The Tribe’s success is the Times News’ top Northeast Tennessee sports story for 2019.
Much was unknown for the Indians going into the season. They finished a disappointing 4-6 the previous season and had to fill key positions at quarterback and running back.
Enter junior QB Zane Whitson, who stepped in admirably and threw for 24 touchdowns against just one interception in leading the Indians to a 10-3 record and the Region 1-6A championship. Add in his rushing totals and Whitson accounted for 2,265 total yards and 29 touchdowns.
The “Thunder and Lightning” running back combination of Phillip Armitage and Tyler Tesnear was a stellar complement that combined for 1,700 rushing yards.
The defense was dominant at times, pitching four shutouts and giving up only six points in one game and seven in another.
2. Proposal threatens Appy League future
The working agreement between Major League Baseball and MiLB, the group that oversees minor league baseball teams, expires after the 2020 season and as part of the negotiations for a new deal, MLB has proposed to eliminate as many as 42 minor league teams.
The proposal puts the Appalachian League in jeopardy as well as the Pioneer League, the other rookie advanced league.
The Appy League began in 1911 and ran until 1914. It re-formed in 1921, going for five years, then started up again in 1937. It’s been in operation every year but 1956 since. The West Division teams are located in Johnson City, Kingsport, Bristol, Elizabethton and Greeneville.
3. Sasha Neglia, D-B girls capture cross country title
In November, Dobyns-Bennett senior Sasha Neglia won her third individual TSSAA cross country title and led the Lady Indians to their first team title since 1997.
Neglia’s time of 17:22 was a top-five all-time run on Percy Warner Park’s 5-kilometer course in Nashville. She became one of only nine runners in Tennessee history to win three individual cross country titles. In addition, Neglia won the 3,200 meter race at the TSSAA Large Schools track meet.
Seniors Emma Russum, Julianna McReynolds and Gracie Allen ran strong all season. Russum repeated with all-state honors, finishing seventh individually. She won two races: the season opening Run for the Hills and the Low Country Invitational.
After the cross country season, the girls led the Kingsport Track Club to a fourth-place finish in the Nike Southeast Region.
4. ETSU basketball gets road victory against LSU
East Tennessee State had beaten an SEC school before. In fact, it was the Bucs’ second win over an SEC opponent under Steve Forbes and the 17th for the program overall.
But the manner which the Bucs did it, thoroughly dominating LSU, came as somewhat of a shock. Patrick Good scored 19 points in a 74-63 win in Baton Rouge in which the Bucs led by as many as 23 points and outrebounded the Tigers 40-29.
5. Courtney Whitson becomes D-B’s all-time scoring leader
Courtney Whitson finished as Dobyns-Bennett’s all-time leading scorer in basketball with 2,456 points. The McDonald’s All-America nominee also left as the school’s all-time leading rebounder (1,476).
Whitson broke single-season school records for 3-pointers made (73), total points (836), rebounds (389), and free-throw percentage. She also set a single-game record with 22 rebounds.
The Times News high school female athlete of the year for 2018-19 after leading her basketball and volleyball teams to state-level success, she signed with Middle Tennessee State in April. And through her first 11 games with the Lady Raiders, she is averaging 6.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
6. Disappointing season for ETSU football team
Coming off a share of the Southern Conference title in 2018, ETSU’s football team was expected to contend with Furman and Wofford for the league title.
Instead, the Bucs won just one conference game, 38-33 over Mercer in the home finale. In a milestone day, running back Quay Holmes rushed for a school-record 255 yards and surpassed 1,000 yards for the season.
Another of the Bucs’ wins came against Austin Peay, which reached the second round of the FCS playoffs. ETSU finished 3-9 after losing 38-0 to Vanderbilt in its finale.
7. Bristol Motor Speedway to host playoff race in 2020
When NASCAR released its schedule for 2020, the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race was moved from August to September and now will be part of the NASCAR playoffs.
Denny Hamlin won the 2019 version of the Bristol Night Race, the second win in the marquee event for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver. That gave the Gibbs organization a sweep of Bristol Cup events after eventual series champion Kyle Busch won the Food City 500 in April.
The August race had the largest estimated crowd in a decade.
8. Kilgore, Sensabaugh represent Model City in NFL
Daniel Kilgore has started 12 games at center for the Miami Dolphins this season, and Coty Sensabaugh played five at defensive back with the Denver Broncos before debuting with the Washington Redskins last Sunday.
Kilgore missed three games with a nagging knee problem but has come back strong. A Dolphins captain, the ninth-year player has played 719 offensive snaps, the third most in his career. With 78% of the snaps, he has just two penalties on the season.
The Broncos picked up Sensabaugh to fill a need in their defense and he saw limited action in four games, recording tackles against Indianapolis and Cleveland. He has a larger role with the Redskins and made five tackles in a 41-35 win over the New York Giants.
9. Fulkerson plays role as Vols enjoy No. 1 ranking
In January, Tennessee’s men’s basketball team ascended to No. 1 for only the second time in program history and stayed there for four weeks.
Kingsport’s John Fulkerson came off the bench in a supporting role for the Vols in the dream season. Fulkerson scored 15 points against Tennessee Tech and had two steals and a block in a victory over Arkansas.
He had two highlight-reel dunks against South Carolina and two more when the Vols beat No. 4 Kentucky in the SEC semifinals as part of a school-record 31 wins.
Fast-forward and Fulkerson is starting this season, scoring 17 points in a win over No. 20 VCU and 14 over then-No. 20 Washington. He is averaging 11.8 points over Tennessee’s first 11 games.
10. Cade Larkins finishes No. 2 on state passing list
David Crockett quarterback Cade Larkins ended his high school career with 11,042 passing yards, 80 shy of the all-time state record held by Trinity Christian’s Kyle Akin.
Larkins passed for 105 touchdowns to rank No. 6 on Tennessee’s all-time list. He finished in the top 25 nationally.
Larkins closed his senior season with 2,859 yards and 34 TDs, leading the Pioneers to 28 wins over his career.