Not even halfway into the prep football schedule, we've already reached a night that will cast the die for quite a few area teams' seasons. Call it "Filter Friday," because while some are playing for postseason positioning, others will be sifted out of the playoff picture altogether.
* Bradley Central (3-1, 1-0) at Rhea County (1-3, 0-1): Rhea's Golden Eagles haven't missed the playoffs this decade but still have games against District 5-AAA foes McMinn County, Ooltewah, Cleveland and Soddy-Daisy consecutively, which makes tonight's game a near must if they are to continue that streak.
Conversely, the Bears haven't made the postseason in eight years and have only one remaining district foe with a winning record.
* Cleveland (1-2, 0-1) at McMinn County (1-2, 0-0): Cleveland's Blue Raiders must build off the momentum of last week's upset win because they still have consecutive district road games at Red Bank, Walker Valley and Rhea County before closing out the season against Ooltewah and Soddy-Daisy. Nine of the Cherokees' opponents on this year's schedule made the playoffs last year, so they obviously have plenty of work ahead as well.
* East Ridge (1-2, 0-1) at Brainerd (3-0, 1-0): After winning their final two games last year the Panthers are off to a surprising 3-0 start, but their schedule turns brutal from here with a trip to state-ranked Aust-East followed by 6-AA games against rival Howard, Central, Red Bank, Hixson and Tyner to close out. They can't afford to get upset tonight.
* Hixson (0-3, 0-1) at Central (3-0, 1-0): There probably isn't a more even winless vs. undefeated matchup tonight. Hixson struggled without senior quarterback Zach McCarter in its first two games but scored 35 points in his return against Tyner. A win here would turn things for the Wildcats, who have winnable games against DeKalb County, East Hamilton, East Ridge, Howard and Brainerd before finishing with top-ranked Red Bank.
* Howard (1-2, 0-1) at Red Bank (3-0, 1-0): Before the season this was expected to be the game that would decide the 6-AA title. Instead, it's a near must-win game for Howard's Hustlin' Tigers, who have given up a combined 611 rushing yards the last two weeks. They were outrushed 215 to minus-8 in the second half of last week's loss to Boyd-Buchanan and still have to play 3A's top-ranked Alcoa, rival Brainerd, Hixson, Tyner and East Ridge.
Howard is still without all-state running back and linebacker Eric McCullough, who suffered a back injury last track season.
* Lookout Valley (2-1, 0-1) at Whitwell (3-0, 0-0): All five teams in District 6-A are state ranked, which means a loss for either of these teams means the playoffs could be a long shot. Whitwell's Tigers are looking to get a step closer to their first winning season in five years and still have powerhouses South Pittsburg, Marion County and Signal Mountain left on their schedule. The Yellow Jackets already have a loss to Signal Mountain and end the season with consective road games at South Pitt and Marion County.
* Notre Dame (2-2, 1-0) at Bledsoe County (2-1, 0-0): The host Warriors, who haven't had a winning season in 10 years, already have surpassed last year's win total. A victory tonight would put them in control of their fate with winnable games against Faith Covenant, Sequatchie County, Harriman, Grundy County, Rockwood and Chattanooga Christian.
Meanwhile, the Irish still must face 2A's No. 1-ranked Boyd-Buchanan and 3A's state-ranked Polk County as well as Sequatchie County, Sweetwater and Grundy County.
* South Pittsburg (3-0, 1-0) at Signal Mountain (4-0, 1-0): The top-ranked visiting Pirates have two easy wins against overmatched opponents and survived a road test at Marion County. The Eagles opened with two huge margins, then rallied in the fourth quarter each of the last two weeks to set up this game between state-ranked small-school programs. Tonight could settle the district title, since both should be favored against every other league foe.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 23 years, having 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, including nine in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation at the Associated ...