TSSAA quartefinals (All 7 p.m. local time)
FAYETTEVILLE TIGERS (6-6) at SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (10-1)
Key players: South Pittsburg's run-first offense is led by a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Senior RB Jajuan Lankford, a Mr. Football finalist in two of the last three seasons, averages nearly 12 yards per carry, while classmate Kahlil Mitchell is a hammer at both FB in the wing-T as well as on defense from his LB spot. Junior QB Kitt Grider has proven he can add balance to the Pirates' offense and last week even had a big run for a key first down when the team needed to keep possession and run the clock. Fayetteville, a first-year program making a surprising playoff run after qualifying with a sub-.500 record, is led by senior QB Trevonte Emmons, a dual threat who also plays on defense. One of the Tigers' leading rushers, Dorian Thompson, is likely out with an ankle injury, but Tra Emmons is a dangerous runner. The Tigers are one of the few teams that can match the Pirates' speed and athleticism, which negates some of the big-play potential the Pirates typically have.
Key matchup: None of the Tigers have much postseason experience, much less on the road, and South Pittsburg has one of the best home-field advantages in 1A. How well a young group of Fayetteville players handle the intensity of playing a playoff game in front of a hostile crowd could determine if the game is close for four quarters.
Quote: "They scare you because they are very athletic. They have a lot of guys who can hurt you and break big plays any time, so we have to be focused." -- South Pittsburg offensive coordinator Wesley Stone
Up next: The winner will visit the winner between Coalfield and Midway.
SILVERDALE BAPTIST SEAHAWKS (11-1) vs. GRACE CHRISTIAN RAMS (11-0)
Key players: The Seahawks' primary threat is 1,000-yard rusher Josh Rogers (1,133), but they have three other backs with 375 or more yards apiece. Grace Christian QB Devin Smith has thrown for 2,702 yards and 28 TDs while completing 65 percent of his passes for the top-ranked team in the state, mostly to Andy Eddins and Kobe Kelley; the Knoxville team's defense is led by Kyron Inman.
Key matchup: Smith, Eddins and Kelley against the Seahawks secondary of Rogers, Tristan Huggins, Jordan Delashmitt and Matt Millard.
Key quote: "They're [ranked] No.1 for a reason. They're solid; good athletes. This time of year every opponent's better. There's just no taking any breaks." -- SBA coach Al Rogers
Up next: The winner will host the Trousdale-Marion County winner in the semifinals.
MARION COUNTY WARRIORS (10-2) at TROUSDALE COUNTY YELLOW JACKETS (11-0)
Key players: Junior Blake Zeman leads Marion County with an average of more than 150 rushing yards per game, and he's equally important as a playmaker on defense. Sophomore QB Logan Walters directs the attack and has thrown for more than 1,000 yards. Senior Clay O'Shields is his favorite target and also among the Warriors' tackles leaders. Like Zeman, Kenyan Harper is a key performer on both sides of the ball and leads the Yellow Jackets' ground game with 1,179 yards and 20 TDs. QB Marquel Claiborne is 53-of-90 passing for 984 yards and 14 TDs.
Key matchup: Good luck to both defenses. Trousdale has scored at least 21 points in each game with a high of 53. Marion's low point total is 17 and its high is 69.
Quote: "It's a typical Trousdale team. They're very solid all around. They've got some really good athletes and a good line up front. We'll have our hands full all night. Having Blake is huge. We know what he can do for us with the ball in his hands. I think with everything that's happened this week, our kids are just ready to get out on the field and play the game." -- Marion County interim coach Larry Richards
Up next: The winner will play at either Silverdale Baptist Academy or Knoxville Grace Christian.
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (9-3) at UPPERMAN BEES (12-0)
Key players: Auston Banks spearheads Notre Dame's ground game with 1,194 yards. Junior classmate Kareem Orr has 1,059 yards receiving. Sophomore Tyler Enos and junior and fellow LB Kealey Green have teamed for 268.5 stops. QB Connor York not only leads Upperman's attack, but in last week's win over Tyner he accounted for 713 yards of total offense and nine TDs. Austin Butler has rushed for 1,245 yards and 12 TDs this season, and leading receiver Robert Stephenson has 1,090 yards and 16 TDs.
