In this file photo, Chandler Patrick, right, tackles Jon Patten during Tyner Academy's football game against Signal Mountain High School at Signal Mountain, Tenn., Aug. 26, 2011.Staff File Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press
If any high school football team in the Chattanooga area has reason to be perplexed by the TSSAA state-playoff system, it's Tyner. Fate hasn't been kind to the Rams since the current system was put in place in 2009.
Perhaps the state organization felt Tyner deserved a break this year, so the Rams are being slotted against a 6-4 team in the first round in Class 3A. By the way, that 6-4 team happens to be Alcoa, winner of seven consecutive state titles. Kickoff at Alcoa is 7 p.m. Friday.
The Rams also drew the Tornadoes in the opening round the first year of the existing system and lost 44-7. Last year in the first round they played at Polk County, which was on a nine-game win streak, and lost 18-13.
Coach Wayne Turner said he's learned something regarding those losses.
"Don't draw who we've been drawing," he said. "We've got to make our own breaks, I guess, this year."
Tyner (5-5) is higher seeded than the previous two seasons, although that leaves Turner bewildered, too.
"The thing I don't really understand is two years ago we were 7-3 and finished second in our district. Last year we were 8-2 and finished first in our district. Both of those years we were seeded sixth. This year we're seeded fifth," Turner said. "Explain that."
Turner said at least this year's Alcoa squad isn't as explosive on offense or as terrifying on defense as the team two years ago.
Chandler Patrick, now a 6-foot, 226-pounder and the leader in tackles with 105, was a sophomore starter at middle linebacker for the Rams when they played the Tornadoes back then. He said when he found out this year's first-round opponent, his first thought was "It's get-back time."
"Honestly, everything they did was perfect," Patrick said of the 2009 game. "I have to give them credit for the way they played."
Turner said this year's Alcoa team is reminiscent of Red Bank, the team the Rams beat 26-14 last week with the No. 2 position in District 6-AA at stake. It starts with the comparisons at quarterback.
D.J. Oggs, who gained 127 yards on 21 carries in last week's loss to Christian Academy of Knoxville, operates the Tornadoes' attack. Niquia McDuffie directs the Lions.
"The quarterbacks are somewhat alike," Turner said. "How McDuffie goes offensively will tell you how Red Bank does. If McDuffie goes well, they go well. The same thing with Alcoa. The kid is a heck of an athlete."
Turner knows his team's running game will be put to the test but figures rushing the ball will be of paramount importance. Not only must the Rams control the clock with first downs and keep Alcoa's offense off the field, they must score at the ends of sustained drives.
As Patrick put it, the Tornadoes have seen on video what Tyner does, so there are no secrets. He thinks the fundamental elements -- blocking and tackling -- will determine the winner.
"Alcoa is going to have a tough team," Patrick said. "They're used to winning. Maybe we can give them a run for their money and hopefully come away with a win this time.
"We're going to have to come with our 'A' game, and nothing less -- maybe more."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.