KINGSPORT — Last week’s 38-35 horse race with Cherokee made for a more adrenalized season opener than many Sullivan South fans likely anticipated.
What, then, should they expect when Tennessee High rolls into Death Valley for tonight’s non-conference tilt?
Crickets will surely not be audible.
Rebels coach Sam Haynie admitted fans on both sides will arrive primed for another high-scoring shootout. Defensive coordinators in Bristol, Tenn. and Pactolus are working equally hard to undermine that scenario.
“I’m sure both of us want our offenses to play well,” Haynie said. “but we’d also like to see our defenses playing good football.”
Both D-units should have their work cut out for them.
Last week, the Vikings racked up 400 yards total offense in a 62-12 win over Johnson County. The pass-to-run ratio was roughly 50/50 — close to ideal, as far as Tennessee High head coach Mike Mays is concerned.
“I don’t want to have to throw for 300 yards in a game. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take it. But I don’t want to have to do it,” said Mays, a longtime friend of the South skipper.
While the Rebels did seem startled to find Cherokee ruling the airways without Ty Ryans taking the snaps, the 292 passing yards Chiefs quarterback Ryan Gibson accrued was partly a forced issue.
South loaded up on the run and successfully pinched Cherokee’s ground take to 67 yards. The Chiefs took what was given and Gibson proved himself as a viable threat. South didn’t pressure him enough — and he made good use of his time.
“You think ‘secondary’ when you see 300 yards passing. But that is our front guys not getting a rush and a couple of busts in the secondary,” Haynie said. “That could’ve been a blessing in disguise. It may have exposed some things we needed to work on. It’s no secret that Tennessee High can throw the football.”
Boy howdy. Quarterback Peyton Henley, who rushed for a pair of scores against the Longhorns, hit 14 of 15 attempts last week. The Rebels certainly can’t afford to give Henley all night to pick his targets.
Particularly so since Adam Mitchell (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) is one of the top pass catchers in Northeast Tennessee. South will look to counter his physical edge on the routes with the long-armed likes of Christian Comsa (6-4, 190) and Will Blair (6-4, 185).
Mitchell isn’t the only threat. There’s also John Battle transfer Travis Clark, who had a pair of TD catches last week. On the ground, running backs Kauhlil King and Sir Shuff will preoccupy South linebackers like leading tackler Kyle Bond and Jacob Strickler.
“It’s not just (Mitchell). Tennessee High has skill all over the field,” Haynie said.
South’s offense has a bit of it to go around also. Running back Blake Christian piled up more than 200 yards rushing against Cherokee, including the Rebels’ two most explosive snaps of the night. Quarterback Dylan Wieger passed for nearly 150 yards and two scores, getting picked once. Evan Headrick and Dalton Johnson lead the receiving corps, but there are other prospects.
South’s 2013 offensive front isn’t quite as big as past Rebels interiors. But Mays doesn’t let that color his assessment.
“Their defense is big up front and they’re smaller offensively. But they come off the ball as good as any line they’ve had over the last 10 years,” Mays said. “They stay with their blocks and get to the next level. I’m pretty impressed with them.”
In other Northeast Tennessee games of interest this week: Dobyns-Bennett (1-0) spins the odometer en route to the Chattanooga area for a game against the East Hamilton Hurricanes (1-0); Elizabethton (1-0) drops in on Science Hill (1-0) in a battle for bragging rights; Boone (0-1) loads up the bus to Rogersville on a mission to attenuate Cherokee’s passing stats; and enigmatic North (0-1) heads for Church Hill, seeking its first win of the season against like-minded Volunteer (0-1).