The last Friday of Tennessee's high school football regular season has numerous coaches changing their postgame rituals.
They'll head for a computer or a telephone with wi-fi capability and begin checking scores across the state.
"It's the one weekend of the regular season that everybody is watching each other to see what happens," Grundy County coach Nick Bryant said.
In some cases, opponents' scores will determine if teams are in or out of the playoffs that begin next Friday, and otherwise they will help determine whether teams will be playing at home or on the road and against whom, and who could face them in later rounds.
"Good luck figuring it out. We're going to be looking at 10 to 12 games," said Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald, whose team plays at Brainerd tonight with the District 6-AA championship already in hand. "We might know around midnight, but it's probably going to be Saturday morning."
The TSSAA will begin announcing the bracket pairings at 11 a.m. Saturday, starting with Division II-A and then Division II-AA, followed by Division I Class 1A through 6A. The brackets will be posted on TSSAA.org as each is released on the state's videostream at www.tssaanetwork.com.
All Division II teams participate in the postseason.
In Division I, there will be 32 teams each in in Classes 3A-6A and 24 teams in classes 1A and 2A. As of this morning 15 Class 4A and 2A berths had been secured. There were 28 openings in Class 5A, 25 in 3A, 21 in 6A and 13 in 1A.
Many of those will be determined as teams either secure district championships or runner-up spots, which bring automatic qualification. Then there are the wild-card spots for the less fortunate, and district champions no longer are guaranteed host games.
"When you look at the quadrants and the latest TSSAA rankings, it's possible that the first quadrant (upper east Tennessee) could have five of the top 10 Class 4A teams," Fitzgerald said.
Each classification is set with four geographic eight-team quadrants, and the TSSAA is mindful of travel and natural rivalries and the desire to have no team travel across more than one quadrant to play in another quadrant.
"Last year the whole [final] week we were thinking Smith County. They even called me about setting up a film swap, and then come Saturday morning we're going to play Cheatham County," Bryant said. "I'd say it's a coin toss whether we get in or not. The only way I feel we're definitely in is if we upset Notre Dame."
In Grundy's class, 3A, there are 18 teams that could finish with four wins.
"There are four that mathematically can't jump us, but then there are a few that could," Bryant said. "The way we've got it figured, there's a 63 percent chance we'll be playing next week."
East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood doesn't want his players playing "what-if," and he has shushed his assistant coaches when he has walked up and heard them discussing playoff scenarios.
"I told the kids yesterday I wasn't worried about anything but Bradley Central. It sounds like coach-speak, and it is, but that's the way it needs to be," he said. "My coaches know not to discuss it around me. It's hard to figure it all out. Scenarios -- us, Cleveland, Ooltewah beat each other -- but after [tonight] we'll find out how it all shakes out."
Bradley Central plays at East Hamilton and Bears coach Damon Floyd said assistant Keith Freeman had kept him abreast of the scenarios.
"I do know if Powell loses and we win, we'll go to Maryville," Floyd said. "There's another scenario that has us going to Sevierville. If we lose, there's still a chance. It depends on something like eight other games.
"Ooltewah, Cleveland and East Hamilton are good, all ranked in the top 10. People say McMinn's down, but they've played a really tough schedule. We're fourth and fifth in the district and I feel like we have a pretty good team. I told the team if we don't win enough games to get in we can't be upset. If we're 5-5 or 6-4 and don't get in, I'm not going to be upset. We had plenty of opportunities."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...
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