“It causes the kids to focus on preparation, and it’s non-conference so it doesn’t have the same pressure out of the gate,” said the Sullivan North coach.
Patrick’s Raiders will travel to Blountville on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against tSullivan Central’s Cougars in the season opener for both teams.
Also getting their first minutes under the spotlight will be Volunteer (at Christian Academy of Knoxville), Cherokee (home for Union County), Sullivan East (at Johnson County), Unicoi County (at South Greene), Unaka (at North Greene), Hampton (at Gatlinburg-Pittman), and Cloudland (at Happy Valley).
Here’s a brief look at each game.
SULLIVAN NORTH VS. SULLIVAN CENTRAL
Patrick said his team will be challenged by Central on both sides of the ball.
“They run a spread offense and defensively they run a 4-3,” Patrick said. “They also have a shade 5-9 look and run a 6-1 in short-yardage situations.”
North has won 11 straight against Central in a streak that dates back to 2003.
The Cougars went 1-39 over the last four seasons, but were very competitive in a 30-20 loss to the Raiders in the 2018 season opener.
VOLUNTEER VS. CAK
Forced to move into the private-school classification instead of playing against public schools, once-dominant CAK has gone 5-17 over the last two seasons.
That’s not much solace for the Falcons, who should still have their hands full in this matchup.
UNION COUNTY VS. CHROKEE
Union County recently went through an 0-27 stretch, but Larry Kerr took over the program and got things turned around. The Patriots were 6-5 last season and reached the Class 4A playoffs before losing to Kerr’s old school, Anderson County, in the first round.
Cherokee is hoping to get back on track. The Chiefs had three straight .500-or-better seasons before falling to 1-9 last year — in part because of the injury to standout quarterback Collin Trent, who returns for his senior season.
SULLIVAN EAST VS. JOHNSON COUNTY
One interesting note about this series is the defensive play of the winning team. East won in 2015-16 while Johnson County was victorious the last two seasons, and the losing team in each of those four games totaled only seven points with three shutouts.
This year’s matchup has a little mystery to it, but Johnson County has put together an overall record of 20-3 over the last two seasons and enters as the favorite.
UNICOI VS. SOUTH GREENE
Unicoi has won three of the four recent season-opening battles, including last year’s 42-32 shootout.
South Greene is not only at home this year, but projected as a team to watch in Region 1-2A. The Class 3A Blue Devils boast senior Kody Lewis, who is coming off a 2,000-yard rushing season.
UNAKA VS. NORTH GREENE
Unaka won last year, and North Greene enters with a 20-game losing streak — including a bowl-game defeat. The last win for the Huskies came against Unaka to open the 2017 season.
HAMPTON VS. GATLINBURG-PITTMAN
Pittman has won two in a row against Hampton, and both teams enter the season with enough returning firepower to make this an interesting opening-game matchup.
CLOUDLAND VS. HAPPY VALLEY
This was a tough battle last year with Cloudland earning a hard-fought 8-7 win.
Adding to the mystery this year is that the Highlanders will be guided by new coach Glenn White.