Heavily favored Science Hill faced the Patriots at the end of the 2017 season with a chance to clinch the Region 1-6A championship and a home playoff berth. Instead, the Hilltoppers were soundly beaten 31-14, which paved the way for D-B to win the title a week later.
While the Indians (5-0 overall, 2-0 in Region 1-6A) come into Friday’s game with a seven-game winning streak dating back to last season, Christian is taking nothing for granted.
“I have reminded our team multiple times this week about the Jefferson County-Johnson City game two years ago,” Christian said. “It’s a region game and they’re all very important. No matter what it looks like record-wise, it’s a very important game.”
There are some challenging matchups for the Indians. With the Patriots (3-3, 1-1) coached by Spencer Riley, the center on the 1998 University of Tennessee national championship team, it’s no surprise they’re stout on the offensive line.
They’re a beefy bunch averaging 285 pounds. Junior center Dominic Schroeder is an NFL prototype 6-foot-5, 314 pounds, and right guard Wesley Hickle is 5-11, 315. The lightest starter is left tackle Seandavid Workman at 262 pounds.
“It’s the biggest offensive line we’ve seen all year at 264, 262, 314, 315 and 272,” Christian said. “That’s a Golden Corral nightmare right there. It will be tough for us. We have to make sure we keep our good run sets, shed blocks and make tackles.”
It doesn’t help that a pair of the Indians’ top pass rushers and tacklers, Jet Harris and Nate Whitley, are questionable for Friday’s game. Still, the goal is to get pressure on Jefferson County’s senior quarterback Tanner Adkins. He’s surrounded by seniors in the skill positions with Josh Miller at running back, Seth Parrott at tight end and Isaac Sawyer and Austin Leitch at wide receiver.
While the Indians held Adkins to 6-of-23 passing in last year’s 22-13 victory, the quarterback’s arm strength has Christian’s attention.
“He’s 6-1, 198 and when he gets his feet set, he can throw the deep ball 60 yards in the air,” Christian said about Adkins. “Austin Leitch, he can go get it. They’re dangerous every play with all those seniors they have.”
Harris leads the Indians with 37 tackles over five games. He’s followed by Braxton Kulbacki with 36, Whitley and Jackson Martin, each with 34. Isaac Ratliff has 23 for the season. The Indians have been aggressive all season as Josh Romero literally ripped the ball out of a Daniel Boone receiver’s hands for an interception in last Friday’s 38-0 shutout.
“He’s a smart kid who made 30 on his ACT. He’s the kind of kid we can tell him to do something once, he can absorb it and do it,” Christian said about Romero, a SAM linebacker. “We’ve found a good place for him scheme-wise and he’s done a good job for us, setting the edge in the run game and with his coverage as well.”
INDIANS OFFENSE VS. PATRIOTS DEFENSE
Junior quarterback Zane Whitson threw his first interception of the season, going 10 for 22 for 152 yards against Boone. Through five games, he has completed 52 of 89 passes for 778 yards with nine touchdowns and the one pick. The Indians have featured a balanced attack with the running back combination of Phillip “Thunder” Armitage and Tyler “Lightning” Tesnear accounting for 677 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Dalton Harkleroad has starred for the Indians on both offense and special teams the last couple of games with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Boone. Whitson has spread the ball around to 11 different players. Nacir Sensabaugh is the leading receiver with 13 catches for 227 yards and three touchdowns
While not as big as Jefferson County up front, the D-B line has been quick off the ball, opening up holes in the running game and offering Whitson pass protection.
With good size on the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots have starting tackles Alex Mojica and Garrett Winn at 260 and 245 pounds, respectively. Senior linebacker Andrew Manning is 6 foot and 225 pounds.
“Inside, they’re as big as we’ve seen,” Christian said. “We haven’t seen a linebacker as big as Andrew Manning this year. Once again, it will take an effort by everyone to move the line of scrimmage, stay on blocks and puncture some holes on that defensive front.”
After losing the first two games in the series, D-B has gone 22-1 against Jefferson County since then. The last Patriots’ win was a 39-34 shootout in 2015. The Indians’ victory last October finished off the regular season.