BY DARREN REESE
& WAYNE PHILLIPS
Homecomings at Chuckey-Doak and South Greene, plus a showdown for the outright Blue Ridge Conference lead at Burley Stadium highlights Friday night's prep football slate for the local teams.
Chuckey-Doak welcomes cross-county rival North Greene to help the Knights celebrate Homecoming, while the South Greene Rebels also have Homecoming festivities on tap with Blue Ridge opponent Grainger paying a visit.
Greeneville and Cumberland Gap, both undefeated in conference play, face off at Burley Stadium. West Greene is also at home on Friday with the Claiborne Bulldogs visiting Jim Sauceman Field.
All games start at 7:30. Homecoming events will be held prior to kickoff at both Chuckey-Doak and South Greene.
HUSKIES AT KNIGHTS
Chuckey-Doak head coach Aaron Christian had a message for his team following last week's 55-27 loss to Cumberland Gap.
"I told them I expect to see the most motivated Chuckey-Doak team I've seen all year when we come back to practice Monday," the coach said.
Christian has been pleased with the response this week as his team prepares to host cross-county rival North Greene Friday night for homecoming. The crowning of a queen will take place prior to the 7:30 p.m. kick-off.
Chuckey-Doak is currently 4-2 overall and 2-1 in District 2-AA.
"We have a lot of strong leadership on this team," Christian said. "I look to those guys when things go bad."
"I fully expect them to grab the other players' attention and get things turned around."
North Greene is also looking to bounce back, coming off a 41-20 loss to Region 1-A front-runner Hampton last week.
The Huskies (4-3 overall, 2-1 region) still remain in the thick of the playoff race, though, and head coach Josh Edens says his players are aware of that.
"Our guys have been big-picture guys all year," Edens said. "We can still make the playoffs and we can still win a conference championship. Yes, losing is tough. But we can still accomplish our goals."
Edens has been forced to shift his line-up around the past few weeks due to a rash of injuries. That's the case again this week as four starters will be unable to go.
"We've had to put some young guys in there and they have stepped up to the plate each week," Edens said. "We are fortunate that we have some depth this season, although now we don't have much depth because we have so many of those guys having to play."
Chuckey-Doak isn't without injury concerns, either.
Starting quarterback Chris Hinkle suffered a mild concussion last week and was still waiting to get cleared as of Wednesday.
Hinkle has completed 25-of-61 passes for 558 yards this season and had really came on strong the past couple of weeks. His back-up, junior Brent Knight, has yet to take a varsity snap.
No matter who is under center for the Black Knights, they will have the luxury of handing off to running back Bryce Malone, who needs just 51 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau for the season.
"In the wing-t offense that they run, you can't focus all your attention on just one player," Edens said, "but you better know where (Bryce Malone) is at all times."
GRIZZLIES AT REBELS
South Greene has some injuries to contend with as they prepare for the Grainger Grizzlies Friday night, not the least of which is their starting quarterback, Hunter Waddell.
Waddell suffered a concussion in the game with David Crockett two weeks ago and he's definitely out of action this week. He was injured late in the game when a snap from center sailed over his head and he was hit head-on as he tried to pick up the ball.
"It's unfortunate because Hunter was really playing well for us," Coach Shawn Jones said. "We'll go with our freshman quarterback, Justin Casteel. He's had some playing time this year."
The Rebels come into the game 1-5, 0-2, while Grainger is 3-4, 2-1 in the league and very much in the hunt for the playoffs. Jones made it clear that it's too early to count out his Rebs.
"Who knows?" he said. "We've got four conference games left. We win those and we have a shot. Our kids are playing hard and practicing hard, and that's all you can ask."
South Greene played at Crockett with only one senior, Matt Nicademus, in the lineup. Jones hopes there will be two this week as senior lineman Cody Brobeck hopefully will return after being hurt in the Greeneville game.
"Grainger has the type of offense that can make some long drives and kill the clock," Jones said. "If we could get the lead it would be to our advantage because Grainger likes to run the ball."
Despite their youth, Jones said he feels his team is getting better with experience.
"A lot of people don't understand that our offensive line had zero experience coming in to the season," he said. "They've got six games under their belt and I like this team better than I did at the first of the year. If we can catch some breaks and continue to play hard, we can get some wins."
BULLDOGS AT BUFFS
Claiborne's Bulldogs come to Jim Sauceman Field Friday for a Blue Ridge Conference game, and Buffs Coach Joe Case wants his team to be focused and ready to play a good team.
"We've still got two county games coming up, one next week, and I hope our kids aren't looking ahead," Case said. "Claiborne is a lot like us. They've played some good ball teams and they've played some tough games. They were right with Grainger late until they had some turnovers. They lost 14-6 to Chuckey-Doak. They have one of the best lineman in the conference in Jeremy Hurst, and they have some skill people that can hurt you."
With the playoffs rapidly approaching, the Buffs mentor knows that the importance of the games has a bit more meaning now.
"Our goal is to win out," the coach said. "We do that and we can go to the playoffs. Maybe we could go as a 4-6 team but we don't want that."
The Buffs are 0-3 in the league and 2-5 overall, while Claiborne is 0-2, 2-4.
The Buffs are not without injuries heading into the contest. Bayless Kinser is listed as day-to-day and will probably be a game-time decision. Tommy Lawson is out with a knee injury. Tailback Nathan Morgan banged up a shoulder last week against Greeneville but should be able to play this week.
"Our key in practice has been focus," Case said. "We don't need to worry about situations we can't control. We need to keep our focus on the things that we can do and go from there."
PANTHERS AT DEVILS
Cumberland Gap has proven they can put points on the board, and they are a perfect 3-0 in the Blue Ridge Conference heading into Burley Stadium. Are they ready to take on the Greene Devils, who have run roughshod over the league since its inception?
The Panthers are 5-1 on the year, with their only loss coming at the hands of Class A power Oneida. They have put 54, 60 and 55 points on the board against three of their opponents this season, including the 55-27 shootout victory over Chuckey-Doak last Friday.
Normally known as a passing team, Cumberland Gap has shown a complete arsenal this year behind quarterback Blake Franklin. Franklin has thrown for 979 yds. and nine touchdowns with only two picks, and he's the team's leading scorer with 11 touchdowns. Three receivers, Dylan Gambrel (18), Chase Smith (16) and Wesley Nance (14) have double digits in receptions this year.
But the Panthers are not one-dimensional this season. Wesley Nance has picked up 645 yds. on the ground.
Greeneville is 2-0 in the league and 3-3 overall. After stumbling in a big way at Alcoa two weeks ago, the Devils returned with a vengeance last week in a win over West Greene. The Devils have not lost a Blue Ridge Conference outing in the history of the league.
Coach Caine Ballard's Greene Devils have rushed for 1359 yds. as a team. Senior quarterback Tanner Stewart has 338 yds. and seven touchdowns. Xzavier Goode, who didn't play last Friday, has 259 yds. and Quan Wilson had 227. Greeneville used both Stewart and junior Zack Finchum at signal-caller last week, and in passing they are almost even as they've combined for 579 yds.
Hays Culbreth and Trevor Wright are leading receivers with seven catches each.
Coach Ballard was not available for comment this morning.