KINGSPORT — Sullivan South coach Stacy Carter, sifting through scouting reports in the fieldhouse before Wednesday’s practice, tried to put Friday night’s showdown with Tennessee High in perspective.
“Over the last five years, our games with (the Vikings) have been so competitive,’’ he said. “Anytime we get together you can expect a close game. There’s going to be a lot to play for in this one. They’ll score some points and we will, too. The team that plays better defense should win.’’
Tennessee High (9-0, 6-0 Big 8 Conference) comes in as the top-ranked team in the Associated Press 5A state poll. This season is the first time the school has been in that slot since 1972, when the Vikings went on to win their second Class AAA title in a row.
South (8-1, 5-1) ranks fourth in the poll behind No. 2 Clinton and No. 3 Henry County. Daniel Boone (7-2, 4-2), the team South beat in overtime, ranks eighth.
If Tennessee High wins, it will be undisputed Big 8 champion as well as District 1-AAA champ. South, a slight underdog, could share the conference title and capture the district crown by winning. The district champ will be a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
“Tennessee High has a good team and has been impressive in all nine games,’’ Carter said. “Coach (Greg) Stubbs has done a good job with that defense. The offensive and defensive lines have been a key to their success. Their front four on defense is outstanding.’’
Offensively, the Vikings aren’t as ground-oriented as some of their past teams. They can move the chains with equal facility, passing or running.
Keenan Shepard, a 175-pound tailback, is the featured ball carrier. “They have a couple of other runners just as good,’’ Carter said. “Carlos Howard is a dandy and Matt Pendleton runs the ball well. Cody Snyder is a tough receiver.’’
Taylor Harmon, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound quarterback, likes to throw play-action passes down the sidelines and also short tosses to receivers coming out of the backfield. He may pose a constant threat to South’s secondary.
Blockbusting fullback Brad Tallman especially bears watching in the Tennessee High attack. Besides being physically imposing as a blocker, he catches the ball well.
South finally will see quarterback Aaron St. Clair return to the field. He’s been out since early in the season with a back injury. The most likely scenario would be South utilizing both St. Clair and Heath Haden in a split-duty situation. Carter would say only: “St. Clair will be in uniform.’’
The Rebels like to go to the airways quite frequently, with Ashton Zanoni and Seth Watterson leading targets.
Clint Phillips, a pillar of strength on defense at the inside and outside linebacker positions, also provides plenty of oomph as a ball carrier. South’s speedster at running back is Bobby Taylor.
Inside linebackers Ty Garvin and Ethan Long will have to be at the top of their game since the Vikings’ offense is so balanced.
Tennessee High has outscored opponents 386-111. South has outpointed its foes 324-146.
Both teams are headed for the playoffs. With playoff expansion requiring late qualifications, TSSAA pairings won’t be announced until Saturday. “It’s going to be a job figuring out how to exchange films on short notice,’’ Carter said.
Science Hill (3-6, 2-4) at Sullivan Central (1-8, 1-5)
Central, coming off its first victory, may pose problems for Science Hill’s secondary with its pass-minded offense featuring QB Taylor Winchell. The Hilltoppers are likely to be flat after losing last week to arch-rival Dobyns-Bennett. Science Hill’s marquee offensive players are fullback Armando Canepa, tailback Ryan Mitchell and wide receiver Greyson Janeway.
Volunteer (0-9, 0-6) at Dobyns-Bennett (4-5, 4-2)
D-B coach Graham Clark anticipates winless Volunteer being energized by the close of its season. It will be the Falcons’ last game, while the Indians advance to the 6A playoffs. Also, it will be the first meeting between the schools since 1994. “It is Volunteer’s last game and you always want to go out on a high note,’’ Clark said. “I expect to see the Falcons come up here flying. R.J. Williams may dress in a phone booth because he’s faster than a speeding bullet. Luke Cradic, Volunteer’s quarterback, throws the ball awfully well. He had three touchdown passes dropped against Central. The Falcons scored more points against David Crockett than we did.’’
Clark insists the game will have some bearing on the TSSAA seedings. “It has some playoff implications for us.’’
D-B running back Chris Sensabaugh has rushed 162 times for 1,102 yards. Quarterback David Roop has kept the ball 73 times for 404 yards and hit on 66 of 137 passes for 817 yards and six touchdowns. Sensabaugh and Roop each has scored eight rushing TDs. The Tribe’s defense is anchored by Jason Michael with 86 tackles, Rusty Clark with 70 and Sean Seabolt with 54.
Sullivan North (7-2, 3-1) at Unicoi County (2-7, 0-4)
Playoff-bound North needs to clear just one more obstacle to put the wrapper on another blue-ribbon season. The Golden Raiders have become the area’s sentimental favorite since being stripped of their middle school feeder system. “Unicoi County is a tough place to play,’’ North coach Robbie Norris said. “(The Blue Devils) won last week and have to be feeling good about themselves. They have a good running back, quarterback and wide receiver.’’
North’s outstanding performers this season have been center MacKenzie Baker, wingback Eric Pearcy, offensive guard Travis Bates, end/nose guard Steven Hartsoe and wideout/linebacker Brett Jennings.
David Crockett (4-5, 2-4) at Daniel Boone (7-4, 4-2)
The Musket Bowl is a Washington County athletic squabble that has attracted coverage in USA Today a number of times. Boone, a TSSAA playoff qualifier, is favored to win on the strength of its high-powered offense. Split-duty QBs Austin Reppart and Kevin Connell, a pair of left-handed gunners, and a host of running backs make Boone tick. The Trailblazers’ top hand on defense is linebacker Matt Duncan. Crockett’s time-consuming Wing-T offense is centered around running back Chorpee Sumo.
Cherokee (2-7, 1-5) at Cocke County (2-7, 1-5)
Mike Sivert’s Chiefs will be trying to break the stalemate for sixth place in the Inter-Mountain Conference race. Casey Kelley has upgraded Cocke County’s program since taking over. The team was winless last year and snapped an 18-game losing streak that carried into this season. Cherokee got in the playoffs last year but had to pick up Sevier County and Jefferson County after reclassification and slipped a notch or two in the standings. Quarterback Hunter Hamilton and wide receiver Matt Hale are Cherokee standouts.