Once again, The Mountain is coming to Benny Compton Stadium.
Unbeaten Lee High (3-0) travels to Kingsport Friday night to face Sullivan North (3-2), marking the Golden Raiders’ second state line showdown of the season.
Two weeks ago, North dropped a 33-21 decision to visiting Union, a Virginia 2-A powerhouse from Wise County that also hails from the newly-formed Mountain District.
The Tennessee 3-A Raiders’ hides got a little bit scarred — and a little bit thicker. Last week, North picked up a 33-2 Three Rivers Conference win over Sullivan East.
“The Union thing was a good experience. I think that game helped us. We got better,” said Golden Raiders coach Robbie Norris.
“Our kids are growing up. We can’t use the excuse of replacing 19 of our 22 because now we’ve played half a year. Last week against East, we played well. Especially on the defensive side,” Norris said.
Last week, Lee High deposed Eastside 27-20 in overtime, a comeback that was “exciting to watch and difficult to coach,” said Generals skipper Terry Martin.
“In years past, if we’d fallen behind like we did, the kids would have probably let go. But we didn’t have any quit in us,” said Martin.
“The school is excited. The community is excited. That’s good for attitudes. Good for everything. But we have to realize we have seven more ball games,” he said.
Starting with the best opponent Lee has faced this season. The Generals have not faced anyone as fast as North running back Jacob Jasper, Martin said.
Lee High’s defense, led by linebackers Nathan Aistrop, Cody Haynes , Jordan Hoskins and Justin Gilliam, has performed well against two prior double wing opponents.
While North is capable of big plays, Martin said, the Golden Raiders are control freaks at heart. They’ll send Jasper off tackle and they’ll send him wide. They’ll come at you with Kody Goins on the counter. They’ll hit you with the Bryson Salyers on the fullback trap.
“They want to control the clock and hog the football. They’re not huge, but they have good size and come off the ball well. They’re toe-to-toe on their offensive line, really wedged in there,” Martin said.
“They’ll pull and kick out and that Jasper kid is so quick. He may intend to go wide, but if you get too much penetration he can cut back inside ... and go,” he said.
Lee’s rushing attack has raw power in Haynes and elusiveness in Ray Avery. Given the expensive lessons North learned from Union’s passing attack, the Raiders are sure to keep a close eye on quarterback Houston Sage.
“Goins had a real good game at linebacker last week. Really stepped up. And our other linebacker, Tyler Arnold, battled through an injury, showed some toughness and had a good game,” Norris said.
“Nothing changes for us. We just keep doing the same stuff as long as we’re able.”
Elsewhere, Gate City looks to move forward from an off-the-field distraction when the Blue Devils (1-3) travel to Bullitt Park to face Union (3-1).
“It’s being handled by people who need to handle it at this point. We’ve just got to move on and take care of it,” said Blue Devils coach Bill Houseright, whose 61-7 loss to Bluefield, W.Va. last week was preceded by multiple player suspensions due to unspecified violations of team rules.
Regardless of who returns to the lineup (most, if not all, are expected to), Bears coach Travis Turner doesn’t think the Blue Devils will have lost sight of why they’re taking a bus ride to Big Stone Gap.
“I’ve been in this long enough to know Gate City is Gate City,” Turner said. “They’re going to come ready to play Friday night and they’re going to play a physical brand of football.”
In other games of note, Castlewood (0-4, 0-2) hops a freight to Rye Cove (0-3, 0-1), J.I. Burton (1-3, 0-0) raids Twin Springs (1-3, 1-0), Thomas Walker(1-3, 1-1) treks to Eastside (2-2, 0-0) and Wise Central(1-3) invades Lebanon (1-2).