Carrying the banner of back-to-back state championships into the season was a bit of a burden for Greeneville's players.
“This group I feel like struggled with it some, honestly,” said Greeneville head coach Caine Ballard. “We created a monster for them, and expectations are probably a little out of hand. But it's fine. That's what any coach, player and community wants, to believe a football team can win championships every year.”
After dealing with the expectations and a rugged early season schedule, the Greene Devils are finding out they are still pretty tough when playing at the Class AA level. Their latest conquest was a 42-6 whipping of Chuckey-Doak on Friday night.
After losing 42-0 to Alcoa, the Greene Devils have ripped off three straight wins — including Blue Ridge Conference destructions of West Greene (55-0) and Cumberland Gap (60-7).
“Once we get into conference play, we are very confident,” said Ballard. “Hopefully we can get a couple more wins and continue to build confidence as we go into the playoffs.”
Greeneville didn't stand pat after the 2-3 start. Ballard made some decisions to move people around on offense, most notably quarterback Tanner Stewart going to running back and Zach Finchum taking over behind center.
“Coming out of the Alcoa game, I don't think we knew who we were or what we were going to do,” said Ballard. “But we've made a lot of changes personnel-wise, especially offensively. Things seem to be clicking well.”
Finchum totaled 239 yards of offense against Chuckey-Doak, including 8-of-11 passing for 129 yards.
“We moved Tanner to running back, which honestly is his natural position,” said Ballard. “Zach is capable of throwing the ball around more, and we have a couple of good receivers we needed to get involved.
“Tanner has taken it well, and he's done a good job at running back.”
Defensively, Tyrus Rollins has been the key player for the Greene Devils. The 6-0, 235-pound senior linebacker has been a force.
“He's playing well defensively,” said Ballard. “He lines us up, and he's the captain of the defense.”
Overall, Ballard said he likes what he has seen from his bunch in the last three weeks.
“It's Class 4A, and it's different from 5A or 6A,” said Ballard. “You always feel like you have a chance, and that's why we're playing to our enrollment.”
Greeneville finishes the regular season with a road game against Grainger, and a home contest versus Claiborne.
Elizabethton's defense has allowed just one score in six of its last seven games.
The Cyclones posted shutouts of Happy Valley and Tuscola, N.C., before surrendering 21 to Sullivan North. In the last four weeks, Elizabethton has given up 7, 8, 8 and 7 points. Two of those touchdowns were late fourth-quarter scores against the Cyclones' second-team defenders.
Elizabethton defeated Johnson County on Friday to win its third Three Rivers Conference title in the four-year existence of the league.
Cloudland's come-from-behind win over North Greene sets up a winner-take-all showdown with Hampton for Week 10 in the Mountain East Conference.
The Highlanders and Bulldogs are each 4-0 in league play, and have secured playoff berths — Hampton in Class 2A and Cloudland in Class 1A.
Comparison scores don't always paint an accurate picture, but Cloudland has outscored its league opponents by a combined margin of 166-21. Hampton stands at 146-27, but the Bulldogs had a forfeit win over Hancock — a game they would likely have won by 40 or 50 points or more.