BATTLE GROUND ACADEMY WILDCATS (7-2, 4-2) at BAYLOR RED RAIDERS (8-1, 5-1)
Last time: Baylor won 33-14 in last year's state semifinals. The Red Raiders also beat BGA 33-21 during the regular season last year.
This time: Both teams already have established themselves among the top four playoff qualifiers in the Division II-AA East/Middle bracket. A Baylor win would assure home-field advantage through the semifinals.
Time to shine: BGA QB C.J. Beathard has thrown for 1,773 yards with 18 TDs and just four interceptions, and Jordan Smith ranks among the Nashville area's receiving leaders with 728 yards and 14 TDs (15.5 per catch). The Wildcats lost to Brentwood Academy and Ensworth when both teams were ranked No. 1. They beat McCallie by 12 and have scored at least four TDs seven times. While Matthew Oellerich has proven to be a tough dual-threat QB, Connor Davidson and George Porter also form one of the best running back tandems in D-II. Wyatt McRae is among the area's sack leaders with seven.
BOYD-BUCHANAN BUCCANEERS (8-1, 2-0) at COPPER BASIN COUGARS (3-6, 0-2)
Last time: Boyd-Buchanan won 22-7 last year.
This time: The Cougars were eliminated from the playoffs with last week's loss to Lookout Valley, while Boyd-Buchanan is looking to ensure itself of a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the quarterfinals.
Time to shine: The Bucs could become only the fourth team in the area to have a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard passer this season. Sophomore QB Jim Cardwell has thrown for 965 yards and Chase Reed has 987 rushing yards. Bucs DBs Kyle Thomas and Andrew Peace have combined for seven interceptions, and Boyd-Buchanan has given up just 16 total points in its last games against district opponents.
SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (8-1) at GRACE CHRISTIAN RAMS (9-0)
Last time: South Pittsburg won 57-13 in the 2009 semifinals.
This time: Grace Christian is in its second straight year of TSSAA playoff banishment for recruiting violations, so its season ends tonight regardless. That means the Rams likely will treat it as a state-title-type setting, but the game is of much more significance to the Pirates' postseason road. If South Pittsburg wins, it will be the top overall seed in its playoff quad, meaning a first-round bye and the right to host through the semifinals. A loss would drop the Pirates to the third seed, meaning instead of a first-round bye they would host a first-round game, then have to travel the rest of the way through the playoffs. This is the fifth state-ranked opponent the Pirates have faced and the seventh time they have played a team in a higher classification.
Time to shine: The third-ranked Rams come into the game having shut out their last four opponents and are outscoring teams 41-9. They have allowed seven points or less six times and have wins over Class 3A's fifth-ranked CAK and 1A's seventh-ranked Greenback. Rams sophomore QB Devin Smith has thrown for 1,355 yards and 18 TDs, and just three interceptions, in 114 attempts, and Jake Minga is second in the Knoxville area with 856 receiving yards and 14 TDs. Will McKamey has rushed for 1,190 yards (11.1 per carry) and 15 TDs, while Christian Steward leads Grace's defense with 72 tackles, 16 of them for loss. South Pittsburg sophomore Jajuan Lankford leads the area in rushing yards, and senior LB Coltin Blevins is among the leaders in tackles and forced fumbles.
GRACE ACADEMY GOLDEN EAGLES (5-4, 1-1) at SILVERDALE BAPTIST SEAHAWKS (4-5, 1-1)
Last time: Grace Academy won 27-7 last year.
This time: Second place in District 5-A, and the automatic playoff berth that comes with it, is on the line. The Golden Eagles likely would earn a spot even after a loss, but Silverdale Baptist almost assuredly needs the win to get in.
Time to shine: While Silverdale Baptist has been balanced, Grace is led by QB Josh Smith, who has thrown for nearly 1,200 yards. Austin Powell's 83 total tackles and Aaron Tisdale's 22 for loss lead an improved Golden Eagles defense. Silverdale's Lincoln Phillips has been a force in opponents' backfields all season and leads the area with 13 sacks.
EAST RIDGE PIONEERS (5-4, 4-2) at BRAINERD PANTHERS (4-5, 3-3)
Last time: East Ridge won 20-14 last year.
This time: This game is being considered must-win by both clubs, who are scrambling to get into the playoffs via a wild-card berth. In the latest playoff rankings, which don't take into account district champions and runners-up, the Pioneers rank 27th among the top 32 teams and the Panthers are 37th, so one needs to hold on and the other needs to climb at least five spots. East Ridge has made three straight postseason appearances while Brainerd, which missed last season, has made it three of the past five years.
Time to shine: Pioneers QB Eric McCurdy had a nice showing last week although he completed just five of 10 passes with an interception. Two of the passes went for TDs and 81 of his 101 throwing yards. The Pioneers also have been getting decent rushing numbers from Deonte Dokes and Alex Smith. Brainerd depends heavily on Maleek Rooks, who runs, throws, catches and defends, and QB Sam Caffey.
HOWARD HUSTLIN' TIGERS (0-9, 0-6) at EAST HAMILTON HURRICANES (5-4, 5-1)
Last time: Howard won 47-28 last year.
This time: It's East Hamilton playing for a district championship and it would be the Hurricanes' first, which they can nail down with a win over the winless Hustlin' Tigers. While Howard has likely recovered from a shellacking last week at the hands of Tyner at Finley stadium, East Hamilton will have to shrug off the celebrations after getting its first win over Red Bank, which was previously unbeaten in District 6-AA play.
