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April 17, 2014

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Greeneville Set To Renew Rivalry With Jefferson County Friday night

Greeneville's Dylan Fields (23) and Hays Culbreth celebrate a touchdown during last week's 56-7

win over Chuckey-Doak. (Staff photo by Darren Reese)

Originally published: 2013-09-12 17:26:14
Last modified: 2013-09-12 17:34:51

Sun Sports Editor

When it comes to gridiron rivalries in northeast Tennessee, they don't get much better than Greeneville-Jefferson County.

Though the meetings have been sporadic at times, and the final scores have often been lopsided, the two teams always count on getting each other's best effort.

After a two-year hiatus, the rivalry will be renewed Friday night as the Greene Devils travel to Dandridge to take on Jefferson County at Leroy Shannon Field.  Kick off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

"There's a lot of history with this one," Greeneville head coach Caine Ballard said Thursday.  "We've talked with the team a little bit about that, but more importantly we've talked to them about going on the road to face another good team."

"We are off to a great start, but it doesn't matter how you start, you have to continue getting better each week.  We look forward to a great game, with a great atmosphere.  This is really what Friday nights are all about."

Greeneville (2-0) enters the contest ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 4A, having defeated its first two opponents, Morristown West and Chuckey-Doak, by a combined 96-7 margin.

Jefferson County (1-1), meanwhile, was ranked No. 10 in Class 6A before suffering a 28-14 loss to South-Doyle last Friday.  

The Patriots' attempt to get back on track this week will be hampered by the fact that their starting quarterback, senior captain Malik Styles, will be unavailable due to an ankle injury.

Filling in for Styles under center will be Caleb Johnston, or possibly sophomore Noah Carter – neither of which has significant varsity experience at the position, other than Johnston coming in after Styles went down during last week's game.

Carter took over for Styles in the defensive secondary against South-Doyle and recorded an interception late.

"To say that it won't be different or tough without Malik out there is just not the truth," said Jefferson County head coach Kenny Cobble, now in his third year at the helm of the Patriots.

"But it's also a chance for some capable guys to step in.  Both of those guys (Johnston and Carter) are athletic and they know our offense."

Without an experienced passer, that leaves Jefferson County's senior running back Dearies Jones with even more of a load to carry.  Jones totaled 1,475 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago.

Ballard is fully aware of what the standout is capable of.

"Offensively, we have to stop their running back in order to have a chance," Ballard said.  "We've certainly got to keep him contained.  He can bounce it out real quick and can make some big plays."

Greeneville will also be without one of its top playmakers on offense as senior fullback D.J. Haney continues to be sidelined with a knee injury.  

Haney totaled 117 yards and two touchdowns in one half of work in the season opener against Morristown West, but didn't play last week against the Black Knights.  Ballard said the injury will be re-evaluated next week.

Unlike the situation Jefferson County faces, though, the Devils' offense is still capable of remaining balanced, with a plethora of weapons to choose from.

Leading the way is quarterback Zack Finchum, who has had a spectacular start to his senior campaign.

Against Chuckey-Doak, he was 12-of-13 through the air for 187 yards and four touchdowns.  He also rushed for 94 yards and two scores on just six carries.  Finchum didn't play the second half as Greeneville raced out to a 49-0 lead by halftime and cruised to a 56-7 win.

For the season, Finchum is 18-of-21 for 375 yards, with six touchdowns to zero interceptions.   

His favorite targets on the outside are Trevor Wright and Hays Culbreth.  The speedster tandem has combined for 307 yards and five touchdowns. Culbreth has five catches on the year and has scored on three of them.  Wright is 2-to-4 in touchdowns-to-receptions ratio.

"Zack just looks comfortable back there," Ballard said.  "He had some experience back there last year and I think that's helped the game slow down for him this year."

"He's reading and seeing things a lot better.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that he has some great guys outside that he can get it to."

Equally efficient has been running back Quan Wilson, who is part of the stable that Ballard is using to make up for Haney's absence.  Wilson has tallied just four carries this year, but has totalled 108 yards and two touchdowns.

Mikhail Anderson, Desmond Dabbs and Jalen Pruitt also help share the running load.

Cobble said that just by watching film, it's easy to see why Greeneville is ranked No. 2 in the state.

"They're as good as advertised," the JCHS coach said.  "They run the ball well.  They throw the ball well.  Their special teams are good and their defense is sound.  Coach Ballard and his staff do a great job.

"It's going to be a big challenge for us, but at the same time, it's a great opportunity for us to go out and compete with a team that's at a championship level."

As good as the Greeneville offense has been out of the gates in 2013, Ballard has been equally impressed with his defense's performance thus far.

He pointed out that defensive ends Jake Sell and Jared Adams both had huge games in the first half of the Chuckey-Doak win.  

"They have to do that again this week," Ballard said.  "Our defensive tackles, Nic Wright and Noah Starnes, saw a lot of double teams last week, and we've got to control the line of scrimmage."

With one of the best secondary units the school has had in quite some time, coupled with speed at the outside linebacker position, Ballard likes that matchup  when Jefferson County's offense tries to get the ball to the perimeter.

"We like our outside linebackers sitting there against what Jefferson County does," Ballard noted.  "They are a big-play team, and our secondary doesn't give up a lot of big plays.  We have a lot of speed back there, and our guys tackle as well as any group we've had."

Ballard noted that by watching film, he feels the Patriots also do some things well on defense.

"I really like their defensive front," he said.  "They are big and strong.   You can tell that they are well-coached on defense."

Jefferson County owns a 14-10 advantage in the overall series record, but the Devils have won the last two meetings (2009 and 2010) by a 62-10 combined margin.

The schools first met in 1977 – two years after Jefferson County High School opened – with Greeneville claiming a 29-25 victory.  

They played each other 16 straight times, until TSSAA realignment broke up the original Inter-Mountain Athletic Conference.  The Patriots were 11-5 against Greeneville during that stretch.  Only six of those games were decided by single digits – the closest being a thrilling 44-42 victory by Greeneville in1986, the year before Jefferson County won its state championship.

Since that stretch of consecutive meetings came to an end following the 1992 season, Greeneville and Jefferson County have met just eight times. (1997-2000, 2007-10).

Greeneville won 34-7 to open the 2010 schedule – a season that would see the Devils go on to win their first of two consecutive state titles.

Ballard is excited to once again be taking his Devils to Dumplin Valley, but one of the coach's favorite memories of playing Jefferson County came long before he ever arrived in Greeneville.

It occurred back in 1992, when Ballard was a senior at Rhea County High School.  The Golden Eagles traveled to Dandridge and pulled a 14-13 upset.

"Jeff. County was ranked No. 1 in the state that year, and had Spencer Riley and the youngest of the Collins boys (Ryan), and we went up there and beat them," Ballard remembered.  

For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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