When Daniel Boone and Elizabethton hooked up on the football field a couple of years ago, a giant crowd showed up at Rider Field.
And a non-conference rivalry was born.
“It’s two quality programs,” said Boone head coach Jeremy Jenkins. “And it’s one of the top games in Week Zero.”
The Class AAA Trailblazers will travel to take on the Class AA Cyclones tonight with kickoff scheduled for 7:30 in the high school football season opener for both teams.
In other openers tonight, Unicoi County visits Hampton, Happy Valley is at Volunteer, Sullivan South plays host to Cherokee, and Sullivan Central travels to take on South Greene.
Also, Cloudland has home-field advantage against rival Avery County, N.C., Unaka is at home to battle Oliver Springs, and Chuckey-Doak hits the road to go up against North Greene.
Cyclones head coach Shawn Witten said he expects a challenge from Boone.
“Jeremy does a great job,” said Witten. “He always seems to have his guys ready to play, and does a good job of fitting his personnel to his system.”
Both coaches stressed the importance of taking care of the football. Opening-night turnovers seem to be magnified and feed the intensity of the receiving team.
“We’ve got to minimize mistakes, especially with the first-game jitters,” said Jenkins. “We need to take care of the ball and get off to a good start. And we need to tackle well in space.”
Tackling well is indeed a priority for Boone as it could have its hands full with Cyclones’ junior running back Ethan Thomas.
“He will get his touches, and he’s so hard to tackle,” said Jenkins. “We can’t let him get his shoulders turned parallel. When he does that, he’s as good of a back as we’ve seen. We’ve got to make him run sideline to sideline, and not give him a crease.”
The Cyclones will use two quarterbacks against Boone, senior Caleb Bailey and junior Caleb Armstrong. How that works specifically is anybody’s guess.
“We don’t know how it’s going to play out,” said Witten. “If the offense is producing, Bailey will stay. If the offense is producing with Armstrong, he will stay. We can call any play with either guy. We don’t have to change who we are.”
When Boone has the ball, the Cyclones will have to concentrate on limiting the Trailblazers’ ability to move the chains and eat clock under the direction of quarterback Dustin Chandler and running back/wildcat QB Josh Bacon.
“That’s kind of our motto, eat the clock and get first downs, and play solid defense,” said Jenkins. “Our best defense is moving the football.”
However, Elizabethton has been vulnerable to the big plays in the preseason, especially in last week’s jamboree. An extra dose of effort could help the issue, said Witten.
“I don’t think any of our kids can say they’ve played extremely hard and given unbelievable effort,” said Witten. “For us to make plays, our effort has to be at the maximum it can be. In order to win, we’ve got to play hard.”
Unicoi County at Hampton — This is one of those games with mystery surrounding it. Where do these teams stand?
The Blue Devils have played the Bulldogs tough in recent years, but still face an eight-game losing streak in the rivalry.
Happy Valley at Volunteer — These teams have only met twice, splitting the contests in 1995-96.
Both teams are coming off 3-7 finishes in 2012.
Cherokee at Sullivan South — Are the Rebels as good as they looked in last week’s jamboree?
Sullivan Central at South Greene — Will the Rebels’ first step as a Class A team be a steady one?
Are the Cougars ready to build on last year’s four-win season?
Avery County, N.C. at Cloudland — Avery has blasted the Highlanders in three of their last four meetings.
Oliver Springs at Unaka — The Bobcats are just two years removed from a Class 2A state semifinal appearance, so this appears to be a big challenge for the Rangers.
Chuckey-Doak at North Greene — The Black Knights have won seven straight games in this series.