BY DARREN REESE
Greeneville head coach Caine Ballard knows the road is about to get a lot tougher for his squad.
The Devils are in familiar territory, having made it to the second round of the playoffs for the sixth straight year, but they will undoubtedly face one of their toughest opponents of the season when they travel to Fulton tonight.
Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. Greeneville (8-3) finished the regular season as the sixth-ranked team in the state in Class 4A, while Fulton (9-2) was one spot better at No. 5.
"We are certainly going to have to go and play a great game," Ballard said. "(Fulton has) had great football teams in the past and this year is no different. They are big and fast, and I'm sure they are going to be motivated to play against us."
The Devils haven't been tested since they suffered a 42-0 loss to Alcoa back on September 21. After that, they ran off five straight District 2-AA wins by a combined 250-34 margin. They defeated Gibbs 49-0 in the first round of the playoffs last week.
"I was very proud of the way the kids competed last Friday night," Ballard said. "They remembered it was playoff time and they played with a different energy level. They were excited to play."
"The past few years, our guys have always seemed to turn it on in November."
Fulton's last defeat also came at the hands of Alcoa - the No. 1 team in the state in Class 3A - 30-7 three weeks ago. The Falcons only other loss of the season came against Knox West, 27-26 on August 24.
Greeneville and Fulton have met in the playoffs each of the past two seasons and the results have been ugly for the Falcons. The Devils won 42-0 in last year's quarterfinal round, and 35-0 in round two in 2010.
"They're tired of losing to us," said Ballard, whose squad has won the past two Class 4A state championships and is 19-3 in the playoffs since 2007.
Fulton won state championships in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
Despite being two-time defending state champs, Greeneville has yet to get much respect in 2012. Ballard hopes his team will go out and earn it tonight.
"This team has been doubted from the get go," he said. "A lot of that has to do with the number of quality players we lost after last year."
"I hope we have a chip on our shoulder. We still have something to prove. We need a signature win, and tonight would be a great time to get it."
Fulton is led offensively by junior running back Daryl Rollins, who is averaging over 12 yards per carry this season. He has rushed for 1340 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Ballard has also been impressed watching film of quarterback Penny Smith. A 6-foot-1 junior, Smith has completed 56-of-104 passes for 1129 yards in his first season as a starter. He has thrown 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
"They seem to throw it more than they have the past couple of years," Ballard said. "They have very good wideouts, a tight end that they use a lot...just a lot of athletes."
"Rollins can break some long runs and can fly. We can't let him get free on us."
Greeneville has only had to go on the road in the playoffs one game in the past two years - excluding the state championship game.
Ballard hopes that trips to Science Hill and Alcoa earlier this season helped prepare his team for this week.
"We played a tough early season schedule for this reason," Ballard said. "I'm anxious to see how the guys will respond tonight."