taylor Fletcher and Brad Shanks — have shown marked improvement. “They’re playing well,’’ Carter said, “and so are our wide receivers. But we’re still young at a lot of positions.’’
Fletcher has 203 yards on 38 carries, Shanks 189 on 28.
Kaleb Kitzmiller has caught 16 passes for 279 yards, Seth Johnson 14 for 180 and Houston Martin 11 for 131.
Nelson agrees that South’s running backs and receivers have given the team a measurable lift.
“Their running game has improved a lot,’’ he said. “They have guys who can run after the catch. South is pretty solid on both sides of the ball.’’
However, Nelson said his team doesn’t intend to concede anything to the Rebels. “We’re going to go out, line up and play as hard as we can. Who knows, a couple of breaks may help us.’’
Central’s offensive leaders are tailback Robert Herring with 400 yards and four TDs on 72 rushes and quarterback Duke Moretz with 215 yards on 66 keepers. Moretz has hit on 42 of 96 passes (.438) for 517 yards and two TDs.
The Rebels have outscored the opposition 183-66.
South and Tennessee High are in a dead heat at the top of the MLC standings (2-0). They won’t clash until the final night of the season.
Sullivan East, Johnson County, Elizabethton and North all have 1-1 records and are in the hunt for a playoff berth. The first four teams will qualify for postseason play.
After this game, South has to play East, North, Elizabethton and Tennessee High. The Vikings’ other foes will be North, Johnson County, Elizabethton and Central.
Unicoi County and Central, both 0-2, realistically are almost out of the picture but could have a say in which teams stay home with them.
Volunteer (2-3, 1-1) at Greeneville (3-2, 1-1)
Last week: Volunteer lost to Bell County 49-21; Greeneville did not play.
Back story: Volunteer, after completing its out-of-conference schedule, heads down the homestretch facing five straight Five Rivers Conference opponents. The Falcons’ goal is to repeat as a TSSAA playoff participant. It appears they would have to win three of the next five outings to make the playoffs. Greeneville defeated the Falcons 44-33 last year in a shootout.
Players to watch: Volunteer: TB Shane Barlow, QB Keith Cradic, WR Ethan Mays, WR Antonio Watterson, WR Aaron Bennett, LB Jordan Sandidge; Greeneville: LB Ryan Duncan, G Nathan Whitehead, LB/S Lance Bailey, DE Joel Brimer, DL Charlie Arrington, QB Jordan Greenway.
Last word: The Falcons must put that loss to Kentucky powerhouse Bell County behind them and concentrate on the business at hand, and this means placing among the top four teams in Region 2-4A. It shapes up as a close game, since both have well-rounded offenses and defenses that can capitalize on breaks. Volunteer’s Barlow has rushed 85 times for 503 yards. Cradic has completed 28 of 58 passes with only one interception. Volunteer’s wide receiving corps has been productive — Mays with seven catches for 141 yards, Watterson eight for 72 and Bennett five for 48. Barlow is the Falcons’ leading scorer with 56 points and Cradic has scored 21. Greenway, the Greeneville QB, reads the option well and has all the skills required to lead a team. The Greene Devils have a slight edge in overall quickness but will be outweighed.
Cocke Co. (1-4, 1-1) at Daniel Boone (3-2, 1-1)
Last week: Cocke County lost to Jefferson County 21-7; Boone lost to Sullivan South 45-15.
Back story: Boone is following the same pattern as last year, starting out like a house afire and then falling into a slump. In 2006, the Trailblazers won their first six games then dropped four of the next five. This year they won their first three and have lost the last two weeks. The Trailblazers are favored but will have to be on top of their game to turn back a team that is much better than its win-loss record might indicate.
Players to watch: Boone: RB Mitchell Masters, WR Nick Jones, WR Jody Powell, LB Matt Duncan; Cocke Co.: LB Jesse Burgess, Dexter Parton, LB Jordan Keller, TB Austin Graham, QB Jake Crawford
Last word: Containing Crawford’s passing and keeping Graham under control will be a priority of the Boone defense. Boone should get its share of points with Masters carrying the ball. Look for an offensive exchange between the two teams.
