Dobyns-Bennett will host defending TSSAA Class 4A state champion Greeneville in a game that features talented skill people on both sides.
It starts with a matchup of senior quarterbacks with the Indians’ Lendon Redwine, who threw for 2,284 yards last season, and the Greene Devils’ Cade Ballard, the reigning Class 4A player of the year who threw for 3,148 yards and 38 touchdowns. Ballard, who led Greeneville to a 35-21 comeback win over D-B last season, recently committed to play for Army.
Three of Ballard’s teammates — receivers Dorien Goddard (Virginia), receiver Will Albright (Tennessee) and tight end Cameron Hite (Wake Forest) — are also committed to FBS schools.
“They’ve got some real good players. Besides the skill guys committed to FBS schools, they have others with FCS offers,” Christian said. “They’re a very skilled team. But, we have some skilled players, too. We have to put ourselves in the right position, take care of assignment football and play as hard and physical as we can.”
The Indians can definitely count on that with running back Ian Hicks, who accounted for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Nic Bristol, now listed as wide receiver, rushed for 517 yards on 83 carries with 11 touchdowns.
On the other side, Ballard had 985 yards and 17 touchdowns to lead Greeneville in rushing, and Ty Youngblood added 749 yards and 15 touchdowns as just a sophomore. The speedy Jaevon Gillespie, grandson of NHRA drag racer Allen Johnson, is another threat in the backfield.
Greeneville’s offensive production is also the result of the line up front led by Devin Dye, a 6-foot, 300-pound center. Furthermore, the Greene Devilshave right guard Chris Everhart at 6-3, 305 and left tackle Tommy Taylor at 6-3, 280.
It will be a task for the Indians’ defensive linemen to slow their push so linebacker Jet Harris, who led the team with 101 tackles last season, and others such as Braxton Kulbacki, Nate Whitley and Tyler Lundy can come in and make plays.
The receiver matchup against the D-B secondary will be key as Goodard stands 6-3, Hite is 6-4 and Jordan Gillespie and Albright are both 6-foot.
“The thing that I’m so impressed is how the others block for them,” Christian said. “There are none of them selfish and they fight their tails off.”
Beyond turnovers, the overriding statistics that could determine the game are the Indians’ ability to convert on third-down conversions and control the time of possession.
It is a matchup of strength versus strength with a D-B offensive line led left tackle Cade Salyers, who had 34 knockdown blocks and 25 touchdown blocks last season. The starting line also features center Nick Starke, left guard Noah Davis, right guard Lucas Patton and right tackle Kyler Banks.
They will face a Greeneville defense presenting plenty of depth and size with three tackles over 300 pounds. However, the hardest matchup against the Greene Devils’ 4-3 defense may be stopping ends Jacqes Gillespie-Taylor, who had 78 tackles — including 18 for a loss and 11 sacks — last season, and Logan Shipley, who had 55 tackles, including 10 for a loss.
“Gillespie and Shipley, we had a tough time with them last year,” Christian recalled. “They set the edge hard and you have a hard time kicking them out and blocking those guys. They roll Goddard in as a defensive end as well.”
Youngblood, a throwback two-way player, is Greeneville’s starting middle linebacker, while Kenny Kershaw racked up 129 tackles as an outside linebacker in 2017. The defense also features a big secondary with Hite and Albright at the safeties and Dalton McClain and Raymond Knuckles at the corners.
For Christian, the key is D-B clicking as an 11-man unit on both sides of the ball. The Indians face a brutal schedule with Greeneville, one of three opponents which have won state championships over the last couple of years. However, the Indians aren’t about to shy away from the competition.
“Things have been done right a long time around here and we want to continue doing it the right way,” Christian said. “If our kids play assignment football, if we play tough defense and we just continue to execute offensively and move the chains on third down, the score at the end of the game will be what it is.”