With just three weeks remaining in the Tennessee high school football regular season, there is very little playoff clarity yet, even with the format tweaks since last year.
For instance, all eight teams in District 6-AA, including four with 1-3 league records, still have postseason possibilities.
I still think it’s ridiculous that a state our size has eight championships, but that’s another argument for another time. Let’s just hope we avoid the problems of last year when the TSSAA announced its playoff pairings on the last Saturday morning of October and had to revamp the brackets substantially by that afternoon after numerous mistakes.
Much as it did last year, Tyner has overcome a rough start — having lost its first two games against nondistrict foes — and now is in line to set up a winner-take-all game next week at Howard, whose only loss is to six-time defending state champion Alcoa.
Tyner’s Wayne Turner was the only area representative on a 12-coach panel that worked to revise the playoffs after last year’s fiasco.
“I think the playoff scenario is better than it was, but I think we still have a problem with teams from different [playoff] classifications being in the same district,” Turner said. “If you’re a 3A team and you’re going to be in the 3A playoffs, then you don’t need to be playing your district games against 4A teams. It isn’t fair.
“But I think we now have a better shot at getting the best 32 teams (in Classes 3A through 6A).”
The most intriguing playoff run has been by Cleveland, which looked to have its entire season in doubt when two starters were declared ineligible and all-star quarterback Chad Voytik was thought to be lost for the season with a broken finger.
But the Blue Raiders are still unbeaten in 5-AAA and have three winnable games to close out the season, starting tonight with Rhea County, followed by suddenly struggling Ooltewah and Soddy-Daisy. If E.K. Slaughter’s team navigates those final three games to the district title, he’ll be in line for a lot of praise.
Bledsoe County controls its own destiny in 7-AA, needing wins over either Grundy County tonight or Chattanooga Christian in the regular-season finale for its second straight league title. As of now, Sequatchie County and Grundy County are holding on near the end of the playoff qualifiers in 3A.
Tonight’s 6-AA game between Brainerd and Red Bank is essentially an elimination game, and Central needs to knock off Tyner to keep its dwindling postseason hopes alive. And Ooltewah desperately needs to upset either Bradley tonight or Cleveland next week.
“It’s kind of wide open right now,” Central coach Sam Montgomery said. “We have to win out to get it or at least win two out of three. Our destiny is still in our hands: We can go home or keep playing.”
Polk County can wrap up another 5-AA title with a win tonight against visiting Sequoyah.
Signal Mountain already has its first 6-A title in hand and is in line to be a No. 1 seed in the 2A playoffs, and South Pittsburg, despite being top-ranked in 1A, needs to beat Lookout Valley tonight to earn its playoff berth. The Pirates are a likely No. 1 seed if they win out, and Copper Basin could earn a No. 1 seed as well as the 5-A title with a win over Boyd-Buchanan next week at Finley Stadium.
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 ...