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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Busy night awaits final home game at Sullivan Central’s Bernie Webb Field

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Busy night awaits final home game at Sullivan Central’s Bernie Webb Field

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Webb end zone

The final home game in the 52-year history of Bernie Webb Field at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville will be held on Friday when the Cougars play host to Union County. The field has been in use since 1968. Sullivan Central will combine with Sullivan South and Sullivan North to create West Ridge High School in the fall of 2021.

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. - Football has been played at Sullivan Central on what is now called Bernie Webb Field since the school opened in 1968.

Fifty-two years later, there is one game to go.

“It is going to be a wild time, a lot of people are going to be here,” Sullivan Central senior lineman Jacob Wise said. “The last game here for us, the whole team actually, it is not just the seniors this year.

“It is going to be pretty emotional toward the end. Hopefully we will get the win and it won’t be too bad on us.”

Sullivan Central played its first game in Blountville on September 6, 1968, a 16-6 loss to Ketron. A week later head coach Jerry Ford and the Cougars picked up their first home win, a 14-0 decision over Sullivan.

They hope to send Bernie Webb Field out with a victory on Friday when the Cougars (3-5) host Union County (0-8). Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.

“It is going to be fun, there is going to be a lot of people there,” senior defensive back and wide receiver Gabe Blessing said. “Get a win with my boys and just have fun.”

Sullivan Central will combine with Sullivan North and Sullivan South to create West Ridge next fall. There is little doubt the local fans will miss their Cougars, but Blessing encourages them to become supporters of the Wolfpack.

“I don’t think it will be that hard,” Blessing said. “I think they will adjust fine and still be able to cheer on West Ridge.”

There will be plenty going on Friday night. Yet, all of the festivities will revolve around the Cougars looking for their fourth win of the season.

“We just do what we have been taught,” said Wise, who has broken his right ankle twice at Sullivan Central, the second time on his home football field. “When you are on that field you don’t think about anything else except what is going on right in front of you.”

It won’t be the Cougars’ last game, with a trip on tap next week to Elizabethton. That will be more history to make.

“This will be a little different because we will play another away game after this so this will be the last time at home and then you are going to go away and play another last time so there is a lot of emotions there,” Sullivan Central fifth-year head coach Chris Steger said. “You want to early try to corral that senior night emotion, that homecoming emotion.

“For some reason these girls think they are handsome enough to escort them and we have got a bunch escorting and that adds to the festivities. You are going to dial in and try to play a football game around it.”

In addition to the historic final game, it will also be homecoming and senior night. That isn’t all. More than 100 alumni band members will perform before the game, and more than 30 former cheerleaders will perform the fight song between the third and fourth quarters.

Call it coach-speak, but it will certainly be a busy night.

 “I don’t think it is a big issue, but it is another one of those things that just ties into a little more emotion of the night,” Steger said. “People say it is a distraction when we have done it around here, other places have done it and won a lot of football games doing it.

“I don’t think it is that big of a deal as long as we take care of what we have to take care of. There is just a lot to all that.”

There is more. According to Sullivan Central athletic director Gary Surcey, four state championship cross country teams and three volleyball teams that played in state tournaments will be honored during the game.

In addition, former Sullivan Central football coach John Thomas, who presided over the Cougars’ last playoff win in 1999, will present an award prior to the game. Sullivan Central honored the 1975 Cougars, which had the school’s only undefeated regular season record, earlier this season.

Suddenly, the final home football game of the season is so much more. Who knows what emotions will come out after the final buzzer sounds.

“It just kind of hit a couple of weeks ago that is going to be the last game ever played here in a Central uniform,” Blessing said.

“It is going to be sad, man,” added Wise. “I am not going to know until that happens really, but hopefully I can prepare myself for that too instead of just the game.”

Sullivan Central will conclude its regular season next week, but the last official home game will be a big deal for all involved, including Steger, who is the 12th and final head coach for the Cougars, having arrived in Blountville in 2016.

“Being somewhere five years, it is the longest I have spent in my coaching career. This is kind of home so there is a lot of emotion involved in this, there is just a lot involved in general,” said Steger, who returned to Blountville to be closer to his family, including his father, who has continued to help him with upkeep on the field. “You have got a lot of people coming back…

“There is a lot of people that care about this place and care about the community so it will be an eventful Friday night and it is going to be an emotional Friday night when you shut her down.

“Some of these kids, they played out here in youth league since some of them were 6, 7 years old playing on that field.”

Plenty of memories have been made on the field, some painful – such as Wise’s broken right ankle – others joyful.

“The group of seniors we have got, when we were little we played in the snow one year and won the championship,” Blessing said.

“Just playing with my friends, all the pancake [blocks] our O-line has had, just the bond I have had through the years and I also got to play running back when I was little, that was the best part,” added Wise, with a smile.

Wins have been hard to come by for Sullivan Central in recent seasons, but

much like recording a birdie on the final hole in a round of golf, there is nothing better than finishing on a high.

A win against Union County would certainly help.

“It will be very nice if we do,” Wise said. “Four wins ain’t horrible. We could have done better, but just playing football and doing what I love makes me happy.”

Sullivan Central will go through a similar moment next week when the Cougars play their final game in the history of the school.

“I think there are going to be a gambit of emotions, being a homecoming game, being a senior night game. You have got a lot of emotions there, people coming back. You are still trying to end this thing the right way, win as many as you possibly can,” Steger said. “You are going to run these whole gambits of feelings. If we are blessed enough to win a ball game and we do the right things and take care of that we are going to be real happy and then it is going to hit us.

“We will be ‘Woo, we won’ and then it is going to hit you. Then you are going to have a lot of kids walking and looking around and wanting to stay on the field as long as they can, just like any other time, that last time you are on your field.”

It’s safe to say football at Bernie Webb Field has been a Blessing for all.

“Just any day playing with the boys out here, it is always fun,” Blessing said. “We have been playing together since we were like 5 or 6, it is going to be tough playing the last [home] game together.”

bwoodson@bristolnews.com | Twitter: BHCWoodson | (276) 645-2543

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