For Sullivan South, the first loss of the football season came last Friday night in the form of a gut-wrenching 28-27 defeat at the hands of Elizabethton with the Three Rivers Conference title on the line.
Carter, meanwhile, was 95 miles away in Knoxville suffering its first loss of 2013, a humbling 69-0 drubbing courtesy of Fulton.
As the Rebels and the Hornets prepare to face off Friday night in the opening round of the TSSAA 4A playoffs, both teams face the same challenge: Putting last week’s setbacks in the rearview without allowing history to repeat itself.
“I think both teams have a decision to make,” South coach Sam Haynie said. “Are we going to get up off the mat, so to speak, and go play? As always in the playoffs, you have to avoid mistakes and shake off what happened to you in Game 10, win or lose.”
Haynie was encouraged by what he saw out of his players this week in practice. He says they’ve shown good energy and seem primed to build on the positives of last week’s game without allowing the final score to drag them down.
“We addressed all that on Monday, the mistakes that we made and the things we’ve got to eliminate if we want to win a big football game,” Haynie said. “But we still feel like the effort was really good Friday night, and we’re going to build it back up and have another good effort this Friday.”
This year’s South squad has hung its hat on a ferocious defensive effort, and the Rebels will need their defense to come up big once again against Carter.
With quarterback Jonathan Freeman at the helm, Carter’s offense has no shortage of playmakers. Before last week’s debacle against arguably the best 4A team in the state, the Strawberry Plains-based Hornets had a string of five straight games in which they scored at least 44 points.
“Offensively, they’re very athletic,” Haynie said. “Their receivers can make plays downfield and their running back, he’s very athletic. They score points. They’ve scored a lot of points against teams all year, so our challenge is to limit big plays and tackle well.”
Defensively, Carter brings pressure in a variety of different ways. It will be up to South quarterback Dylan Wieger to make split-second decisions in order to find an open teammate and deliver the ball in a hurry.
In other action, Dobyns-Bennett also is looking to shrug off a Week 10 loss. The Indians hit the road to face Morristown East in the first round of the 6A playoffs.
A 19-game winning streak against rival Science Hill came screeching to a halt when the Hilltoppers outscored D-B 21-0 in the fourth quarter and beat the Tribe 35-24. But D-B coach Graham Clark said his team hasn’t seemed to let the loss linger.
“Our kids came in Monday and they were kind of dragging a little bit,” Clark said. “But yesterday they came out and had a great day of practice, realized we’re blessed to still be playing. No dribbling basketballs yet.”
In truth, the Indians had a lot of things go right last Friday night. They were able to control the football and dominate the time of possession thanks in large part to Zach Casey, who ran for 157 yards on 27 carries.
Now Clark says the goal will be to avoid the handful of costly penalties and miscues that made the difference between winning and losing.
“We’ve looked through the film,” Clark said. “We’ve made our corrections as we always do. We’re through with that and moving on.”
Waiting on the horizon is a Morristown East team with a bruising ground game of its own. Led by running back Matt Thomas and quarterback Logan Wallace, the Hurricanes pack quite a punch.
Unlike South and D-B, Sullivan North is coming off a win in Week 10. The Golden Raiders host Pigeon Forge on Friday night.
While the postseason officially starts this week, North essentially played a playoff game against Happy Valley in their regular-season finale. With a bid into the 3A playoffs on the line, the Raiders showed amazing poise by overcoming an early 16-0 deficit to defeat the Warriors 22-16.
Now North will lean on its punishing ground game, anchored by 1,000-yard rusher Jacob Jasper, to keep its season alive against Pigeon Forge.