First place in Region 1-6A is on the line as the Indians (6-0, 3-0) host the Admirals (3-3, 2-0) at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
D-B, ranked No. 6 in the state, comes into the contest with plenty of momentum, posting three straight shutouts over Hardin Valley, Daniel Boone and Jefferson County. It’s the first time that’s happened since 1977 when the Indians blanked Science Hill, Sullivan East and Morristown East in consecutive weeks.
The last time the Indians recorded four straight shutouts was October 1976 with wins over Unicoi County, Greeneville, Tennessee High and Sullivan Central. D-B had seven shutouts overall in that 10-2 season.
“Our goal is a shutout, but when you play a good football team, it’s usually not reality,” Christian said. “We want to play the best team football we can. That means our defense continuing to play well to stop the run and affect the pass and to make sure our eyes are on the receivers.”
It is key against Farragut with senior Gavin Wilkinson, a lanky 6-foot-4, 175-pound quarterback, throwing the ball around. He went 17-for-29 passing for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the Admirals’ 35-25 win over Science Hill last Friday. He got better as the night went on, completing his last eight attempts.
His favorite target was senior tight end Alec Keathley, who hauled in eight receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns. The Admirals have juniors Adam Morgan and Max Devault as outside receivers and senior Hunter Shopwick in the slot.
The Admirals also feature a big offensive line. On the left side, tackle A’koieya Johnson and Adam Cabrera are a pair of 300-pound linemen. Collin Ross is sturdy at center with Eli Harville at right guard and Carter Schuermann at right tackle, paving the way for running backs Sam Kniss and Gabe Hensley.
D-B has some good news on the defensive front with leading pass rushers Jet Harris and Nate Whitley expected to be back in action. With them on the sidelines, Jackson Martin and Braxton Kulbacki combined for 20 tackles against Jefferson County.
Martin leads the Indians with 40 tackles and seven sacks. He is followed by Kulbacki with 36, Harris with 31, Whitley with 27 and Isaac Ratliff with 26.
Up the middle, Ricky Wagner and Jesse Greer are starters at defensive tackle with Fonzo Booker and Blake Collier also getting a lot of playing time. Josh Romero has been solid at SAM linebacker.
On the back end, Cam Williams and Trent Cody have come through at cornerback with Ratliff and Thomas Church the starting safeties.
D-B OFFENSE VS. FARRAGUT DEFENSE
It’s been a war of attrition on the D-B offensive line, which has paved the way for more than 350 yards per game.
Zack Ferguson, Ethan Murray and Caden McNabb, who all played such big roles in the Indians’ early success, have suffered season-ending injuries.
“I always say we have to go into a season with eight good offensive linemen,” Christian said. “We’ve broken through that allotment of eight and putting guys at different spots on the team. Hopefully, we’re done taking on injuries. I know whoever we put in is going to play hard, play Dobyns-Bennett football and give their best effort.”
The starting lineup for Friday’s game has Caleb Burleson listed at center with Aiden Neale and Seth Hale at guards. Kyler Banks and Blake Collier are tackles, while Greer and Booker among those who will play both offense and defense.
They will face an aggressive Farragut defense which came up with three interceptions against Science Hill. On special teams, they also blocked a punt.
Junior quarterback Zane Whitson continues to play at a high level for the Indians. He has thrown for 939 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception. He has also rushed for 195 yards and two more touchdowns.
Whitson has spread the ball around, hitting 12 different receivers including tight ends Ben McCluskey and Malik Morrison. He has made aggressive defenses from Hardin Valley and Jefferson County pay by hitting screen passes which have turned into big plays.
Whitson has been backed up by the running back combination of Phillip “Thunder” Armitage and Tyler “Lightning” Tesnear, who have been effective as rushers and receivers out of the backfield.
They’ve combined for 795 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, while picking up another 204 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Facing Farragut’s 3-4 defense, Christian is particularly impressed with outside linebacker Eli Purcell, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior.
“No question, Eli Purcell is the best defender we’ve faced all year,” Christian said. “He was their leading tackler against Johnson City, their second leading tackler against Maryville. He started last year as a sophomore, just a very good football player who does a great job.”
Andrew Doane and Hensley are tough inside linebackers with Keathley at the other outside spot. Up front, the Admirals rely more on speed than size with Trey Nesbitt and Dawson Brown at ends and Joe Maine the starting nose guard.
They’re also tall in the secondary with Logan Foody and Bridges Coffey on the corners and Jackson Fontenot and Camden Kuhn at safeties.
Prior to the game, the 1979 D-B team will be introduced. That team went 9-1, rallying from a 14-0 deficit to win 21-14 over eventual state champion Oak Ridge in a regular-season game at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
Their only setback was a loss to Science Hill.
Coach Fred Walton, assistants Randy Quillen and John Brooks, and 25 members of the team are scheduled to attend.