Perhaps there are many Sullivan South faithful who have had regrets that their Rebels didn’t get to play Dobyns-Bennett the last two years.
But the football rivalry is being restored Friday night at South — to the delight of both sides.
“A big rivalry game is back on target,’’ D-B coach Graham Clark said Wednesday before his team’s final full-scale practice of the week.
“I’m sure it will be a good one,’’ South coach Stacy Carter said. “We’ll probably get D-B’s best game.’’
South (5-0, 2-0), favored to win by nine points, is rolling along undefeated and ranked second in the state behind Henry County.
Idle last week, the Rebels have had time for their bruises to heal. Regular quarterback Aaron St. Clair will remain on the sideline with a hairline vertebra fracture.
“We’ll have to run the ball well and mix up our plays,’’ Carter said. “D-B runs the ball well and we defend the run well. Something has to give.’’
South can pass and run with equal facility. New quarterback Heath Haden is effective at throwing or keeping. His favorite air target is Ashton Zanoni. The Rebels have capable ball carriers in Bobby Taylor, Jordan Cassell and Clint Phillips.
D-B (1-4, 1-1), off to its worst start in years, also spent last week in repose and is hoping to return with a new look.
Clark’s major weapon is blockbusting running back Chris Sensabaugh, who continues to rack up big yardage despite facing gang-style tackling.
The Indians are expected to attack with mid-range passing to go over inside linebackers Ty Garvin and Ethan Long. That’s where South secondary standouts Phillips and Caleb Anderson might have an opportunity to step up.
Clark insists he’s “gotten smarter’’ the last two weeks. He thought of Gate City legend Harry Fry the other day when preparing his game plan. “I once heard Harry say at a clinic that when you’re losing, it’s wrong to keep adding on. You should cut back and execute what you can do. I think I’ve been having our team try to do too much. We’ll be putting some things aside.’’
The most glaring difference between the two squads is South’s hefty line. This could enable the Rebels to cash in when the powerful Phillips lines up at running back.
“D-B probably has worked out some kinks in the last two weeks,’’ Carter said. “(The Indians) have a lot of potential. I’ve been impressed with quarterback David Roop, wide receiver Sean Seabolt, defensive back Derrick Steele and linebacker Jason Michael.’’
Both staffs have compiled thorough scouting reports. Carter, who realizes Sensabaugh will require plenty of attention, anticipates a defensive battle.
Clark is optimistic about getting a breakout game from the Tribe.
“South has faced a great deal of adversity and plays with a lot of emotion,’’ he said. “We’ve played hard against some good teams but made just enough mistakes to get ourselves beaten.
“(The Rebels) are a very good team. In the beginning, they were picked to win the Big 8 Conference title.’’
This game will count inside the Big 8 even though D-B is a Class 6A school.
South, a 5A team, is braced for an overflow crowd. “We should have a bunch out here if the weather cooperates,’’ Carter said.
Clark agrees: “I can’t remember when their stadium or ours wasn’t packed for a D-B/South game.’’
South is running neck-and-neck with Tennessee High and Daniel Boone in the Big 8 race. D-B still has a mathematical chance to qualify for the playoffs by placing ahead of 6A Science Hill in the standings.
Sullivan North (4-2, 1-1) at Johnson County (4-1, 2-0)
This Class 3A game shapes up as a physical skirmish. The Raiders are built around wingback/quarterback Eric Pearcy. Quarterback Chris Miller is Johnson County’s catalyst. ”Miller does it all,’’ North coach Robbie Norris said. “He leads the conference in rushing, he throws well and he plays safety.’’
North is still battling sickness. “We got two starters out,’’ Norris said. “It’s been a challenge. We’ve been hit by the flu, pneumonia and walking pneumonia. We’re going to keep playing hard and hope our schedule makes us better. We have three 5A opponents.’’
Tennessee High (5-0, 2-0) at Volunteer (0-5, 0-2)
Nobody knows any better than Volunteer coach Scott Rider what his injury-riddled Falcons are facing in third-ranked Tennessee High. “Running back Keenan Shepard is awfully good,’’ Rider said. “He’s one of the best, if not the best in our conference. But he’s not all (the Vikings) have. That fullback (Bradley Tallman) and quarterback (Taylor Harmon) are tough. Tennessee High has one of the best lines in the conference. We’ve looked and looked for a weak link to attack, without finding one.’’
Three Volunteer players have been ruled out for the season: tailback Devin Rogers (shoulder), tight end Austin Gray (knee) and defensive back Michael Franklin (knee). “We’ve had our fair share of injuries,’’ Rider said. “Unfortunately, that’s part of the game. Our expectations are still the same. We’ll show up every week and do it with some people who weren’t No. 1 at the beginning of the season. They are now.’’
Longtime Falcons booster Harold Patterson, director of Church Hill’s Parks and Recreation, will be honored at the game. He will be awarded a permanent stadium seat, a plaque and a jacket. He also will be serving as grand marshal in a school parade over the weekend.
Sullivan Central (0-5, 0-2) at Daniel Boone (4-1, 1-1)
No. 10 Daniel Boone is in the thick of the Big 8 race and pursuing a playoff spot. Jeremy Jenkins has his team peaking early. With a 17-14 win over Dobyns-Bennett and a follow-up rout of North, the Trailblazers appear headed for a banner season. Split-duty quarterbacks Kevin Connell and Austin Reppart offer Boone a strong pass-run dimension other teams around the region do not have. Central quarterback Taylor Winchell’s passing could test Boone’s secondary.
Cherokee (1-4, 0-2) at South-Doyle (0-5, 0-2)
Weakened by an injury to star runner Landon House, Cherokee is hoping to keep South-Doyle among the state’s winless teams. The Chiefs’ record does not reflect how competitive they’ve been at times. Mike Sivert’s team typically revs up for a strong finish in the latter part of the season.