Tenn. High (4-1, 2-0) at Sullivan North (2-3, 1-1)
Last week: Tennesse High defeated Science Hill 16-10; North lost to Lee of Southwest Virginia’s Clinch Mountain District 24-6.
Back story: Tennessee High has dominated the series but there have been some interesting scores. The Vikings have a distinct advantage with their strong feeder system while North has no middle school program for a source. Despite their situation, the Raiders have been surprisingly competitive under coach Robbie Norris and his staff the last two years.
Players to watch: THS: RB Jeff Baker, QB Mason Canty, RB Xavier King, RB Matt Pendleton, WR Thomas Turnbull; North: RB Hunter McReynolds, QB Dustin Doran, RB Eric Pearcy, WR Jeff Clawson, G Isaac Moore, LB Tyler Breeding, C Matt Summey.
Last word: Baker is the Vikings’ big gun with 474 yards on 82 carries and six touchdowns. Xavier King has rushed for 173 yards and Matt Pendleton, whose father Paul — the THS athletic director — was a North standout when the school was in its infancy, has rushed for 103 yards and four TDs. Canty has connected on 20 of 43 passes for 405 yards. Turnbull is the Vikings’ top receiver with 191 yards on nine catches. North’s statistical leaders are McReynolds with 308 yards rushing, Doran with 301 on keepers and Pearcy with 264 rushing. Doran has passed for 143 yards, with Clawson’s three catches for 51 yards leading the team. McReynolds, Doran and Pearcy have combined to score 76 points. The Raiders have outgained opponents 1,324 yards to 1,238 but their downfall has been the third quarter — in which foes have outpointed them 41-8. Watch for a game dominated by running since neither team likes to go to the air often.
Elizabethton (2-3, 1-1) at Sullivan East (4-1, 1-1)
Last week: Elizabethton lost to Dobyns-Bennett 40-14; East defeated Unaka 35-12.
Back story: An East victory over Elizabethton was unheard of until several years ago when Ralph Nelson came along as the Patriots’ coach. But times have changed. The Patriots, with the home-field advantage, are given an excellent chance of beating the Cyclones.
Players to watch: Elizabethton: WR Wendell Loving, WR Justin Fuqua, RB Derek Carr, RB Cody Forbes, RB Brooks Price, QB Wes Anderson, DL Jordan Ray; East: QB Tyler Gaby, RB Tyler Crowder, RB Caleb Looney, MLB Corbett Bawgus, WR Matthias Maines.
Last word: Looney has gained 439 yards on 71 carries to lead the Patriots’ ground attack. Gaby has kept 44 times for 114 yards and hit on 27 of 61 passes for 363 yards, accounting for a total of seven TDs. Crowder is the team’s top scorer with 46 points and has gained 293 yards on 36 runs. Maines is the Patriots’ leading receiver with 11 catches covering 108 yards and he’s scored 32 points. Dillon Faver has added 97 yards with six receptions. Elizabethton’s offense has been balanced, with Carr rushing for 247 yards, Price for 175 and Forbes for 142. Fuqua has made 14 catches for 176 yards and Loving eight for 86. Anderson has completed 27 of 68 passes for 322 yards.
Cherokee (2-3, 0-2) at David Crockett (1-4, 0-2)
Last week: Cherokee defeated Sullivan Central 42-14; Crockett lost to South Greene 3-0 in overtime.
Back story: Cherokee came out of the gate strong then stumbled, but has seemed to regain its strength. Crockett, after an impressive showing early in the season, has suddenly lost its offensive punch.
Players to watch: Crockett: RB Jamie Copas, DE Robby Johnson, RB Austin Hunt, QB Eric Richardson, LB Tyler Shipley, SE Barry Vandelinder, DL Michael Goins; Cherokee: FB Tyler Carter, RB Landon House, QB David Cantrell, WR Matt Hale.