Key matchup: The Irish defense is faced with the challenge of going from dealing with power rushing attacks in their first two state playoff games to this time dealing with a QB who has more than 2,000 yards each rushing and passing.
Quote: "It's like the approach Stanford took with Oregon. You have to win up front, get pressure and leave them no lanes to work in space. The quarterback is a Johnny Manziel type. He's special when plays break down. But all year our defensive front has played lights out and Kealey Green and Tyler Enos have played sideline to sideline." -- Notre Dame coach Charles Fant
Up next: The winner will play either at Christian Academy of Knoxville or at Alcoa.
KNOXVILLE CATHOLIC FIGHTING IRISH (9-3) at HIXSON WILDCATS (9-3)
Key players: Catholic QB Zac Jancek (thumb) missed the last two games of the regular season but threw for 164 yards and three TDs in last week's overtime win at Signal Mountain. The Wildcats also will have to watch RB Elijah Brown and WR/DB/return man Will Martinez. Hixson RBs Isaiah Robinson and Kedrick Bradley have combined for close to 3,000 rushing/receiving yards.
Key matchup: Jancek and Irish's up-tempo offense caused problems last week at Signal, but the Hixson defense has been quite stingy and is one of just five 4A teams with a postseason shutout. Watchwords at Hixson this week were "alignment" and "assignment."
Key quote: "When you get this far into the playoffs, everybody is going to be solid. We're going to try to control the football. It's two different styles of offense -- we're ground-and-pound and they're the 'get as many plays as you can' type team." -- Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald.
Up next: The winner will visit the Knoxville Fulton-Greeneville winner in the semifinals.
CLEVELAND BLUE RAIDERS (9-3) at EAST HAMILTON HURRICANES (10-2)
Key players: The Hurricanes have relied on their passing game this season, and QB Hunter Moore has answered with 2,982 yards and 22 TDs. He has looked to receivers Tony Francois (1,294 yards, 17 TD) and Tre Herndon (417 yards) primarily, but Moore has been able to get the ball to RB Matt Milita on short screens to move the ball as well. Defensively, Austin Gatewood has 6.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. The Hurricanes defense gets the task of stopping a potent Cleveland attack led by quarterback Austin Herink (3,013 yards, 33 TDs), who has options at receiver in D.J. Jones and Tyler Davis (1,911 combined yards, 32 total TDs) and at running back in T.J. Parker and Raekwon Bunion (1,777 yards, seven TDs). Herink has chipped in 11 rushing scores. They've been led defensively by Jonathan Terrero (125 total tackles, two interceptions, one TD).
Key matchup: The East Hamilton run defense against Cleveland's rushing attack. The Raiders, who average 177.9 yards rushing, have shown on a couple of occasions that their three-pronged attack of Herink, Parker and Bunion can be deadly if opponents focus too much on the passing game. The Hurricanes could look to stop the run game and force Cleveland to throw the ball, which could lead to opportunities for the ball-hawking Herndon.
Quote: "At this time of year, every team left has guys that, if they're not dinged up, they're banged up. Everybody has bumps and bruises. We're going to have to execute and perform how we know we're capable of and we'll have a good chance." -- East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood
Up next: The winner will visit the winner between Anderson County and Knoxville West in the semifinals.
GHSA playoffs (all 7:30 p.m.)
Class AAA Second Round
CEDAR GROVE SAINTS (7-4) at RINGGOLD TIGERS (9-2)
Key players: The Saints have a dynamic triplet offensive attack, led by QB James Hartsfield, who has thrown for 1,607 yards and 15 touchdowns. Deion Sellers has rushed for 1,183 yards and 10 touchdowns in only eight games, while WR Brandon Norwood has 55 receptions for 930 yards and 10 touchdowns. The team's best player, however, may be LB Bryson Allen-Williams, who has committed to South Carolina. Ringgold is led by dynamic QB Slade Dale, who earned national recognition with his seven-touchdown performance in last week's 55-54 win over North Hall, and he has his other potent weapons in RBs Kile Sholl and D.L. Goins and WR Christian Plott.
