Two years ago, Sevier County’s football team ended Dobyns-Bennett’s season.
Last year the Indians returned the favor. If that’s not the foundation for a good rivalry, nothing is.
“We’ve played twice a year for the last two years,” D-B coach Graham Clark said. “It seems like more than that.”
The Indians and the Smoky Bears will renew their budding rivalry tonight at J. Fred Johnson Stadium. Meanwhile, a classic grudge match will be taking place down the road in Rogersville as Cherokee and Volunteer battle for bragging rights in Hawkins County.
Sevier County went 10-2 last season with both losses coming at the hands of the Indians. A speedy offense was the key for D-B during a 51-21 win during the regular season. The Tribe then held on for a 28-21 victory in the second round of the 6A state playoffs.
As the Smoky Bears look to get a measure of revenge, they’ll do so with a dynamic offense of their own, which is run by all-state quarterback Luke Manning.
“You always hate to play against a quarterback named Manning,” Clark quipped. “This is the fastest bunch of Bears I’ve seen in a while. They’ve got a lot of speed and they’re very talented. They play a fast-paced game. They’re a handful.”
There are numbers to back up Clark’s claim that the Bears have a surplus of speed. During a summer combine, 35 Sevier County football players ran a 4.7 or better in the 40-yard dash, the most in school history.
While the Tribe will have to be wary of Manning’s connection to a talented group of receivers led by Devante Matthews, the speed in Sevier County’s backfield is also a threat
Senior Joseph Hayes and sophomore Dorain Banks, a transfer from Ezell Harding, both sport 4.4 times in the 40. Banks already has a scholarship offer from Tennessee.
Needless to say, the focus for D-B’s defense will be to keep the Bears in front of them.
“You don’t want to give up big plays,” Clark said. “You see some of their other games, they turn 5-yard passes into huge gains, so we have to do a great job tackling.”
Ultimately, the best way for the Indians to slow down Sevier County’s offense is to leave it stranded on the sidelines. In order to do that, the Tribe will have to win the time of possession battle by sustaining long drives and avoiding turnovers.
Senior fullback Zach Casey will be huge key for D-B’s offense tonight, but that’s nothing new.
“Going into the year, we certainly thought he had to be a big key for us, and he is,” Clark said. “He runs it hard every snap and does a nice job at linebacker for us. He’s a heck of a good player. We’ve got to get him the ball a lot of different ways.”
In Rogersville, Volunteer will be looking for revenge after suffering five straight losses to the Chiefs. The Falcons were strong early against D-B last week, engineering a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive to pull within 14-6 midway through the second quarter.
The Tribe pulled away, but the first half may have been just the psychological boost the Falcons need heading into tonight’s game.