KINGSPORT — Graham Clark doesn’t belong to the Society of American Magicians yet. However, if he hasn’t been creating an illusion, Clark apparently has Jefferson County’s number.
Since Clark took over the football reins at Dobyns-Bennett, his record against Jeff County is 15-0. This is the same school that never lost a game or scrimmage to D-B before he became head coach.
Clark, who downplays this dominance, quickly points out that he still has a deep respect for Jeff County’s once-mighty program.
“I picked (the Patriots) to win the Big East Conference championship this year,’’ Clark said. “They have more people back than anybody except the D-B marching band.’’
D-B (4-0, 1-0), ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press 5A state poll, will be slightly favored over a Jeff County eleven that has been up and down.
Patriot quarterback Christian McFall is out for the season with a broken leg suffered in the Campbell County game.
“They have depth,’’ Clark said. “All they did was put last year’s starter — senior Will Darby — in at quarterback.’’
Darby has completed 12 of 23 passes for 199 yards. At 6-foot-1, 215 pound, he executes the Patriots’ split-backfield veer offense with precision.
McFall, a 1,000-yard gainer at halfback a year ago, was shifted to QB at the start of the 2008 season. Will Brooks, who rushed for 1,400-plus yards last year, is his team’s primary weapon at halfback/fullback with 426 yards in four games. The other halfback, Travis Tolliver, has picked up 329 yards.
“The split-back veer challenges a defense to play disciplined assignment football,’’ Clark said.
Clark has been pleased with D-B’s performances the last two weeks. “We’ve played pretty well against two pretty good teams — Bearden and Oak Ridge,’’ he said.
The Indians’ defense allowed Oak Ridge a mere 34 yards rushing. Meanwhile, D-B rolled up a total of 414 yards offensively.
Tailback Chris Sensabaugh, returning from an elbow injury, had a big night against Oak Ridge. He has 280 yards on 27 rushes this year, an average of 10.3 per carry.
Justin Sylvester, another tailback, has gained 283 yards on 45 carries — a 6.3 average. He’s scored five touchdowns and leads the team in scoring with 30 points.
Quarterback Jamie Crawford has kept the ball 39 times for 256 yards, a 6.6 average. He has personally accounted for 11 touchdowns, passing for seven and running for four.
Two Tribe receivers have fared well. Ashlon Adams has 16 catches for 249 points and four TDs. Derrick Steele has six receptions for 122 yards and three TDs. Steele also has returned five kicks for an average of 60.2 yards.
D-B has outgained its opponents 1,548 to 718 yards.
Tribe center Ryan Church has thrown blocks leading to nine TDs.
Jeff County (2-2, 1-0) may have the defense to limit D-B’s high-powered offense. Defensive tackles Terrence Stewart (6-4, 315 pounds) and Michael Sinard (5-10, 311) take up a lot of space along the front. Devan Allen, who missed last week’s game, is the Patriots’ top linebacker.
D-B’s leading tacklers are Zach Fleming (29), Jason Michael (24), Rusty Clark (18) and Kevin Kay (17). Will Bateman has recovered three fumbles and caused two others.
D-B’s infirmary report is better than it was before last week. “We have some people dinged up a little,’’ Clark said.
Matt Floyd and Evan Earles will sit this one out, along with a few special-teams players.
Sullivan South (3-0, 1-0) at Johnson County (2-1, 0-1)
Ranked No. 3 in the Class 4A state poll, South concentrates on the Mountain Lakes Conference race this week by making a trip to Mountain City. “It won’t be easy over there,’’ Stacy Carter, the Rebels’ coach said. “It’ll be a dogfight. Johnson County plays hard.’’
Carter believes it’s a healthy situation when a team is never satisfied with its most recent performance. “We are getting our people’s best effort,’’ he said, “but we want to continue improving.’’
He singled out halfback Taylor Fletcher, quarterback Bradley Davenport, wide receivers Kaleb Kitzmiller and Seth Watterson and cornerback Charlie Columbo for outstanding play against Greeneville last week. “Fletcher got the yards we needed,’’ the coach said.
South offensive tackle Zach Ervin, who suffered a broken leg against Unicoi County two weeks ago, has undergone corrective surgery but will miss the remainder of the season. He’s a junior. Jonathan Thomas and Nick Solf are dividing playing time at Ervin’s position.
“Defensively, South has a few places we might be able to take advantage of and we’ve put in a few plays where we can possibly move the ball and score some points,’’ Longhorns coach Mike Atwood said. “(The Rebels) are fast on defense and like to pressure the quarterback. That’s what we’ve been practicing for.’’
Atwood likes playing the Rebels at home. “We feel it’s going to be an advantage,’’ he said. “We’ve only lost a couple of games here in the last three or four years. I hope we can do some things and get them to do things they’re not used to doing.’’
South’s Fletcher has rushed for 457 yards — an 8.2 average — and has scored six TDs. Davenport, a 55-percent passer, has thrown for 392 yards and five TDs. Kitzmiller has 16 catches for 256 yards.
