KINGSPORT — Sullivan South’s defense against the run must rise to the challenge Friday for the Rebels (11-0) to move to the third round of the Class 4A football playoffs.
That’s what Stacy Carter, the Rebels’ coach, believes must happen for his team to avoid elimination.
Putting the clamps on Morristown East’s high-profile offensive backfield could be a major concern.
“(The Hurricanes) have a good team, as always,’’ Carter said. “They’ve got a lot of speed. They’re talented. We must stop the run to be in the game.’’
Morristown East won the TSSAA’s first modern-day Class AAA state championship in 1969.
South has come close to a state title twice, reaching the 4A semifinals.
With wingbacks Tee Howell (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) and Jeremy Jones (6-0, 165) flanking fullback Dee Dee Johnson (5-9, 175), the Hurricanes’ high-risk offense can be rather explosive when everything is clicking. Turnovers and injuries have caused the offense to sputter at times.
M-East quarterback Tyler Turner (6-0, 180) is a running threat as well as a productive passer.
“We’ve seen them in 16 different formations,’’ Carter said. “The offense isn’t a true Wing-T but a veer somewhat like the one the Air Force Academy runs.’’
Playing M-East is becoming a postseason ritual for South, a 41-21 winner over the Hurricanes last year. This will be the fifth time they’ve met in the playoffs and South holds a 3-1 edge.
Howell, the team’s best athlete, filled in at quarterback last year after Turner went out with an injury. With both of them in the same lineup, M-East has a dual passing threat.
“Howell plays shotgun quarterback some,’’ Carter said. “He also throws halfback passes.’’
Region 2 runner-up Morristown East (9-2) boasts Division I prospects in Jones, Demarcus Knight (6-2, 230) and Chris Lowe (6-4, 295). Knight, a linebacker with 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash, has already committed to play at Ole Miss. Knight had 79 tackles as a sophomore and 72 last year.
The Hurricanes could have defensive worries of their own dealing with the hard rushes of South running back Taylor Fletcher (5-10, 180) and the passes of quarterback Bradley Davenport (6-2, 190) to wideouts Kaleb Kitzmiller (6-3, 185) and Seth Watterson (6-0, 180).
Fletcher has gained 1,325 yards and scored 27 touchdowns. Davenport has hit on 103 of 170 passes (61 percent) for 1,520 yards and 21 TDs and kept the ball for another 890 yards and 10 TDs. He broke Curt Phillips’ single-game school record last week with five TD passes against Cherokee.
Interior offensive lineman Hunter Beedle (6-4, 265), himself a Division I prospect, spearheads Region 1 champion South’s play in the trenches.
Llinebacker Clint Phillips will not return to South’s lineup this season. He suffered a leg injury on a kickoff in the Elizabethton game. Playing in his place is Rick Neeley.
Fletcher has been seeing more defensive action at end and outside linebacker.
“I’m sure it will be a tough game,’’ Carter said. “Morristown East is pretty talented. These playoff games don’t get any easier.’’
If South wins and Tennessee High (8-3) beats Greeneville (9-2), the third-round playoff game would be on the Rebels’ field. Should Greeneville win, it would be at the Region 2 site.
Morristown East coach Dwayne Hatcher is a former member of the Carson-Newman College staff.
Game time is 7 p.m.
GATE CITY — Who says first- round playoff rematches have to be boring?
Two VHSL Hall of Fame football coaches and their tradition-laden programs collide at Legion Field Friday night as fourth-seeded Powell Valley (5-5) travels to play top-seeded Gate City (8-2) in the Region D, Division 2 bracket.
“I think we’re going to the biggest venue in Southwest Virginia for a playoff game. Anyplace else just doesn’t have the atmosphere they’ve got at Gate City,” Powell Valley coach Phil Robbins said. “I think in early September and October. Bullitt Park is one of the most beautiful places you can play. And then the leaves fall and it’s kind of bleak down there beside the river. So the other place is Gate City, where it’s closed in and they pull those trucks in and blow those horns.”
Robbins has his reasons for being cheerful. Despite a sometimes difficult season, the Vikings collected their 18th consecutive post-season appearance — still the longest streak of any school in the state.
There are meaningful coincidences, like Robbins’ alma mater, No. 4 McMinn County, upsetting No. 1 Dobyns-Bennett last week. Then there is the professional motivation of being three victories away from his 300th career coaching win.
