East Hamilton (3-1, 1-0) at Brainerd (0-1, 0-3)
Storyline: It's something of a payback game for both the visiting Hurricanes and the Panthers. East Hamilton won their regular-season matchup last year, but Brainerd then won in the first round of the playoffs. Do the Panthers have solutions for running back Logan Jackson, who is averaging 180 yards per game, and the Hurricanes' massive offensive line, which was seen feasting Wednesday night at all-you-can-eat Bea's Restaurant? Brainerd has quick athletes and a few big bodies in the line, but the small-squad Panthers will be decidedly outmanned in this District 6-AA battle.
Hixson (2-1, 1-0) at Red Bank (1-2, 1-0)
Storyline: Red Bank has played well, even great, in spurts with a handful of Lions exhibiting the ability to take over a game. Among them are running back Darrius Akridge, quarterback Hagen Wilkey and defensive linemen Courtney Stamper and Nick Burnette. Hixson's Wildcats are riding high after knocking off previously unbeaten Marion County with a three-TD, fourth-quarter rally. Their coaches, though, would say they should have had the game in hand by halftime. Quarterback Gil Brown has continued to struggle at times. Hixson relies heavily on receiver Allante Novene, running back/linebacker Kedrick Bradley and linemen Charles Franklin, Chance Loy and Austin Gilkey. Hixson hasn't won one in this series since 2004.
Baylor (3-1, 1-1) at Ensworth (4-0, 1-0)
Storyline: It's the classic rematch. The teams have split four games over the last two years with Ensworth winning both times the state championship was on the line. The unbeaten Tigers have scored no fewer than 35 points in any game to date, and the 35 came in a season-opening eight-point win over Memphis University School. They have since scored 47 twice and 67 once behind FBS prospect Corn Elder, who already has rushed for 692 yards and has 14 TDs. Baylor also has NCAA FBS prospects in junior quarterback Michael O'Connor and senior linebacker Colton Jumper. Receiver Reggie Upshaw has committed to Middle Tennessee State in basketball. Red Raiders senior defensive back Russell Burton suffered a concussion last week and will miss tonight's game.
Signal Mountain (1-3, 1-0) at Grundy County (2-2, 1-0)
Storyline: Grundy County had a chance with less duress last week to get plenty of snaps for Josh Rhea, who stepped into the starting quarterback role two games into the season after Houston Mainord suffered a broken collarbone. The Yellow Jackets beat Whitwell 37-0 with Rhea leading the team in rushing and also throwing for 124 yards. Signal, which broke its winless streak with a District 7-AA win over Bledsoe County two weeks ago, was simply overwhelmed by Class 6A power Blackman last week. Despite a number of team drops Friday, Eagles receivers Madison Byrd and Chris Abernathy continue to rank among the area's leaders.
East Ridge (0-3, 0-1) at Tyner (2-1, 1-0)
Storyline: The Pioneers are coming off a bye week so they have had extra time to prepare for Tyner, but the Ram train is looking to get back on track after losing its unbeaten status last week at McCallie. While he hasn't had the start for which he was hoping, East Ridge coach Tracy Malone said the team remains upbeat and continues to do the right things on the practice field, in class and in the locker and weight rooms. It might not be enough to overcome the Rams' defensive line, which looked imposing in wins over Signal Mountain and Brainerd. That group is led by noseguard/linebacker Edward Duckett.
Marion County (3-1, 1-0) at South Pittsburg (3-0, 1-0)
Storyline: South Pittsburg has won the last six meetings, its longest streak in the series, averaging 11 yards per play to win the last two by a combined 110-0. Marion's Matt Zeman made his season debut last week, returning at quarterback after sitting out the first three weeks with an injury, but nine of the Warriors' original 22 starters won't play because of injury. Zeman's sophomore brother, fullback Blake, is averaging 136 rushing yards and is the key to Marion's wing-T offense. Blake Zeman also is the area's leading tackler with 47.5 stops already, two for loss, two fumble recoveries and an interception. South Pittsburg's defense had its best game of the season last week, allowing just 68 total yards at Sequatchie County. The Pirates' version of the wing-T features three speedsters in fullback Corbin Hale and wings Demetric Johnson and Jajuan Lankford, all of whom have multiple 100-plus rushing performances already this season.
Bledsoe County (1-2, 0-1) at Notre Dame (2-1, 1-0)
Storyline: Notre Dame can remain in first place in Region 7-AA with a victory, while Bledsoe County can creep into the mix by knocking off the Irish. The Irish are blessed with speed at many positions, but cursed with inexperience. They will start one senior, one junior and nine sophomores or freshmen on offense, including ninth-grade quarterback Alex Darras. Sophomore running back Auston Banks is expected to return from a high-ankle sprain, which demotes freshman Ricky Ballard, who had 218 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries last week. Irish senior lineman John Quatrano may return. The battle of this game will be Notre Dame's speed against Bledsoe's strength, size and experience. The Warriors run from north to south to get to the end zone. The Irish are more willing to run outside and get one-on-one matchups. Senior running back Holden Boynton leads the group of Warriors rushers. Irish sophomore Bradley Smith and senior Gage Frady run behind a line Notre Dame coach Charles Fant described as "Smash-mouth."
