After falling to the Greenback School Cherokees in their first scrimmage of the preseason Friday, Sweetwater High School head football coach Mike Martin credited the Cherokees for a dominating performance.
“They’re as advertised, folks,” Martin said. “If you’ve got Greenback on your schedule, they’re as advertised.”
The Cherokees, led by senior quarterback Braden Carnes, scored multiple touchdowns against the Wildcats through the air. Carnes finished the day with 19 completions out of 25 attempts.
“We threw the ball really well, and I’m very happy with his poise in the pocket and the throws that he made,” Greg Ryan, Greenback head football coach, said. “We didn’t have any drops. Our receivers did a really good job running routes, getting open and catching the football. We didn’t run the ball very well with a lot of success, but a lot of that was due to what Sweetwater was trying to do to us defensively.”
Fans filled the stands to watch the new-look Cherokees, which left an impression on Carnes. Despite making a few mistakes, he left the scrimmage pleased with his performance.
“Coming out, that was by far the biggest scrimmage crowd I’ve ever played for so to see that, that was exciting,” he said. “As far as our passing attack, I was pretty pleased with it. There were still some different timing things ... sometimes we just had the wrong play called for a certain defense, but I thought overall, we came to play pretty well. As far as the receivers, they all did great.”
Although the Cherokees found success through the air, there were some minor issues with the offensive line and running attack. However, Ryan believes they can easily be fixed before the start of the season.
“When we’d spread out, they would outnumber us in the box and send different pressure packages,” Ryan said. “It was good for our offensive line to see different blitzes and to go back to watch film and see the mistakes that we made. We’ll be better from it. ... Duke (Stinnett), Wyatt (Rutgerson) and Austin Burger carried the ball for us and ran the ball well. We didn’t have any turnovers, so all that’s big. We’ve got to communicate better on the offensive line and some little things, like footwork issues, but we should have no problem. Those are simple fixes.”
One of the strengths of this year’s offense will be the receiving corps, led by Holden Willis, Blake Fields and Stinnett.
Since transferring from Maryville High School in June, Carnes has put in hours of practice with receivers to work on timing and route running.
“I feel like it’s getting better day by day,” Carnes said. “You know, I’m very happy with it right now. We’ve put in a lot of work. I’ve been there, as far as doing routes on air, doing 7-on-7s. I couldn’t be more happy with them and having receivers like we do with Holden, Duke, Wyatt and many more ... the way they can run and catch and really do it well, it’s definitely a big blessing on my part.”
The defense also put on a dominant performance, limiting the Wildcats to just two late touchdowns.
“Defensively, the biggest thing is we got lined up,” Ryan said. “Anytime you scrimmage, you really go in blind not knowing what a team’s going to do. Notoriously in the first scrimmage, you don’t tackle well. When we got there, we tackled well. We felt like we did a really good job defensively. We busted one pass coverage, which allowed them to get a pretty decent play on us. Other than that, we got to play a lot of guys. It was a very successful scrimmage for us.”
After graduating 16 seniors from last year’s team, Ryan is looking to fill voids in his defense. The biggest role to fill will be at middle linebacker, which was led the last two seasons by All-State athlete Bryce Hanley.
Former lineman Hazon Carlton made the switch to middle linebacker this summer and Tellico Plains transfer Josiah Millsaps has stepped in.
“Right now, we’re trying to define who’s going to be the caller of the defense,” Ryan said. “Playing linebacker for us is Josiah Millsaps and Alex Belcher’s playing outside linebacker. We moved to Hazon Carlton to the Mike linebacker, so he’s playing that middle. Alex has played a lot of linebacker for us, but he’s never been a communicator. The other two, even though Hazon’s played a lot of football, he’s played defensive tackle so it’s new to him. With Josiah, it’s a totally new system for him, so we’re just trying to feel it out.”
The Cherokees will host a second scrimmage at 6:30 p.m. Friday against the Clinton High School Dragons.
“We don’t game plan scrimmages, however, we try to give them some type of line alignment versus what we think Clinton’s going to do offensively,” Ryan said. “We prepare that way. The rest of it’s just about us. I mean, we’ve got to get back to doing individual and get back to doing the little things, which that’s what we’ll do.”