After sitting out the first two weeks of the season and then playing twice on the road, Morristown East will finally get to play a home game on Friday, hosting Tennessee High in an important Mountain Lakes Conference (Region One 5-A) battle.
Both teams will bring a 1-1 worksheet into the battle with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. at Burke-Toney Stadium. Each team is 1-0 in the league.
The Hurricanes opened with an easy win over Cherokee before bowing to Knox Gibbs last week.
Coach Mike Mays’ Vikings, the defending regional champion, were drubbed by Dobyns-Bennett (35-0) in their opener but bounced back for a 14-7 win over Daniel Boone two weeks ago. Tennessee High did not play last week as Virginia High was not able to play.
East coach Caleb Slover, who won’t coach in the game because of TSSAA rules after being called for two unsportsmanlike penalties last week, said the Vikings, as always, will be tough.
“I think they’re better than they were last year,” said the coach. Last year’s Vikings rolled to a 42-7 victory as East played without starting quarterback Cole Henson. “They do a lot of different things on offense.”
He continued, “They move some guys around in a lot of formations. They’ll run a lot of motion.”
Slover said the big thing his defense will need to do is find No. 24 on every play. That’s Jaden Keller (6-3, 205) who has at least 14 offers from Division I schools.
“They will put him in a lot of different spots and try to get the football in his hands.” Keller has lined up on offense at running back, tight end, and wide receiver and has even taken some snaps at quarterback.
Primarily known as a safety on defense, Keller is also the leader of the Tennessee High defense. “They’re really aggressive,” Slover said. “They’ll put six or seven guys in the box to stop the run. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Tennessee High has scored only one offensive touchdown with that coming on a 35-yard pass from quarterback Steven Johnson to Isaiah Smith. Their other score was by linebacker Bryce Snyder who intercepted a pass and returned it for the winning TD against Boone.
In the loss to Dobyns-Bennett, the Vikings only ran the ball six times while completing 14 of 25 passes. Eight different players caught a pass in that one but they only netted 67 yards.
Snyder is also the punter for Tennessee High and is averaging 37 yards on 11 kicks.
Slover says his team knows what they’re facing. “I told the team last week that the coming weeks will all be tough. It sure doesn’t get any easier. Now, we have to see how we respond to the loss and come out to play this week.”
The coach talked about the loss to Gibbs. “We made a bunch of mistakes and that’s on me. We didn’t get in the right spots at times and didn’t cover the right people.
“Offensively, we didn’t get open and, when we did get open, we didn’t catch the football and we didn’t protect our quarterback very well.”
He added, “I thought we did a decent job of running the football at times. But we weren’t very consistent. We put ourselves in some bad spots and when you’re in third-and-long a lot, you’re not going to be successful.”
Henson is 29 of 42 for 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions. Shaffer Harville has caught 13 passes for 127 while Ryan Harris has eight grabs and Trevor Malone five.
Sophomore Ethan Ledford has been over 100 yards rushing in both games and has 36 carries for 222 yards.
Slover said, “There’s no doubt this is a very important game for us. Not only are we trying to come back from a loss, but also it’s a huge game in the conference. Getting off to a 2-0 start keeps you right at the top and that’s where one of us will be after Friday night.”
The coach says he’s happy to finally play at home. “We’re looking forward to playing on our turf for a change. Although I know they are limiting the crowd and everything, it’s still going to be nice not to climb on those buses and go somewhere else to play.”