McMinn County (3-1, 1-0) at Ooltewah (2-2, 0-1)
Storyline: The Cherokees and Owls will give each other rushing duos to deal with. Ooltewah had been rotating three running backs, but leading rusher T.J. Davis (418 yards) injured an ankle last week and is likely out at least the next two games. Transfer Kelvin Wells Jr., who gave the Owls problems the last two years when he was at Walker Valley, and Dre Sanders have combined for almost 1,000 rushing yards for McMinn County. Quarterback Corbin Powers has taken advantage and completed 75.6 percent of his 41 passes for an average of 81.8 yards per game. Owls coach Shannon Williams said there is no more sound defensive unit than the Cherokees' stop unit. He had hoped to see more production from backs Phillip McClain and Desmond Pittman (291 rushing yards combined), and they'll likely see more opportunities to step up with Davis out. His quarterback, Brody Binder, has thrown for 442 yards, but they've come on 36-percent passing (32-of-89). Offensive execution should be a major factor in the outcome.
Grace Academy (1-2, 0-1) at Boyd-Buchanan (4-0, 1-0)
Storyline: The visiting Golden Eagles attack defenses with a triple-option offense that's rarely seen these days. Staying disciplined will be most important for Boyd-Buchanan's defense, which has been stingy so far. Grace has four ball carriers with at least 253 rushing yards, led by Will Slack's 442. The Buccaneers are coming off a physical game against Howard in which running back and long snapper John Hale injured an ankle. Coach Grant Reynolds said Hale returned to practice Wednesday and should be available, at least in a limited capacity. Grace has had some problems with tackling and the Bucs are far from one-dimensional on offense. They're led in rushing by hard-charging fullback Rance Harden (486 yards, 8 TDs), and quarterback Jim Cardwell has produced 708 yards of total offense and nine touchdowns. Reynolds said not much at school was made of the No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press state poll his team received this week, which is fine by him.
Copper Basin (3-0, 0-0) at Silverdale Baptist Academy (3-1, 0-1)
Storyline: Although an early-season matchup, this is a key District 5-A game that should have state-playoff implications. Copper Basin is taking a road trip for the first time this year, and it's the Seahawks' homecoming. The last time the Cougars opened a season with three home games was in 2010 when they began with four. They started out 8-0 that year on the way to the state quarterfinals. Copper Basin returned a veteran line this year, and although Dylan Boggs is a new starter at quarterback, he was the team's leading tackler last year. The Seahawks came into the year with a plan for a methodical approach to offense. As Silverdale coach Al Rogers oversimplified it before the season: "If we have the ball, that means they don't." Quarterback Spencer Mossburg, one of three SBA seniors, has the longest run from scrimmage at 33 yards. Using the pass as an element of surprise, he's averaging 15.4 yards per each of his 14 completions. Josh Rogers has been the leading tackler, and fellow junior Lincoln Phillips has registered five sacks.
Dade County (0-2) at Lakeview-Fort Ogethorpe (2-0)
Storyline: The final nonregion game for each team pits squads heading in different directions. Dade's Wolverines are coming off a loss against North Murray in which they allowed 57 points. The Warriors have won two shutouts. LFO, which features elusive running back Pooh Harden, runs an offense similar to North Murray, so a Dade win has to start with making the Warriors go somewhere else for yards.
Carrollton (1-1) at Calhoun (2-0)
Storyline: This matchup of state-ranked teams (Calhoun is No. 1 in Class AA, Carrollton No. 3 in AAAA) features explosive offenses with defenses still trying to recover from heavy graduation losses. The Yellow Jackets have allowed 35 and 41 points in wins over Ridgeland and Dalton and have looked particularly vulnerable against the run. Rayvan Teague's Trojans will test that run defense early and often. Calhoun coach Hal Lamb knows that his offense, led by all-state quarterback Taylor Lamb (six TDs in two games), can keep his team in any game, but he wants to see the defense improve, even with usual starting linebackers Chaz Horton and Justin Harrison out.
Walker Valley (3-0, 0-0) at Cleveland (2-2, 1-0)
Storyline: Emotions will be running high as the Mustangs try to extend the best start in program history with a district road victory over the rival Blue Raiders. The biggest test will be if Cleveland can stop the rushing attack of the Mustangs, who were slowed last week yet still claimed a win over Red Bank due to special-teams play. The Raiders' rush game has been taking baby steps in improvement, but the team has relied mostly on the arm of Austin Herink and his play-making receivers. Cleveland has played tougher competition so far, and that could play a factor in a close game down the stretch.
Soddy-Daisy (1-2, 0-1) at Rhea County (1-3, 0-1)
Storyline: Both District 5-AAA teams have played well enough to win at times, yet injuries and inconsistent play have led to slow starts. Soddy-Daisy's Trojans used their off week to get healthy, and now they travel up Highway 27 to face the Golden Eagles, whose losses have all come to ranked teams. Rhea has been hurt by big plays, but that hasn't been an area where the Trojans have excelled thus far, so the game will come down to whoever makes the fewest mistakes and, ultimately, wants it more.