With Sullivan South’s football team dropping down to 4-A membership in the Three Rivers Conference this season, some folks have had difficulty wrapping their minds around just how good this year’s Rebels are.
Daniel Boone coach Jeremy Jenkins has little difficulty recognizing the actual context in which to best assess his former 5-A rivals.
“This is probably as talented a South team as we’ve seen since the Curt Phillips days,” said Jenkins, whose Trailblazers (3-1) take on the Rebels (5-0) in a non-conference clash at Gray tonight.
Phillips is currently the starting quarterback a the University of Wisconsin. He is enjoying a sixth season due to having been granted an injury hardship waiver by the NCAA.
While South’s roster doesn’t appear to contain anyone of Phillips’ singular stature, what it does have is collective talent as impressive as what surrounded the future Badgers signal-caller. Taken as a whole, they might be a little bit better.
“We have five, six or seven kids who could have a big night on any given night,” said South coach Sam Haney, whose team is ranked No. 4 in the latest Associated Press 4-A poll in the wake of last week’s 68-0 dismantling of Three Rivers Conference opponent Unicoi County.
“We took our lumps last year with a lot of these guys. They played as sophomores and got knocked around a little bit. They got in the weight room and got stronger,” Haney said.
Quarterback Dylan Wieger, running back Blake Christian and receivers Evan Headrick, Christian Comsa and Will Blair have all come up with big offensive plays. Jacob Strickler has proven his salt as both a rusher and receiver.
Defense has been the Trailblazers’ strong suit. But Jenkins knows a stiff challenge when he sees one.
“We know we have our hands full,” said Jenkins, whose team has won its last three meetings with the Rebels.
While the ’Blazers defense blazed brightly in last week’s 17-7 win over Volunteer, the offense — which is led by running backs Dustin Chandler and Josh Bacon, QB Gabe Sanders and receiver Caleb Ratliff — was slow to get moving.
This week, Boone’s offense can’t afford to fool around, Jenkins said.
“This is a team that can force you into a lot of mismatches. We’ll have to tackle extremely well,” he said. “Our best defense will be keeping them off the field. So far, nobody has done that very consistently.”
Meanwhile, Dobyns-Bennett (3-2) travels to the Chattanooga area for the second time this season, taking on eighth-ranked Ooltewah (4-1).
The Owls are fresh off a 28-26 win over arch rival East Hamilton, which was ranked No. 2 by the AP when it beat the Indians 33-21 just before Labor Day.
Ooltewah’s offense is led by RB Desmond Pittman, who rushed for 264 yards. Of the Owls’ four TDs, one was on a 49-yard scoring punt return by Edward Hayes. Another was on sophomore LB Jeremiah Jackson’s 20-yard interception return.
“Pittman has people bouncing off of him left and right. And he’s not just a powerful runner. He has tremendous vision. He may have X-ray vision. Their special teams are scary,” said Tribe coach Graham Clark, whose squad beat David Crockett 61-7 last week with QB Josh Holt and RB Zach Casey both sidelined.
Holt returns to the starting lineup this week, but Casey is still nursing a sprained ankle. The Indians will look to Blake Rodgers, Alijah Dunn and Trey Trammell to step up with the carries.
Other Northeast Tennessee non-conference matchups of note: Elizabethton (3-1) travels to Tennessee High (3-1) for a Stone Castle slobberknocker and Sullivan Central (2-2) pays a business call to Sullivan East (1-4).