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Undefeated Indians wary of one-win Trojans

Jeff Birchfield • Oct 18, 2019 at 12:30 PM

Dobyns-Bennett’s football team, ranked No. 4 in the latest Associated Press Class 6A poll and outscoring opponents by an average margin of 38-7, is looking at the definition of a trap game.

The Indians (7-0, 4-0) — coming off a win for first place in Region 1-6A and facing their biggest rival in another week — play at Morristown West (1-6, 0-3) on Friday night. A Trojans victory would be monumental and end the heavily favored Indians’ nine-game winning streak, which started with a 38-29 win at Morristown West last season.

“This will test our mettle as a team, if we can handle complacency coming off a big win and knowing you have your rival (Science Hill) next week,” Tribe coach Joey Christian said. “To be honest, the second half of our practice today wasn’t very good.”

D-B saw its streak of three consecutive shutouts end in its Region 1-6A showdown with Farragut, but the 38-13 victory was perhaps its most impressive performance to date. The win also put the Indians in position to wrap up a share of the region title against the Trojans.

D-B quarterback Zane Whitson continues to perform at a high level. The junior gunslinger hit 10 of 12 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown and ran for a score against Farragut. Whitson has thrown for 1,080 yards with 12 touchdowns and one interception this season, distributing the ball among a dozen receivers.

Dalton Harkleroad and Nacir Sensabaugh have been explosive outside, averaging over 15 yards per catch, and Cam Williamson and Hayden Sherer have been productive in the slot. Tight end Ben McCluskey has been a favorite target lately, recording multiple catches the past two games.

The aerial game is balanced by running backs Tyler Tesnear and Phillip Armitage, who have combined for 1,016 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.

Their recent production has come behind a revamped offensive line. Following a number of key injuries, D-B’s starting line for the West game has Caleb Burleson at center, Aiden Neale at left guard, Kyler Banks at left tackle, Seth Hale at right guard and Blake Collier at right tackle.

“I’ve been so proud of the line. You can tell that’s a bunch of kids who care about the team,” Christian said. “They’re coached hard, coached well, and I’m so proud of the guys who have come in there and played.”

They are matching up against the Trojans’ 3-4 defense that features junior Dylan Whildan at nose guard. West has an active group of linebackers in Corson Olodey and Dominick Hazeltine on the outside and Jovanny Gonzalez and James Ross inside.

The Trojans are somewhat smaller in the defensive backfield than some of D-B’s other opponents but have a pair of quick corners in Tison Johnson and Zachary Christensen.

D-B DEFENSE VS. WEST OFFENSE

Jet Harris and Nate Whitley returned from injuries and made their presence known in a big way against Farragut.

Harris had eight tackles and three sacks, and Whitley added seven tackles. Jackson Martin — who has a season-high 54 tackles with nine of them for a loss, including seven sacks — led the team with nine stops.

Isaac Ratliff, Braxton Kulbacki, Josh Romero and Thomas Church each made seven tackles against the Admirals. For the season, Kulbacki has 52 tackles and four sacks.

“Braxton has provided senior leadership and led us in so many ways,” Christian said. “People have had a hard time blocking Jackson all along. You see him with such a high motor where he’s going to make plays.

“You can’t say enough about Thomas having a good week. He’s played well all year long, but it seems like the formations they were running last week, he was in their tight end’s back pocket all game long. I’m happy for him and the whole defense.”

The Trojans, whose lone win was a 23-19 victory over rival Morristown East in Week 1, are led by junior quarterback Dylan Cribley. He completed 15 of 23 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns in West’s loss at Science Hill. His main target was 6-foot-3 tight end Connor Patrick, who made nine catches for 101 yards.

Other starting receivers are seniors Jackson Cole, Elijah Richardson and Mason Paxton.

Hazeltine is listed as West’s starting running back, although Hunter Delaney had the lion’s share of carries against Science Hill: 33 rushes that went for 115 yards.

The line is solid, anchored by junior center Jonathan Glover.

SPECIAL ADVANTAGE

Jaden Alderson continues to be a weapon for the Indians as a punter and kicker. He is 6-for-8 on field goals and 34-for-34 on extra-point attempts. Thirty-four of his 43 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks and he’s averaging 37.6 yards a punt. Six of his 15 punts were inside the opponent’s 20.

Harkleroad has returned two of his five kickoff returns for touchdowns and has an incredible 53.6-yard average on kick returns.

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