Adam Shelton is Johnson County’s leading rusher with 322 yards. QB Austin Phipps, a 50-percent passer, has thrown for 554 yards and five TDs.
Volunteer (1-2, 1-0) at Daniel Boone (2-1, 0-1)
Falcons coach Scott Rider this week in practice has emphasized controlling the line of scrimmage and assembling a better running attack as his team prepares to step back into Five Rivers Conference play. The rushing game failed miserably at Clintwood, but Luke Cradic passed for 291 yards, raising his season total to more than 500. “We’ve got to be more balanced on offense,’’ Rider said. “I’d be happy if we gained 125-150 yards consistently on the ground. Boone is awfully good and runs the ball like always. (The Trailblazers) are more diverse this year. We’ll have to be able to defend the pass.’’
Rider has been impressed by his inside linebackers, Patrick Kochensparger and Cody Hopkins, and two of the defensive linemen, Peyton Templeton and Tyler Hutson.
“It’lll be an evenly matched game,’’ Boone coach Jeremy Jenkins said. “It’s a big one because the winner of this game the last three years has reached the playoffs. Volunteer has good skill kids.’’
Boone’s top runners are Jeremy Hood (250 yards) and Jacob Mathis (160 yards). Nick Jones is its leading receiver with 18 catches for 230 yards. Sophomores Kevin Connell and Austin Reppert have shared time at QB.
“We’ve got to get better at tackling,’’ Jenkins said.
Sullivan North (3-0, 1-0) at Sullivan East (2-1, 0-1)
This showdown could have playoff ramifications. It appears South, seeking its fourth straight MLC title, will be going and this will leave three other positions open. There’s a mad scramble in progress at this time.
East hasn’t been as impressive offensively as was expected but nonetheless is winning. North, ranked No. 10 in the 4A state poll, is the most surprising team in Northeast Tennessee. Robbie Norris’ Raiders have outscored opponents 101-18 and outgained them 771 to 354 yards.
Fullback Hunter McReynolds, who missed North’s last game because of an injury, is his team’s leading rusher with 197 yards. QB Eric Pearcy has rushed for 116 yards and passed for 91. Matt Washington, the Raiders’ top scorer with 24 points, has averaged 54.3 yards with three kick returns.
East is led on the ground by halfback Caleb Looney with 135 yards on 37 carries. QB Tyler Gaby has completed 26 passes for 394 yards and five TDs. Chase Depew has been on the receiving end of 10 passes for 140 yards and Zane Campbell has five catches for 115 yards and three TDs.
Elizabethton (2-1, 1-0) at Sullivan Central (0-3, 0-1)
Elizabethton is much improved over last year, Shawn Witten’s first as coach. The Cyclones have three productive runners in Derek Carr (200 yards), Cody Forbes (183 yards) and Preston Itaro (109 yards). Forbes also is averaging 50 yards with two kick returns. QB Ryan Thomas has hit on 21 of 39 passes for 356 yards and five TDs. Taylor Hodge, the team’s leading scorer with 28 points, has made eight catches for 162 yards. This is a game Elizabethton needs to stay in MLC title contention.
Central, despite its record, has outgained three foes 681 to 634 yards. But the Cougars have been outscored 65-36. Drew McLaughlin, who has three TDs, is Central’s biggest gainer with 319 yards on 47 rushes.
NORTON — Remember a Thanksgiving night when Thomas Jones of the Chicago Bears took to the field across from Julius Jones of the Dallas Cowboys?
Forget it. That golden memory has absolutely nothing to do with Friday’s Lonesome Pine District clash between Powell Valley and J.I. Burton at Lawson-Fitchko Stadium. It’s a dubious analogy, at best.
Malcolm Pinkston’s debut in uniform for the Raiders (3-0, 2-0) has been an inevitable source of community chatter this week, given twin brother Myron Pinkston’s increasing profile with the Vikings (2-1, 0-0). But neither coach is intrigued by this potentially distracting storyline.
Powell Valley coach Phil Robbins, who dismissed Malcolm Pinkston from the team in August due to an unspecified infraction of team rules, refuses to discuss his former three-year starter at all.
J.I. Burton coach Jimbo Adams, who allowed the prodigal Pinkston to practice with the Raiders shortly after he officially enrolled with the Norton City school, isn’t as close-mouthed on the subject as Robbins. But he still doesn’t care to dwell on it.
“We play a team concept here at Burton. He’s one of 40,” said Adams, who affirmed Pinkston’s eligibility for Friday’s ballgame.
“He’s a good kid and seems to be accepting the opportunity of getting a second chance.”
Adams said Pinkston will be playing some on both sides of the football, but how much “will depend on the situation.”
It’s not as if the unbeaten Raiders were lost in the wilderness before Pinkston showed up.
Offensively, Burton already boasts five players averaging double-digit yards per carry, the chief three being slotbacks Martinez Miles (16-334, 20.9 yards per carry) and Jaycob Coleman (22-308, 14.0), as well as quarterback Devin Talley (11-136, 12.4). The same athletes — and others, like linebacker Will Godsey — have been responsible for Burton’s continued successes on the defensive side of the football.
