When the 2017 football regular season started, there were only a handful of games across the state where the outcome would likely provide a significant statement about which team was capable of winning a state championship.
For Northeast Tennessee, there was just one such game. And after eight weeks of waiting, Greeneville versus Elizabethton is finally here. The Greene Devils will travel to face the Cyclones on Friday night.
Make no mistake about it, Greeneville is the team to beat in Class 4A. The Greene Devils house hardware in their trophy case that Elizabethton is still dreaming about, winning back-to-back Class 4A titles in 2010-11.
And if not for a Hail Mary by Knox Central in last year’s playoffs, Greeneville might have added a third title.
This year the Greene Devils are 7-0, and the only team that threw a real scare into them was Dobyns-Bennett in the season opener. The Indians led early in the fourth quarter before falling 35-21.
A few weeks later, Greeneville whipped Science Hill 42-26. That’s the same Hilltoppers’ team that blasted Elizabethton, 50-25. And while comparative scores never decide future outcomes, it’s a game-for-game comparison in the same season and it does give a little hint of the story.
Greeneville has outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 340-83. Elizabethton has outscored its opponents by 294-123.
Greeneville is ranked No. 1 in the state, getting 16 of 17 first-place votes. The Cyclones are No. 4, getting nearly all of the fourth-place votes.
In an interesting note, these teams have played 49 times in history. Each team has won 24 times with one tie (in 1968). However, Greeneville has dominated the series of late, winning 10 of the last 12 games. That stretch started in 2000, one year after Jason Witten and Shawn Witten were part of the tail end of a streak where the Cyclones won seven times in eight meetings.
With Caine Ballard coaching Greeneville and Shawn Witten coaching the Cyclones, the teams have met four times with Greeneville winning three of them. Elizabethton won 10-0 in 2009, the year of Greeneville’s Class 4A state runner-up finish.
Playing a tough schedule in football can go different directions: It can demoralize a team, it can cause a bunch of injuries, or it can make a team tough and believe it can play with anybody.
The latter of those things happened with Dobyns-Bennett. The Indians played Greeneville, Oak Ridge, Science Hill and Alcoa prior to Friday night’s game. So when Farragut and its 19-game winning streak came to town, the Indians basically said, “So what? We’ve played tougher teams.”
D-B went on to build a 35-14 lead before hanging to win, 42-34.
The victory restored the Indians as a team capable of a Class 6A playoff victory.
Division I football state scoring leaders
1. Anderson County — 52.0
3. Cordova — 49.8
2. Coalfield — 48.8
4. Greeneville — 48.6
5. South Pittsburg — 48.3
Others: No. 9 Science Hill (42.4), No. 10 Elizabethton (42.0), No. 15 Cloudland (41.0).
Division I state defensive leaders
1. Mt. Juliet — 2.9
2. Whitwell — 4.1
3. Whitehaven — 5.8
4. White House — 7.1
5. Jo Byrns — 7.6
Others: No. 9 Happy Valley (9.7), No. 9 (tie) Johnson County (9.7).
Football games of the week
Tennessee High at David Crockett
Greeneville at Elizabethton
Dobyns-Bennett at Hardin Valley
Sullivan East at Sullivan South
Sullivan North at Happy Valley
Vikings vs. Pioneers — Tennessee High has outscored its last two opponents by a combined score of 83-3. Crockett will likely need its best effort to win.
Greene Devils vs. Cyclones — The wins over Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett, especially with the Indians knocking off Knox Farragut last week, stand out as key reasons why the Greene Devils are considered about a two-touchdown favorite in this game.
Indians vs. Hawks — This could be the avoid-Maryville-in-the-first-round game, but both teams still have a shot at a home playoff game.
Patriots at Rebels — This is likely the last chance for East to claim a Class 4A playoff berth.
Raiders vs. Warriors — The Region 1-2A title is up for grabs, and Happy Valley must find a way to get back on track after back-to-back tough losses.
Pick of the Week
Greeneville 38, Elizabethton 28
From many different accounts, the Greene Devils are just a little tougher and meaner than anybody else.
Picks record: 5-3.
Player of the Week
Cade Larkins, David Crockett
With his team needing scores on almost every possession, the quarterback helped the Pioneers deliver in a 56-48 win over Cherokee.
Larkins connected on 25 of 45 passing attempts for 373 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for two scores.
The Hogs Award
Facing the defending state champs, the Tribe Hogs cleared the way for 310 rushing yards on 45 carries for 6.9 per attempt.
The pass protection was strong with 69 percent completions (11 of 16).
Defensive unit of the Week
Johnson County Longhorns
In a battle of rock-tough defenses, the Longhorns held Happy Valley in check in a 14-7 victory. Also, the defense produced the game-deciding score with a 98-yard fumble return by Tyler Norris just before halftime.
Johnson County also forced 12 incomplete passes in 17 attempts.
District action began Monday with the semifinal round set for Tuesday and the finals on Thursday.
It’s the first year of three classifications in soccer. In District 1-AAA, Science Hill holds the favorite role while two-time defending state champion Greeneville is the 1-AA favorite. University High is expected to hold the fort in 1-A.
Region action is slated for next week with the state tournament running from Oct. 25-28 in Murfreesboro.
Elizabethton remains in contention for the Region 1-AA title.
The Lady Cyclones will take on Greeneville at 5:30 p.m. at Sullivan South’s gym on Tuesday. South plays Seymour at 4 p.m., and the two winners meet at 7 p.m.
Sectional contests are scheduled for Thursday at 7 o’clock at the home of the region champions.
The state tournament begins Tuesday at Siegel’s gym in Murfreesboro. The event runs through Thursday’s championship at 2:30 p.m. (EDT)
Dobyns-Bennett’s upset of Knox Farragut wasn’t enough to move the Indians up in this week’s rankings.
Here is the ninth installment of the Northeast Tennessee Football Top 10:
Team (W-L) — Prv
1. Greeneville (7-0) — 1
2. Science Hill (6-2) — 2
3. Elizabethton (6-1) — 3
4. Dobyns-Bennett (4-3) — 4
5. David Crockett (5-2) — 5
6. Daniel Boone (5-2) — 6
7. Johnson County (7-0) — 7
8. Happy Valley (5-2) — 8
9. Sullivan South (5-2) — 9
10. Sullivan North (5-2) — 10
(tie) Unicoi County (5-3) — 10