The Chattanooga area's two most successful football programs of the past 20 years will make a bit of history tonight.
Boyd-Buchanan has reached at least the state quarterfinals in 11 of the last 14 years, and South Pittsburg has played for a state championship four of the last five seasons and reached at least the quarterfinals 13 times in the last 20 years. The two schools have combined for five state titles, four runner-up finishes and seven other trips to the semifinals since 1992, almost as much as the rest of the area's Tennessee teams combined.
But when Boyd-Buchanan (7-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class 2A) plays tonight at South PIttsburg (6-1, top-ranked in 1A), it will mark the first time ever that two area teams met while ranked atop their respective classifications.
There have been numerous matchups of state-ranked area teams, and even twice (Marion County vs. South Pittsburg in 1995 and Signal Mountain vs. South Pittsburg in 2011) when teams coming off state championships met the next season. In 2001 defending 5A champion and top-ranked Red Bank hosted McCallie, which was ranked third and would go on to win the Division II title, but tonight will be the first time two area teams face off while ranked No. 1.
"Wow, it seems like one of us is ranked up there near the top every time we play, but that's pretty cool to know it's the first time to have this situation," Buccaneers coach Grant Reynolds said. "It's a testament to the hard work both programs have put in. It's not the end-all, but at the same time it's something to be proud of.
"The key for us is our kids not being intimidated, because it's an intimidating place to go play. They have some of the best backs in the state, so we have our work cut out for us defensively."
Senior Demetric Johnson and junior Jajuan Lankford each averages more than 16 yards per carry for the Pirates, combining for more than 1,700 rushing yards already and helping the team average 55 points per game.
The Bucs, meanwhile, have three shutout wins and are giving up fewer than 95 rushing yards and seven points per game. They have outscored opponents 174-22 in the first halves.
"They're going to be our biggest challenge by far defensively," Pirates coach Vic Grider said. "I'm curious to see how we'll respond if somebody does stop us, because so far it's just been us stopping ourselves. Even Signal Mountain [in South Pittsburg's loss] never slowed us down.
"But you know Boyd is always so sound defensively. We try to get teams in a bind formation-wise, but their kids are never misaligned, so they're usually in place to make the tackle."
In 10 of the previous 23 meetings one of the teams was ranked No. 1, including each of the last four years. The Buccaneers were No. 1 last year but South Pittsburg, which was ranked third, rallied from a 10-0 halftime deficit for 26 unanswered points in the second half. In 2009, when Boyd-Buchanan was No. 2 in 2A, it snapped top-ranked South Pittsburg's run of 28 straight regular-season wins.
While the Pirates have won the last two meetings and five of the last six, the programs have split the last 10.
"I think both teams like this game because we have the same expectation of playing for a state championship every year," Grider said. "This game will make both teams better four or five weeks from now in the playoffs."
The game will begin 30 minutes earlier than typical Pirates home games, kicking off at 7:30 EDT because it is the local television game of the week.
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 ...