Greenback preps for region rival

Greenback School’s Wyatt Rutgerson breaks off a run on Sept. 27 in the Cherokees’ win over the Lenoir City High School Panthers.

More than 120 high school football teams around the state are on a bye week, including Lenoir City and Loudon high schools, but the Greenback School Cherokees (4-2, 2-0 Region 2-1A) return to action Friday.

The Cherokees are coming are off a bye week, which Greenback head football coach Greg Ryan believes came at a crucial point in the season.

“I don’t know, I’m not a big fan of the bye weeks — I like playing straight through,” he said. “I think at times, it is beneficial. We did have some guys that were banged up a little bit, so it gives them an opportunity to get back to 100 percent. I’m not this way, but believe it or not, some kids actually enjoy the week off and getting time off and getting away from the game. From those aspects, all in all, it’s a good thing for us.”

In previous years, Ryan structured bye week practices to spend extra time planning for opponents. He’s since learned a different approach.

“Three or four years ago when we had the first bye week, I really took the time ... the two weeks to practice for the next opponent,” he said. “What I found out was the very first week of that practice was really good and then the second week everything’s installed, and so it doesn’t seem practice runs as smooth the second week when you practice two weeks for a team. We just went back to doing straight fundamentals and got after each other in pads three days last week and had a really good three days.”

Senior quarterback Braden Carnes took advantage of the bye week by continuing to learn the playbook.

“It was really beneficial,” he said. “We were able to correct the little mistakes we had in the previous weeks and just keep getting better. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Coach Ryan mentioned throughout the week last week, so a lot of fundamentals ... a lot of just basic stuff that you just take for granted throughout the week when you’re scheming for a certain week, and that was a really big focus throughout the week.”

The Cherokees began installing the game plan Monday for a critical battle with the Coalfield School Yellow Jackets (6-1, 4-0 Region 2-1A).

Although Carnes is new to Greenback, he is aware of the rivalry and yearly playoff implications attached.

“I’ve heard it’s pretty heated,” he said. “This is one you’re definitely going to remember. This is a big rivalry for us. They’re 6-1, and it’s also a big game for their team. There’s a lot riding on this game. It’s not too big for us, but we’re definitely going to go try and make a statement.”

The Cherokees will have to make the trek Friday to take on the Yellow Jackets, which can be an intimidating place to play. The last time Greenback traveled to Coalfield in 2017, the Cherokees pulled out a thrilling comeback win thanks to a three-touchdown performance by Breeden Gilbert in the fourth quarter.

Ryan knows how much this rivalry means for the program and community.

“Definitely, it’s very important,” he said. “Not only are we playing for a region championship, but for a chance to play playoff games at home. Anytime we can play playoff games at home, that’s big for whatever school — us or Coalfield. We have a lot of respect for Coalfield. The coaches do a really good job. Since I’ve been here, we’ve been fortunate to have the upper hand on Coalfield, but Coalfield and Greenback, notoriously, has been a really good rivalry. Here’s what we know — both teams play hard, and when you get that, it’s usually an exciting game.”

The Yellow Jackets’ biggest threat will be senior dual-threat quarterback Peyton McKinney.

“Peyton McKinney, Parker’s brother, is back,” Ryan said. “They also move him to receiver at times ... just try different ways to get him space with the ball in his hands. He’s throwing the ball better this year, and he’s always a threat when he pulls it down to run. Anytime a quarterback can throw it around some and spread the field, that’s always a challenge, defensively. It all boils down to the decision of do you want to try and outnumber them in the box to contain his run game, or do you want to defend the pass with some type of zone and give up some type of run in the quarterback run game?”

Coalfield is also known for a multiple defense designed to confuse, which could hamper Greenback’s explosive offense.

“Defensively, they change up a whole lot,” Ryan said. “We see teams that run 3-4, 3-3-3 stack teams, 50 teams and 40 fronts. Well, I think they’re a 50 front that’s capable of doing a lot of different things. We’ll see a lot of different multiple looks from them and different blitzes from different angles. It’ll all be about communicating for us, but the good news is all our guys have seen everything now that we’re six weeks in. It won’t be something that we’re unfamiliar with.”

After the week off, Carnes and the team are ready to be back in action and jump the Yellow Jackets for the first-place spot in Region 2-1A.

“I wouldn’t say pressure, I’d say it’s more competition,” Carnes said. “Any field I go on, I want to be the best quarterback out there, so that’s kind of the mindset for every game. I don’t think that changes this week, but it definitely is fun. I’ve heard a lot about him (McKinney) and heard a lot of good things, so it’ll definitely be fun going against him for sure.”