OAK RIDGE — Many longtime high school football enthusiasts in Tennessee view it as “The Game: Dobyns-Bennett vs. Oak Ridge” or “Model City vs. Atomic City.”
The two 5A schools have been engaging in this rough-and-tumble sport since 1960. Their gathering has a sense of timelessness.
The Indians invade Oak Ridge on Friday night for the 37th meeting between the schools.
These cities were drawn together during World War II by mutual interests, particularly the Manhattan Project.
Engineers and scientists talked sports as a diversion from their munitions manufacturing. After Wheaton High School closed and Oak Ridge opened, the new institution chose D-B as a model for its athletic program — right down to school colors. The mascot was copied from Kentucky’s Wildcats.
Only a handful of winning margins in the series have been landslides. Their clashes feature more than winning and losing. Marching bands and banners and placards displayed by fans create an atmosphere second to none. There is an aura of glamour.
Oak Ridge holds a 19-17 advantage in wins. Since 1995, when Graham Clark took over as the Indians’ coach, D-B is up 10-8. The rivalry was disrupted for a few years but the teams have made up for it by tangling twice in the same season a number of times because of playoffs.
“These two programs have a great deal of respect for each other,’’ Clark said. “We’ve had some interesting battles. It’s usually a measuring stick for what kind of season you’re going to have. It’s a chance to play good people and get better.’’
D-B (3-0) is ranked No. 4 in the state poll. Oak Ridge (2-0) stands No. 8. The Indians have beaten Tennessee High 42-13, William Blount 42-6 and Bearden 31-14. Oak Ridge has defeated Fulton 21-13 and Bradley Central 28-13. Fulton and Bradley Central have a combined record of 0-4.
This year, the Indians are blessed with athleticism and Oak Ridge has the beef.
The Wildcats have five mammoth-size defensive tackles who weigh 264, 270, 275, 347 and 360 pounds. “I’ll bet there isn’t a live cow in Oak Ridge,’’ Clark said.
The positive news from the D-B front is, two key players have come off the injury list: tailback Chris Sensabaugh and linebacker Jordan Edwards. Special teams player Matt Floyd will sit out with an ankle injury.
Justin Sylvester, who’ll share time with Sensabaugh, is the Tribe’s top scorer (30 points) and leading rusher (273 yards, 40 carries). Quarterback Jamie Crawford has kept the ball 27 times for 188 yards and three TDs, while completing 24 of 32 passes for 404 yards and six TDs. Ashlon Adams is the top receiver with 13 catches for 217 yards.
Seven touchdowns have been scored running behind all-state candidate center Ryan Church.
D-B has outgained its foes 1,134 yards to 530 and outscored them 115-33.
The Indians’ statistical leaders on defense are Zach Fleming with 22 tackles, Jason Michael with 17, Devin Sylvester with 15 and James Templeton and Kevin Kay with 14 each.
Stanton Stevens’ Oak Ridge team attacks from an I-formation and a two-back shotgun. The Wildcats’ big threat is speedy tailback Demarcus Rodgers. “He sure looks fast on film,’’ Clark said.
Rodgers raced for 168 yards against Bradley Central. He also returned two kicks for touchdowns against Fulton. LeMichael Gibson added another kick runback for a score.
Oak Ridge QB Tyler Clark is a skillful ball handler who can throw deep but seldom goes to the airways.
The Wildcats’ most aggressive defender is linebacker Chris Harder.
Ryan Wilson averaged 46.5 yards on two Oak Ridge punts last week.
Greeneville (1-1) at Sullivan South (2-0)
“It’s almost gotten to be a rivalry,’’ South coach Stacy Carter said of facing the Five Rivers Conference power. “We’ve played Greeneville a lot in recent years. Steve McCurry’s teams seem to get better as the season goes along. Greeneville has a good team. Jordan Greenway is a dandy quarterback with exceptional arm strength. He was hard to bring down last year and must have gained 15 pounds since then. We’ll have to stop Greeneville’s passing game and be able to run the ball.’’