Last word: Cherokee is gearing up for the Five Rivers Conference race with its next five opponents counting toward playoff qualification. The Chiefs have plenty of horsepower in the backfield, led by Carter at fullback. Copas leads Crockett in rushing with 305 yards in 57 carries, Johnson has gained 138 and Hunt has picked up 104. Richardson has completed 25 of 48 passes for 397 yards and four TDs. Shipley, Hunt and Michael Goins have been the Pioneers’ big stoppers on defense. The loser of this game essentially can wave goodbye to a Region 1-4A playoff berth.
Coeburn’s first six football games of the season included a 55-6 loss to Clintwood, a 58-15 loss to J.J. Kelly and a resounding 47-6 defeat at the hands of J.I. Burton.
Despite these hardships, the Blue Knights are hardly singing the blues.
Coeburn’s quest for its first Cumberland District championship intensifies this week when the Blue Knights (3-3, 2-0) take on Rye Cove (0-5, 0-1) at Coeburn Friday night.
“We’re excited about the start, but the stretch is what is important,” said Coeburn coach Greg Mullins, whose squad has picked up district wins over Ervinton (35-29) and Thomas Walker (14-6) along with a non-district victory over Pound (31-26).
The War Eagles represent the first of four consecutive Cumberland games for the Blue Knights, three of which will be played at Coeburn. Twin Springs (Oct. 12) is the only away date. St. Paul arrives in Coeburn Oct. 19. After an open date, Castlewood is set to show up Nov. 2.
There has been much press regarding Coeburn’s successful appeal to drop from Division 2 to Division 1 by means of (ironically enough) the VHSL’s “Rye Cove Rule.” But the team’s primary season objective has remained unaffected by the appeal process, Mullins said.
The district title is the grail the Blue Knights seek.
“When you look at Burton, Clintwood, Haysi and Appalachia ... those teams have been four of our top six or eight programs for the last three or four years,” Mullins said. “Division 1 is by no means easier.”
Nor does he expect Rye Cove — which beat Coeburn 12-8 in Clinchport last year — to be an easy opponent to overcome. The Warbirds’ losses have been to Norton, Sullivan North, Appalachia, Castlewood and J.J. Kelly.
Steven Vikara (43-255, 10 TDs) and Seth Blevins (40-137, 3 TDs) pace the Eagle rushing attack. Quarterback Jarrid Hensley has thrown sparingly, with Vikara and T.J. Barnette leading the receivers.
Coeburn QB Jon Dean has thrown for 342 yards and two scores, with Tra Nixon (11-257, 2 TDs) as his top target. But the man in blue with the bullseye on his chest is running back Shane Bright, who has rushed for 782 yards and nine scores.
“He’s the one everybody is going to try to stop when they play us. He runs the ball hard and keeps his pads low. He just keeps going,” said Mullins.
Protecting the football will be a big priority for the Blue Knights offense. Rye Cove has returned three fumbles for touchdowns this season, making its defensive unit the team’s second most-effective scoring weapon.
“They’ve got some speed in spots that can hurt you. Defensively, they’ve gotten better as the season goes on,” Mullins observed. “We’re definitely not taking this as playing your normal 0-5 football team.”
Appalachia (3-2) at St. Paul (3-1)
Last week: Appalachia beat Pound 49-12. St. Paul beat Castlewood 27-26 in overtime Monday.
Back story:The game has been moved to Saturday since St. Paul had to play Castlewood on Monday due to an outbreak of staph at Castlewood. Last year, Appalachia beat St. Paul 44-6.
Who to watch: Appalachia RB Morgan Ireson (72-501, 4 TDs) and RB Brett Leedy (73-573, 7 TD). Ireson also has 12 catches for 136 yards and a TD. St. Paul’s Josh Brooks, who leads the Deacons in rushing (78-687) and receiving (12-212), QB Tyler Phillips has passed for 697 yards and eight TDs.
Last word: The Deacons’ recent foray into Monday Night Football casts this non-district matchup in a fresh light. While having no bearing on St. Paul’s Cumberland District title ambitions, a win over Appalachia here places Mark Palmer’s purple minions on a higher trajectory than a lot of folks envisioned for them in the preseason. As past St. Paul coaching staffs can attest: victory here is no easy task.
