NEWPORT—No one wants to accept moral victories, but Cocke County’s late second-half performance against No. 10 Tennessee High was worthy of one a week ago.
What’s most important is how the group moves forward with it, as the Fighting Cocks will take on arguably the second-best team in their region, the Daniel Boone Trailblazers (KICKOFF: 7:30 p.m., RADIO: 97.9 FM, 1270 AM WLIK).
Daniel Boone (3-4, 2-1 Region 1-5A) has had a rollercoaster ride of a season to this point in the year.
The Trailblazers faced a brutal slate to start the year, including contests against Class 4A perennial powers Greeneville and Elizabethton. They topped Greeneville in a week two stunner, and played the Cyclones close two weeks later.
With its only region loss coming to the No. 10 Vikings of Tennessee High, Daniel Boone has rattled off a pair of consecutive wins over Volunteer and Morristown East to keep its postseason hopes alive.
Cocke County (2-5, 1-2 Region 1-5A) enters Friday’s matchup seeking a playoff berth of its own, and has to feel more optimistic of its chances after nearly upsetting region-leader Tennessee with a second-half rally.
“I think the way we played gives us some confidence heading into this week,” CCHS coach Scotty Dykes said. “I told our kids after the game that, regardless of the outcome, we played a really good football game against a really good team.
“Going toe-to-toe with a team like Tennessee High should give us confidence in knowing we can play with anyone in the region.”
Offensively, it was one of the Fighting Cocks’ most productive outings of the year. After struggling to move the ball and sustain drives most of the season, the CCHS offense compiled 213 yards, all but five of which didn’t come until late in the first half through the remainder of the game.
“We’ve had some positive momentum on that side of the ball, as of late,” Dykes said. “I think we’ve improved each week, and are finding out what we can rely on each and every week. That’s allowing us to game plan better to give our kids the best chance to make plays.
“Last week and the week before were what we anticipated our offense would look like before the season. It’s good to see that starting to come together, now.”
Repeating that success won’t be easy against a Daniel Boone defense that’s allowed just 13.3 points per game in league play all year.
The unit held Tennessee High, a team averaging over 33 points per game against region opponents, to just 14 points in their meeting in early September.
“We have to be balanced this week,” Dykes said. “Keeping them guessing at what we’re doing will be important. We can’t become one dimensional and allow them to key on the one thing we’re doing.
“If we can keep them guessing and succeed running and throwing the ball, I think we have a good chance to move the ball and score.”
The CCHS defense will have its work cut out for it, as well.
Daniel Boone has one of the more experienced offensive line’s in the region this year, and excels in boosting the unit’s ground game.
“They have a really good running game, and that starts up front with their linemen,” Dykes said. “Our main concern this week is stopping the run. If they beat us by throwing the ball, I think we just have to take that chance.”
Brennan Blair has championed the Trailblazers run game in 2020.
Taking over the lead spot for the departed Charlie Cole, a former four-star running prospect that graduated after last season, Blair has rushed the ball 176 times this season for an eye-popping 963 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
“The key to the game for our defense will be bottling (Blair) up,” Dykes said. “Obviously he’s a really good player, and can do more than just run the ball. He’s a tremendous athlete and it’ll be important to keep him bottled up as best we can.”
Although Daniel Boone’s ground attack is the most potent asset to its offense, the group is plenty capable of throwing the ball as well.
That was best on display in the team’s upset of Greeneville, when Jackson Jenkins connected with favorite target Phillip Page for three scores, including the game-winning touchdown with 25 seconds left in a major road win.
“They can get you with their passing game, as well,” Dykes said. “That’ll make it important for us to read our keys on defense. We’ve got to be consistent in each level of our defense.”
With the season aging into week nine, the pressure to make the playoffs is on.
While Cocke County needs to win at least two of its next three games to secure a postseason berth, Daniel Boone can lock itself in with a win over the Fighting Cocks this week, giving both programs something extra to play for on Friday night.
“We want to finish the season on a positive note by winning our last three games,” Dykes said. “We knew we needed to win at least three region games to make the postseason, but we want to go out and finish the rest of our season strong.”