And there’s the intriguing fact that the Vikings only lost 13-0 the last time they set foot on Legion Field.
The Blue Devils are well aware of how much trouble is coming to call.
“I think we’re two pretty good high school football teams. Both have a lot of tradition and a lot of pride. Both have been in playoff position before. Both have played in big games,” Gate City coach Nick Colobro said. “Friday night, somebody is going to keep playing and somebody is not. There’s finality in this.”
Over the last five games, the Vikings have steadily gained confidence on both sides of the football. Since running back Myron Pinkston was converted into a shotgun quarterback, the offensive results have been particularly dramatic.
Pinkston has rushed for 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns while passing for 340 and four scores. In the regular-season finale against Appalachia, he was responsible for 309 yards of total offense.
The Blue Devils’ offense either can spread it or pound it. Running back Joseph Vaughn has rushed for 879 yards and nine touchdowns. Quarterback Tihlee Anderson has passed for 510 yards and three touchdowns, also running for 575 with 10 scores.
Of course, if Gate City’s formidable defense repeats what it accomplished in the last meeting, a Ked Byrd field goal will be sufficient to seal the victory.
“We have some great memories of last year. But we want to try to make some more memories with this bunch,” Colobro said.
“Out on the field is where you prove your mettle and prove your worth. That’s what we’re hoping to do Friday night. And I’m sure Powell Valley feels the same way.”
Region D Playoffs
Lebanon (7-3) at J.J. Kelly (7-3)
J.J. Kelly is making its first appearance in the Division 2 playoffs since 2003. Lebanon wrapped up the regular season in dramatic fashion last week with a 14-7 win over Tazewell, which was responsible for one of Gate City’s two losses. RBs Drew Helbert and Jerome Cobb fuel the Pioneers’ rushing attack while dual QBs Tarrell Lee and Andrew Jessee rotate under center. The Indians’ ball-control ground game is led by RBs Jordan Bates (162-1,100, 12 TDs) and Devan Sproles (111-722, 8 TDs) while QB Matt Dotson (43-81-2-818, 7 TDs) helps to keep the defense honest. Garth Nicely (13-279, 3 TDs) leads the receiving corps, while Chris Dotson, Matt Justice and Sproles have recorded seven catches apiece. The Indians took an open date last week after losing to Haysi in a 41-38 barn-burner the week prior.
Haysi (8-2) at J.I. Burton (9-1)
The Tigers suffered a 22-3 setback wrapping up the regular season at Lee High last week. The Raiders took a week off after wrapping up its regular season campaign with a 27-13 win over Gate City on Halloween night. Haysi QB Chris Fleming, who has thrown for 1,600 yards and 29 TDs, was held to 76 yards passing by the Generals. RB Justin Blair led the Tigers rushing attack with 84 yards. Joe Barton and Zack Mondrage also helped carry the mail. J.I. Burton slotbacks Jaycob Coleman and Martinez Miles form Southwest Virginia’s most potent rushing and blocking duo. Coleman has rushed for 1,348 yards and 14 TDs, Miles for 1,089 yards and 18 scores. QB Devin Talley had developed into an impressive playmaker in his own right. On the defense, Will Godsey is a force at MLB, while Coleman and Miles are play-disrupting saboteurs. Position-for-position, the Raiders have proven stronger overall than previously recognized.
Thomas Walker (6-4) at Clintwood (9-1)
Region D’s lone Saturday day game is set for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff. Thomas Walker represents the lone Cumberland District team in this year’s playoffs,. This will be a colossal challenge for the Pioneers, but let it be remembered that Thomas Walker had the guts to face both Powell Valley and J.I. Burton during the regular season. Zach Hensley — one of Region D’s fastest athletes — has rushed for more than 1,000 yards for Thomas Walker this season while QB Travis Hall has thrown for nearly 1,000. Steven Escobar, Corey Yeary, Robbie Hawkins and Cody Williams make key skill contributions on both sides of the football. The Greenwave are just like last year’s Division 1 state runner-up team — only better. RB Chris Robinson has rushed for 1,354 yards and 25 touchdowns while QB Heath Counts has passed for 927 yards and 13 TDs. Ryan Lyle, Trey Meade and Robinson lead the receivers. LB Alec Osborne and DL Russell Hull are two standouts on an all-around solid defensive unit.