The Greene Devils have a stable of outstanding runners. South’s offense is led by RB Taylor Fletcher (353 yards, 31 carries, 4 TDs), QB Bradley Davenport (18 for 32 passing for 231 yards and 3 TDS; and WR Kaleb Kitzmiller (175 yards, 10 carries, 2 TDs).
The Rebels’ defense was highlighted last week by linebacker Ty Garvin, safety Ashton Zanoni and linebacker Clint Phillips.
Sullivan Central (0-2) at Daniel Boone (1-1)
Central’s biggest offensive spark has been RB Drew McLaughlin, who has rushed 32 times for 215 yards.
Boone finally lost to Greeneville last week and will be trying to get back on track. The Trailblazers’ Nick Jones is a standout defensive back and punter. Boone is powered by split-duty QBs and four RBs who divide time.
David Crockett (0-2) at Sullivan East (1-1)
Crockett has played inspired football despite its winless record. The Pioneers have a fleet QB with a rocket arm in Jamie Copas and a blockbuster FB in Robby Johnson.
East QB Tyler Gaby has hit on 18 of 28 passes for 241 yards and three TDs. Chase Depew is the Patriots’ leading receiver with seven catches covering 107 yards.
GATE CITY — A looming Clinch Mountain District road trip to Gate City was more than enough to preoccupy the thoughts of the Lebanon coaching staff this week.
But the Pioneers’ practice routine has been anything but routine.
The arrival of presidential candidate Barack Obama at Lebanon High School Tuesday was a distraction of historic proportions.
“The Secret Service took over the practice field, so we had to practice on our game field. It disrupted us a little bit, but it was worth it,” said Adams.
“Everybody was kind of going crazy about how we were going to practice. I said, ‘We’re not going to have someone that might be president here often. So you guys go see it and we’ll practice later.’”
All in all, Adams thought Tuesday’s evening practice under the lights went well. It might have actually helped the Pioneers (2-0, 0-0) get focused for the impending clash at Gate City (1-1, 0-0).
The Blue Devils have had a week off to contemplate a disappointing 29-19 loss to Tazewell. It’s been a long two weeks for Gate City’s players — and their coach.
“We’ve been working on a little bit of everything. We’ve just got to do a better job blocking and tackling,” said Colobro, whose squad lost to Lebanon 33-13 last year during the regular season before beating the Pioneers 31-22 in the playoffs.
Lebanon is also coming off an open date, after wins over Honaker and Powell Valley.
Already, the Pioneers have proven a little more versatile offensively than they were last year. Quarterback Terrell Lee remains a rushing threat even as he looks to improve his passing stats. Running backs Drew Helbert — who’s rushed for over 100 yards in both outings this season — and Jerome Cobb lead the ground attack. Fullback Daniel McClanahan is a horse.
“Over the years we’ve mostly been an off-tackle and option kind of team. We still try to do that. But we’re also trying to do some more things,” Adams said.
“You can’t compete with teams the caliber of Gate City, Powell Valley and Lee High without having some diversity.”
The Blue Devils have also been tweaking some things during the off week.
“Hopefully we’ve simplified our offense a little bit and our defense a little bit. We’ll see if we can line up in the right places and come off the ball a little better,” Colobro said.
Before the break, running back Joseph Vaughn led the Blue Devil rushing attack with Dustin Jones also contributing key carries. Quarterback Tihlee Anderson has rushed for 147 yards and two scores, while passing for 148 and one touchdown.
On the other side of the football, the Blue Devil defense expects to be seriously tested.
“Their bread and butter is still going to be their running game. But they can attack people more inside and out. Not just inside the tackles,” said Colobro.
“They’re doing a good job on their toss sweeps. A good job on the option out of the spread and trap wide out of the spread. There’s a lot of things we’ve got to get ready for.”
