After just one week of the Tennessee high school football playoffs, the number of Chattanooga-area teams keeping their state championship hopes alive has been cut nearly in half.
The thinning of the herd will likely continue this week as the competition stiffens. Five area teams will play state-ranked opponents in the second round, including two traveling to top-ranked foes -- Baylor at Memphis University School in Division II-AA and McMinn County at Maryville in Class 6A.
One team that stiff-armed elimination in dramatic fashion was Brainerd, which scored on the final play for a six-point Class 4A win at Claiborne. The Panthers drove 70 yards in just over two minutes, with Anthony Broom hitting Justin Smith for a 36-yard touchdown pass as time expired. Smith caught the pass at the 2, then stretched for the corner of the end zone.
"I saw the officials throw their arms up for a touchdown, then run for the locker room," said Brainerd coach Marvin Jones, whose team will travel again this week to seventh-ranked Greeneville. "Our sideline emptied and I was ready to get out of there and back home to celebrate.
"I think our kids might play better on the road. We do a better job of getting them focused away from home."
Brainerd will try to move past the second round for the first time since 1997. Also in 4A, Red Bank proved it is more than a one-man show, cruising through its first-round game without 1,200-yard rusher Keon Williams. He sat out the game with a bruised shoulder but is expected to be ready this week when the Lions host eighth-ranked Fulton.
After four straight wins by mercy rule, Red Bank likely will be challenged this week. Fulton owns three state titles this decade, and their three losses this year were to teams still alive in the postseason. They held top-ranked Alcoa to a season low in points.
Boyd-Buchanan (2A) and South Pittsburg (1A) also join the postseason fray after each had a bye week. Second-ranked Boyd-Buchanan, which has been idle three of the last six weeks, hopes to avoid the same scenario that played out last year when it beat Marion County in the regular season but lost in the playoffs.
The Bucs had six turnovers in a one-point quarterfinal loss last year. Just three weeks ago it was the Bucs taking advantage of five Marion turnovers in a 14-point win.
"Turnovers have been an issue for us all year. When we protect the ball, we win," said Troy Boeck, whose Marion team overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win Friday at Forrest. "Coming back the way we did was a big momentum swing for us. We really came together in a way we've tried to make happen all year, so we feel good going into this one.
"We're used to playing on the road, and Boyd-Buchanan isn't that much of a drive. I think the winner of this game should make a pretty good run the rest of the way."
Also in 2A, Signal Mountain continues proving experience can be overrated, adapting to the playoffs like a veteran program by scoring the second-most points (63) of any team in the first round. The Eagles now have the chance to claim another program first, traveling to Cascade.
Class 1A's third-ranked South Pittsburg hosts Eagleville, which claimed its first-ever playoff win but enters the game with a losing record. Also in 1A, after going a combined 4-26 the previous three seasons, Copper Basin now has seven wins for the first time since 2000, when it had its last playoff win. The Cougars haven't gotten past the second round since 1988.
Polk County snapped a streak of seven straight first-round losses and was the only area team to survive in the 3A bracket. The unbeaten Wildcats now host a Loudon squad allowing an average of just eight points per game.
McMinn County was the only area team in 6A to move on, and the Cherokees will need another Herculean effort from Tevin McDermott to continue as they travel to top-ranked Maryville. After a season-opening loss to Alcoa, the Rebels have reeled off 10 straight wins. They have claimed seven of their amazing 11 state titles this decade.
In Division II-AA, Baylor won handily over a three-win St. Benedict team. This week the competition level swings to the other end of the spectrum as the Red Raiders travel to top-ranked Memphis University School. MUS is led by quarterback Barry Brunetti, who has committed to West Virginia.
Alabama also enters its second round and despite traveling to open the postseason for the first time in school history, North Jackson remains alive. The Chiefs will travel again to Guntersville for a rematch of a game the Wildcats won by seven earlier this year.
Georgia teams kick off their first round this week with Calhoun, Dalton and Ridgeland hosting games. Trion, Northwest Whitfield, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, Ringgold and Chattooga all travel to state-ranked opponents.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...