Time to shine: Howard's primary offense last week was quarterback Tevan Jackson passing to fellow senior and wide receiver JerMichael Hardy. Jackson was harried often and completed much less than 50 percent of his passes, primarily because Howard's running game was nonexistent. East Hamilton again will depend on less-experienced runners Lamond Greer, Hunter Parker and Dallas Hammond because 1,000-yard rusher Logan Jackson is expected to be extremely limited again because of a high-ankle sprain. Too, QB Hunter Moore may have a shade more time to pass out of the Hurricanes' play-action game.
RED BANK LIONS (7-2, 5-1) at TYNER RAMS (4-5, 4-2)
Last time: Tyner won 28-7 last year.
This time: Both coaches figure their teams are playing for No. 2 in the district, which carries with it an automatic postseason berth -- 3A for the Rams or 4A for the Lions. Tyner has won four of its last five games after starting the season 0-4. Too, the Rams haven't missed the playoffs since 2003 and the Lions have made it every year since a streak that started in 2003. Red Bank won at Tyner two years ago.
Time to shine: With top runner Joseph Sturkey still out with an ankle injury, Tyner's options may be limited, but the Rams did OK last week with Bobby Hendricks, Chandler Patrick and others although QB Willie Stewart stole the show with a kickoff return, an interception return, a TD pass and a rushing TD in a lopsided win over Howard. The Rams' key could be in the offensive and defensive lines, which have had roller-coaster performances. Red Bank, too, needs consistency from its lines, especially on offense, either to give QB Niquia McDuffie time to find Deres Benn or to tuck it and run to the open spaces. The versatile McDuffie, who at one time was the team's snapper on punts, also will be relied upon defensively. Red Bank's running game has been enhanced by the emergence of Demetrius Williams, who stepped up when Randall Lee suffered a severe high-ankle sprain in practice several weeks ago.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN EAGLES (1-2, 1-0) at SEQUATCHIE COUNTY INDIANS (7-2, 3-1)
Last time: Signal Mountain won 42-7 last year.
This time: The game has been billed to the hilt as a grudge match, but it could have been for the District 7-AA title if Signal hadn't had six wins vacated for playing what the TSSAA deemed an ineligible player. That ineligible player, Tim McClendon, was cleared by the TSSAA on Wednesday and is likely to show up at fullback, linebacker and elsewhere in the Dunlap showdown. Signal's season will end with this game and the Eagles, who are averaging around 47 points per game, certainly want to go out on a high note. Sequatchie, while most definitely aware of this game, is certainly concerned about next week and its first game of the postseason.
Time to shine: McClendon will be in the limelight, but Signal has a versatile arsenal that includes running back/linebacker Zack Bowman' RB Andrew Price, who gained 333 yards in the Eagles' last outing; QB Reese Phillips and WRs Will Queen and Jon Patton. Sequatchie has proved over the last two years that it prefers to run the football and has done so quite well again this year with Jerry Fain collecting his second 1,000-yard season, but the Indians will and have thrown the football with QB Eli Stout.
NOTRE DAME IRISH (5-4, 0-4) at GRUNDY COUNTY YELLOW JACKETS (5-4, 1-3)
Last time: Grundy County won 15-13 last year.
This time: This is another game with last-gasp playoff hopes likely hanging in the balance. Can Grundy defend the pass and can Notre Dame stop the run? The game hinges on those two answers, because the Irish can quick-strike from anywhere on the field and Grundy loves to ground-and-pound.
Time to shine: Notre Dame's offensive charge is provided by QB Josh Moore and WR Matt Reilly, although running backs Shaqualm McCoy and Kareem Orr give them more than a semblance of a running game. It's the defense that needs the help, especially against the likes of Yellow Jackets runner Johnny Cook, who scored three times and gained 211 yards against Grace Academy last week.
LaFAYETTE RAMBLERS (5-3, 2-2) vs. RINGGOLD TIGERS (5-3, 2-2)
Tonight, 7:30 at Finley Stadium
Last time: LaFayette won 29-19 last year.
This time: The plot is simple -- the winner has a shot at the playoffs, the loser does not. A week 10 Region 7-AAA crossover play-in game against the B subregion's No. 2-seeded team awaits the winner of a game featuring teams with stout run games.
Time to shine: The LaFayette offense is built around shifty RB Devarus Porter, who has rebounded from an early-season injury to average nearly 10 yards per carry and 170 yards per game, with some help from Demarcus Simpson. The Ringgold run game features the bullish running of Shaun Anderson, who has 843 yards and 11 touchdowns, while QB Slade Dale and RB Mark Fairbanks have added another 1,100 yards combined. The defenses, though, have given up too much on the ground in recent games, meaning LaFayette LBs Sheldon Covington and Garrett Thompson and Ringgold LBs Dakota Baer and Derrik Baker will be on the spot.
CALHOUN YELLOW JACKETS (8-0, 5-0) at LAKEVIEW-FORT OGLETHORPE WARRIORS (4-4, 4-1)
Last time: Calhoun won 54-24 last year.
This time: LFO's surprising turnaround has set up a winner-take-all game tonight at Tommy Cash Stadium. The winner is the 7B-AA subregion champion and earns the guaranteed playoff berth. The loser still will have a chance to win in next week's crossover play-in game.
Time to shine: Second-ranked Calhoun has relied on its passing game more than in recent seasons, led by junior QB Taylor Lamb, who has thrown for 1,609 yards and 17 touchdowns and is completing 70 percent of his passes. WRs Ben Lamb, Clay Johnson, Josh Barnes and Chase Rierson have a combined 109 catches. While the LFO offense has taken off behind senior RB Bubba Cruz, who has 1,080 yards, it's the defense that has keyed the four-game winning streak. Led by LB Nate Long, who has seven sacks among his 94 stops, and LB Trey Silmon, the Warriors have posted two shutouts in their last three games.