KINGSPORT — Content to flex their muscles and bang heads, most of the teams threw away their playbooks and concentrated on aggressive defense Thursday night in the Mountain Lakes Conference football jamboree.
Sullivan South, the conference champion three years in a row, was the only team to score. The Rebels, instantly finding an identity without quarterback Curt Phillips, defeated Sullivan East by a 13-0 margin.
Johnson County had three scoring threats stopped at the 11-, 3- and 4-yard lines in a 0-0 tie with stubborn Unicoi County.
Quicker and more mature than last year, Elizabethton refused to budge in a scoreless deadlock with Tennessee High, which dealt the Cyclones a 41-0 beating in the 2007 regular season.
An inspired Sullivan North squad spent the entire 12 minutes of its scoreless standoff with Sullivan Central on the Cougars’ end of the field.
Some 4,000 fans turned out in perfect weather to watch the four abbreviated games — a dress rehearsal for the forthcoming season.
With the lights and scoreboard on and the clock running, it was a revealing sneak preview. South, picked as the team to beat for the championship, is going to be just that.
Bradley Davenport, the heir to Phillips’ QB position, was 6-of-7 on passes for 85 yards. This eased concerns about losing Phillips, the Rebels’ former superstar now playing for the University of Wisconsin.
“He’s good,’’ East coach Ralph Nelson said of Davenport. “There’s a lot of pressure on him. He’s a different type of quarterback than Phillips. South is still South.’’
The Rebels were rather vanilla with their play selection but executed with precision.
“We have the two strongest running backs — Taylor Fletcher and and Bobby Taylor — we’ve ever had,’’ South coach Stacy Carter said. “Both hit the holes fast.’’
Fletcher got the first South TD on a 1-yard plunge. Davenport fired a 39-yard pass to Kaleb Kitzmiller for the other score.
Elizabethton showed signs that its program has done an about-face. The defense stretched laterally — sideline to sideline — and controlled Tennessee High’s running and passing.
“We’ve got speed and we’re trying to put it on the field,’’ Cyclones coach Shawn Witten said. “Our kids are a year older but still young. They’re dedicated.’’
North was wildly enthusiastic. The Raiders, just as they had in three preseason scrimmages, simply closed off the goal line to Central.
“We stress effort. Our kids come out and give it all they have,’’ Raiders coach Robbie Norris said. “We’ve improved dramatically. We’ve made huge strides on defense. It’s high school football, and we try to have a good time.’’
Coaches seemed to have mixed emotions about the event.
“Actual scrimmages are for the teams,’’ Nelson said. “This was for the crowd.’’
Johnson County coach Mike Atwood said: “It was a good way to kick off the season. Fortunately, we didn’t get anybody hurt.’’
Unicoi County coach Doug Cooper agreed.
“This was an ideal way to get the jitters out,” Cooper said. “It was a game-like situation for everybody, with the players in uniform.’’
Individual contests were won by South’s T.J. Blanken, fastest lineman; Tennessee High’s Keenan Shepard, fastest back; Elizabethton’s Ryan Thomas, longest throw (59 yards); Tennessee High’s Tyler Graham, longest punt (56 yards); and Johnson County’s Christian Prudhomme, longest kickoff (68 yards).