High school football spread offenses continue to put up video-game type numbers — 25 area players already have had games of 200-plus yards of rushing, passing or receiving this season — causing opposing defensive coordinators sleepless nights.
But the most mind-boggling stat of the season is that, with still two weeks remaining in September, we've already reached the halfway point.
Tennessee teams that don't qualify for the playoffs will put their equipment away before Halloween.
So as our Friday nights cool off and the playoff chases heat up, expect three of the area's usual suspects to make deep playoff runs again: Boyd-Buchanan in Class 2A, South Pittsburg in 1A and defending champion Calhoun in Georgia AA. All three are currently ranked No. 1 in their respective classifications and appear primed to play past Thanksgiving.
One other team that looks to be built for a deep playoff run, after reaching the playoffs for the first time in program history last season, is East Hamilton. The Hurricanes have a well-deserved open date tonight after a 4-1 start and have risen to No. 4 in the Tennessee 4A poll.
Hamilton County hasn't had a team in a state final in a class larger than 2A since Red Bank won the 5A title in 2000.
The Hurricanes, who have outscored their four victims by an average of 36 points, have talent, size and depth on both sides of the ball. Running behind arguably the area's top offensive line, all-state running back Logan Jackson leads the area with 889 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns already. The defense has held two opponents to fewer than 40 rushing yards and created multiple turnovers in three games.
Whether they have learned to handle success could determine just how far the Hurricanes advance. They followed claiming the District 6-AA title in the regular-season finale last year by getting upset in the first round of the playoffs, and they followed an impressive 55-14 season-opening win over Signal Mountain this year with a flat first half in what led to a three-point loss to neighborhood rival Ooltewah.
But they bounced back from that loss by beating the next three opponents by at least 29 points each, including a very impressive 41-7 win at 6A Bradley Central.
So Ted Gatewood's team should defend its district title and blow away the school record for wins (6) set last year with games coming up against winless East Ridge and currently one-win teams Howard and Red Bank. The Hurricanes also host rebuilding Hixson and Tyner, which could be their toughest remaining road block.
The 'Canes should follow their second straight district title with their first playoff win. And likely more than one.
• Looking to erase the memory of last year's controversial overtime loss in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion Friendship Christian, Boyd-Buchanan again is relying on a stingy defense. The Buccaneers (5-0) are allowing just 98.6 rushing yards per game and have forced 19 fumbles, recovering 13, while also intercepting three passes.
They are plus-9 in turnover margin, following a similar path that led to the 2009 state-title game when they were an amazing plus-41 in turnover margin. So far Howard is the only opponent to manage more than seven points against the Bucs, who are outscoring teams by 30 points.
• It should be an interesting matchup when Boyd-Buchanan visits South Pittsburg in two weeks. While the Bucs have been nearly impossible to run against, the Pirates have three running backs averaging more than 100 rushing yards each.
Demetric Johnson (166), Jajuan Lankford (123) and Corbin Hale (101) have adjusted well to the switch to the wing-T, and the Pirates are averaging 500 total yards per game, 458 on the ground. Johnson (14.5) and Lankford (18.9) have eye-popping per-carry averages.
• Calhoun senior quarterback Taylor Lamb is well on his way to breaking his own school passing records for yards and touchdowns in a season. Lamb threw for 3,635 yards and 40 TDs last year to lead the Yellow Jackets to the state title. Through the first three games this season, all wins over Class AAAA foes, Lamb has thrown for 987 yards and 10 TDs, including 462 last week to rally Calhoun past Carrollton.
Against the three larger opponents, all likely playoff teams, the Yellow Jackets' average margin is 48-37. Beginning tonight at Dade County, the Yellow Jackets' remaining seven games will be against Region 7-AA opponents. They have won 71 straight region games, not having lost in their league since 2001.
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 ...
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