Both teams have enjoyed open dates prior to this week’s game. Robbins said he hasn’t used the extra time to cook up many surprises.
“We’re just trying to get better as a football team every week. We’re not trying to trick anybody. I think I’ve made that mistake enough in my life,” said Robbins.
Running back Myron Pinkston has flourished in his brother’s absence. He leads the Viking rushing attack (56-222, 3 TDs), but has impressed equally as a blocking back for teammate Jordan Martin (40-179, 3 TDs).
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree in quarterback Gil Lusk, a shrewd student of the game who has thrown for 172 yards and a score while directing traffic for the Viking offense.
As Army strong as he is cat-quick, Pinkston is also a surprising force on the Viking defensive interior line, creating problems along with defensive end Michael Mullins. Linebacker Dakota Cantrell is a huge playmaker in the middle with other solid athletes filling out the secondary.
Burton has won the last three meetings between the two teams, nipping the Vikings 30-26 at Bullitt Park last year after capitalizing on two crucial Powell Valley turnovers and a big special teams play from Talley.
Don’t think for a moment that it ever gets old for the Raiders.
“They’re a great program with a great tradition,” Adams said. “Coach Robbins is a (VHSL) Hall of Fame coach and a National Coach of the Year. Any time you play somebody with those kinds of accolades, it excites you as a coach.
“If you look at their teams for the last 25 years, they’re a Hall of Fame program. Our kids get excited from that standpoint.”
Twin Springs (1-3, 0-0) at St. Paul (2-1, 1-0)
The Titans stopped the skid with last week’s 26-17 win at John Battle — a shocking outcome and indication that football is on firmer footing in Nickelsville. RBs Daniel Smith (36-246, 3 TDs) and Adam Gillenwater (24-107) make good use of the bruising Titans front, while QB Michael Salyers makes good use of his time in the pocket: he’s thrown for 233 yards and four TDs, all four scoring strikes to WR Chris Jordan (9-183). QB Tyler Phillips and RB Denver Fritz fuel the Deacons, who beat Twin Springs 48-24 last year.
Rye Cove (1-2, 0-0) at Castlewood (3-0, 1-0)
War Eagle RB Steven Vikara led Rye Cove in last week’s win over Appalachia, proving a threat as both a ball carrier and receiver. Teddy Parker is also pounding the football for the Warbirds. The unbeaten Blue Devils, who beat Rye Cove 18-6 last season, are paced by RB Ryan Phillips and QB Corey Davis.
Coeburn (2-2, 1-0) at Thomas Walker (2-2, 1-1)
The Pioneers seek payback for last year’s 14-6 loss at Coeburn. RB-WR Zach Hensley paces the Thomas Walker rushing attack with 354 yards and six scores. QB Travis Hall has passed for 415 yards and seven touchdowns. RB Shane Bright, who has rushed for 476 yards and seven TDs and QB John Dean, who has passed for 256 yards and two TDs, pace the Coeburn offense.
Appalachia (0-4) at Gate City (2-1)
This could be another one of those young Bulldog squads that takes its lumps now in order to serve them up later — but only if the personnel hews to the local traditions and work ethic. Gate City is certainly sticking to its knitting: QB Tihlee Anderson has rushed for 232 yards and three TDs while passing for 211 and a score. Sophomore RB Justin Vaughn is turning into a workhorse of the Blue Devil rushing attack
Lebanon (2-1) at Clintwood (4-0)
If last week was any indication, Ralph Cummins Field has regained its status as a hostile environment for interlopers. The crowd is definitely getting into it these days. Greenwave RB Chris Robinson has rushed for 461 yars and 10 TDs so far while QB Heath Counts has passed for 362 yards and four scores. If injured Lebanon RB Drew Helbert is forced to sit this one out, the Pioneers could face a long night in Dickenson County.
Harlan County (2-1) at Lee High (1-2)
A week after loaded Middlesboro unloaded on the Generals, Lee High looks to even up the columns against Harlan County — not to be confused with Harlan Independent, which Lee High beat 43-0 on Sept. 5. The Black Bears are led by RB Nathaniel Gilliam, who has rushed for 261 yards and two TDs, while QB Zach Blanton has passed for 245 yards and three scores. RB Tyler Graham (53-352) stokes the Lee High rushign attack while QB Tyler Mullins has passed for 211 yards and a score. WR Scotty Woliver (12-168, 1 TD) leads the receivers.
J.J. Kelly (3-1) at Grundy (1-2)
The Indians appear to be back on the warpath. RB Devan Sproles has rushed for 384 yards and four TDs while QB Matt Dotson has passed for 380 yards and two TDs. Garth Nicely paces the Indian receiving corps with eight catches for 179 yards and a touchdown. Last year, Kelly beat the Golden Wave 44-6. Grundy has a big offensive line that was instrumental in its 26-44 win over East Ridge two weeks ago.