Greenback School head football coach Greg Ryan knew his defense would have to step up heading into Friday's scrimmage against the Clinton High School Dragons.
The Dragons, widely known for their potent Wing-T offense, relied heavily on the run game and misdirections.
However, the Cherokees' athletic defense responded well with big stops to help lead the team to another preseason victory.
"They run Wing-T, which is buck, sweep, trap, power and counter — that's what we saw all night," Ryan said. "Once again, when you don't see film on them and you don't get to game plan them as a staff, then you just kind of line up and play base to see what happens. With them trading a tight end, it's something we didn't prepare for, and it's probably not the defense had we scripted. Once we made the adjustment, we went more to a 50 front and stopped the run game."
After pounding the ball down the field, the Dragons caught the defense by surprise on a few throws, but Ryan thought his team was able to make the necessary changes to eliminate further splash plays.
"Still, Wyatt (Rutgerson) gets beat in zone coverage where he's the deepest guy and got caught staring in the backfield," Ryan said. "I'm sure that won't happen the rest of the year. After we made adjustments, obviously, things got a lot better. I'm tickled with the effort the guys always give and the fact we tackle when we get there."
Play was stopped for more than 30 minutes near the start of the scrimmage when CHS junior receiver Nate Murphy suffered a gruesome leg injury on a touchdown catch.
As play resumed, the Greenback offense flashed their firepower on their first drive. Rutgerson capped it off with an 8-yard touchdown run.
The Cherokees went to the air on the next series, and senior quarterback Braden Carnes completed two 30-yard passes — one to Rutgerson on a toe-tapping, corner route and one to Holden Willis on a streak into the end zone.
"We knew coming in they were going to run a lot of Cover 2, so we knew we had the gap on smash or any kind of outbreaking route where the corner was set on the hitch," Carnes said. "Really, we didn't game plan a whole lot, but we did know they would run some Cover 2 so that helped a little bit. Overall, I thought it was a pretty productive night."
Ryan's offenses are famous for adapting to whatever the defense presents, but with the type of athletes he has at his disposal, the air attack has proven the most potent.
The Cherokees attempted to run the ball several times throughout the scrimmage, but a lax Clinton secondary allowed the offense to carve the air.
"It's another scrimmage where we spread out and teams want to leave everybody in the box," Ryan said. "I told Braden, 'If that's the case, there's times where I just want to work on the run game in scrimmages, but we'll throw it every down in a football game because I have no problem with that.' The passing game, again, Braden did really good. He'd like to have a couple throws back, I'm sure. The receivers got open and caught the ball. The offensive line got better in protection, so that was a plus for us."
The Cherokees turned the ball over a few times, which is an unlikely characteristic for Ryan's teams. An emphasis in practice this week will be protecting the ball.
"We still got some work to, some little things to clean up," he said. "The biggest thing is we can't turn it over. We had three turnovers in tonight's scrimmage, we had zero the other night. Obviously, negative yardage plays and turnovers kills the offense, and we're going to fix those and be better for it."
Greenback will take on the Maryville High School Rebels at 7 p.m. Friday in the first quarter of the Maryville Orthopaedic Clinic Jamboree at Alcoa High School.
"There's been times where I've seen Maryville play their third string in jamborees, and I've seen times where Maryville plays their ones," Ryan said. "It's really not about Maryville for us. We don't care who we play, it's more about how we can get better next week. Yeah, we'll go play a quarter against Maryville ... it doesn't matter if it was Alcoa, we're going to do what we do and see what happens."
For Carnes, it will be a much anticipated matchup between former coaches and teammates. Carnes transferred from Maryville in June, where he started 12 games and helped lead the Rebels to the Class 6A state title game last year.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I've got a lot of friends on that defense. You know, Seth Orren is one of my best friends. He's a starting middle linebacker. We're going be texting each other right before the game and throughout the week. It's only a quarter and doesn't mean anything, but I'm looking forward to it."