Volunteer (1-1) at Clintwood (3-0)
Last year the Falcons beat Clintwood 42-0 at Church Hill with RB Chris Robinson sidelined. Since that night the Green Wave has won 10 of its last 14 and played for a state championship. Don’t expect Clintwood to be looking for revenge as much as insisting upon respect. Volunteer QB Luke Cradic has been impressive, last week passing for 143 yards and two scores as the Falcons dismantled Cocke County 34-7. The ground game is not a star system, but collectively Volunteer has been getting the job done. Robinson fuels Clintwood’s offense, having rushed for 273 yards and seven scores. QB Heath Counts has passed for 269 yards and four scores, attesting to the Greenwaves’ balance. Defense has been Clintwood’s unquestionable strong suit. Russell Hull (DE), Alec Osborne (OLB) and Robinson (FS) pace a veteran, aggressive unit that has an extraordinary nose for the football.
Appalachia (0-3) at Rye Cove (0-2)
Rye Cove’s longstanding jinx with Appalachia — famously broken in 1998 under coach Bill Houseright — may be of little consequence Friday night. With the likes of T.J. Barnette and Steven Vikara, Rye Cove actually has the experiential edge in key positions. In the midst of one of its weakest starts in recent years, the Bulldogs look to regain some face after last week’s lopsided 62-8 loss to Clintwood.
Lee High (1-1) at Middlesboro (1-1)
The Generals should face stiffer resistance this week than from Harlan Independent, which Lee thrashed 43-0 last week. Middlesboro’s rushing attack is paced by Hunter Adams (25-170, 1 TD) while QB Chase Roark has passed for 183 yards and two TDs. Michael Rutledge and Tyler Graham pace the Lee High rushing attack, while highly-mobile quarterback Tyler Mullins is a dual threat. Scotty Woliver paces the Lee reciever corps.
Coeburn (2-1) at J.J. Kelly (2-1)
Kelly RB Devan Sproles is a question mark after injuring his shoulder last week against J.I. Burton. Kelly coach B.I. Salyers thinks highly of Blue Knight RB Shane Bright. “We have to get Sproles better and get ready to play Coeburn, because they’re coming to play. Shane Bright is a heck of a football player. He could play for any team in our district and still be a star,” Salyers said.
Tennessee High (1-1) at Virginia High (2-0)
While not as imposing as in past seasons, the Vikings remain the favorite in this unique crosstown interstate rivalry. Keenan Shepard (52-199, 3 TDs) fuels the Tennessee High rushing attack. Dueling QBs Taylor Harmon and Mason Canty have generated similar passing numbers. The Bearcats will attack from the Wing T. RBs Anthony Jones and Damon Dock are both capable of colossal gains.
Twin Springs (0-3) at John Battle (0-3)
Twin Springs is 0-2 against non-district opponents Holston and Chilhowie. But just how much better would the Trojans fare against those two if Battle had been allowed to return to the Hogoheegee District? Last year, the Trojans won this game 27-13.
Pound (0-3) at Chilhowie (3-0)
Speaking of the devil: the Wildcats continue to swim in the deep end of the pool as they travel to Warrior country this week. As grim as it looks for the moment, the Wildcats had success moving the football last week and still have the opportunity to win some ball games this season. Maybe even this one.
Castlewood (2-0) at Twin Valley (0-3)
The Blue Devils are gunning for a Division 1 playoff berth in 2008. Over two games, RB Ryan Phillips has rushed for 326 yards and four scores. Could we be looking at over 500 yards rushing only three games into the season?
Ervinton (0-2, 0-1) at Thomas Walker (1-2, 0-1)
Primed after last week’s 41-13 win over Hancock county, the Pioneers look to help themselves in the Cumberland District column. Last week, QB Travis Hall passed for 152 yards and three touchdowns. He’s thrown five TD passes on the year. Multi-faceted RB and pass-catcher Zach Hensley is one of Southwest Virginia’s fastest athletes.