Gate City (3-2) at John Battle (1-4)
Last week: Gate City beat Virginia High 35-0. John Battle was idle.
Back story: This is the first time John Battle and Gate City meet as Clinch Mountain district mates. The last time the two teams met was in 1993, during John Battle’s final season in the Highlands District. Gate City won that game 41-0. The last time John Battle beat Gate City was in 1987 (41-7).
Who to watch:Gate City RB Tyler Parks (81-543, 9 TDs) and QB Tihlee Anderson, who has rushed for 212 yards and passed for 404. John Battle QB Cody Calloway, who returned to action last week, has passed for 252 yards and three TDs; QB Jeffery Dingus has passed for 376 yards and 5 scores. WR Joe Cadle has 19 catches for 478 yards and four TDs while RB Josh Osborne has 24 catches for over 200 yards and three scores.
Last word: After being injured early on in the season, Calloway returned at QB two weeks ago against Patrick Henry. He came out of that game injured and the Rebels prevailed 35-28. He’s set to start Friday. With the capable Dingus in reserve, Gate City coach Nick Colobro doesn’t expect Battle to deviate much from its wide-open attack in any event. “We feel like their strong suit is the passing game. We’ve prepared hard for that this week,” he said.
Haysi (4-1) at Ervinton (0-5)
Last week:Haysi beat Twin Valley 49-6. Twin Springs beat Ervinton 14-13.
Back story: This year, cross-county rival Haysi heads to Nora for this non-district clash as a Division 1 football team. Last year, as a Division 2 squad, the Tigers upended the Rebels 34-0.
Who to watch: Ervinton is led by RBs James Kiser and Nathan Lee, as well as converted lineman Adam Rose, who also gets carries. Haysi is paced by QB Chris Fleming and RBs Cody Yates, Caleb Powers and J.T. Fleming. Joe Barton is an open-field threat for the Tigers.
Last word: Haysi isn’t Division 1 this year by virtue of an appeal; that’s exactly how the numbers fell out. In retrospect, Ervinton’s playoff appearance in 2006 is an even rarer achievement than it appeared last season.
J.I. Burton (5-0) at Pound (0-5)
Last week:J.I. Burton beat Coeburn 47-6. Appalachia beat Pound 49-12.
Back story: Last year, J.I. Burton beat Pound 55-6.
Who to watch: J.I. Burton SBs Jaycob Coleman and Jaymil Sensabaugh; RB Josh Miles; QB Ethan Stewart. The Raiders really spread the ball around: with 1,174 yards total rushing, no individual player has over 300 yards rushing yet.
Last word: The only thing that can stop the Raiders Friday night is the Raiders.
Thomas Walker (2-3) at Powell Valley (2-3)
Last week: Thomas Walker was open. Clintwood beat Powell Valley 8-7.
Back story: Pioneer coach Brian Lee said his program had a signed contract to play Lee High but the Generals backed out after Thomas Walker was unable to reschedule to accommodate Ben Hur’s acquisition of interstate opponent Sullivan North. Powell Valley was also in a scheduling bind, and picked up the Pioneers.
Who to watch: Thomas Walker QBs Travis Hall and Zach Hensley, the latter of whom doubles as a wide-out; TE Steven Susong. Powell Valley QB Cedric Mitchell has passed for 691 yards and 6 TDs, WRs Delmas Lawson (21-307, 3 TDs), Terrell Turner (10-181, 1 TD) and Malcom Pinkston (12-163, 2 TDs); RB Myron Pinkston (69-391).
Last word: Nobody ever expected these two teams to have identical overall records when this odd pairing finally rolled around. But the similarity ends with the records. Remember: Powell Valley’s losses include Richlands, J.I. Burton and Clintwood, while it counts resurgent Lee High and Lebanon among its trophies. Brian Lee, for one, is grateful for the opportunity to test his players against one of Southwest Virginia’s elite programs. “During my career, (coach) Phil Robbins has always been helpful to me. Even back when I was a little assistant, he always had time to talk to me,” Lee said.