Key matchup: Ringgold's defensive line, led by Ryan Emmer and recent Duke commit Zach Morris, against a Cedar Grove offensive front that averages nearly 270 pounds per man.
Key quote: "They have outstanding talent and they're huge up front with three guys going 260 and above, so we're going to have to fight off blocks and offensively we have to have another game with no turnovers." -- Ringgold coach Robert Akins
Up next: The winner will play the winner of the Central-Carroll at Appling County game. Ringgold would travel to Appling County and hold a coin flip with Central-Carroll to determine home field.
Class AA Second Round
GREATER ATLANTA CHRISTIAN SPARTANS (10-1) at CALHOUN YELLOW JACKETS (10-1)
Key players: GAC, ranked No. 2 for most of the season before falling to Lovett, is led offensively by three big weapons: RB Micah Abernathy, who has 1,119 yards; QB Rafe Chapple, who has thrown for 1,741 yards; and WR Darius Slayton, who has right at 800 yards. Calhoun will counter with its own weapons, including senior QB Fields Chapman, receivers Tydus and Chandler Curtis, who have 1,500 yards combined, and a healthy Alex Urbano, who returned to action last week.
Key matchup: The Calhoun offensive line, led by senior center Katrova Dew, against elite GAC linebackers Paul Carothers and Tyler Cooksey. Blocking the second level of the Spartans' defense is critical, according to Hal Lamb.
Key quote: "This is a matchup where mistakes are going to happen, but how you overcome those mistakes will determine who wins." -- Calhoun coach Hal Lamb
Up next: The winner will play the winner of the Fitzgerald at Benedictine game. Calhoun would host Fitzgerald and would hold a coin flip with Benedictine to determine home field.
Class A Private First Round
CHRISTIAN HERITAGE LIONS (8-2) at DARLINGTON TIGERS (8-2)
Key players: Christian Heritage, which fell in the final seconds to Darlington in the regular season, is led by the talented senior duo of QB Trevor Brown, has 2,304 yards passing and 25 touchdowns, and WR Nich Bartley, who has 1,125 of those yards and 13 of the scores. The Lions have given up only 12 points per game, led by Evan Townsend, who has 136 tackles, and Austin Lowe. Darlington has a strong running game featuring Chas Williams, Trey Edge and Will Mathis, while QB Logan Rice has been efficient. Defensively, 6-5, 255-pound sophomore end Landon Rice, who has committed to Auburn, and junior LB Robert Muschamp, who also is being recruited by SEC schools, are the leaders.
Key matchup: Christian Heritage WR Bartley against ball-hawking Darlington defensive backs Mathis and Jeremiah McClure. Bartley, the state's second-leading receiver, likely will see a lot of McClure, who has a three-interception game already to his credit this season.
Key quote: "In this game you better take advantage of the opportunities you get, because you won't get the ball very often since both offenses like to control the clock." -- Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag
Up next: The winner will play the winner between Athens Christian and Eagles Landing Christian Academy. Christian Heritage would host Athens Christian but would travel to ELCA.
Class A Public First Round
TRION BULLDOGS (5-4) at IRWIN COUNTY INDIANS (8-1-1)
Key players: In this matchup of wing-T offenses, the Bulldogs are led by senior three-year starter QB Corey Bethune, who has rushed for 462 yards and seven scores; FB Malik Martin, a sophomore who has 517 yards and nine scores; and WB Chandler Latham, who has added 450 yards. Martin and Latham also are Trion's top defenders and have a combined 23 tackles for loss. Irwin counters with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Antuane Merritt and Ryan Peterson, while WB Jakyon Young is another long-distance threat.
Key matchup: Trion's offensive line, led by 6-2, 285-pound Daulton Hegwood and 6-3, 275-pound Bret Peterson against an Irwin County defensive line paced by all-state NG D.J. Peterson.
Key quote: "The fact that we have made that trip and were successful a year ago gives us confidence. They're going to be ready for us, that's for sure." -- Trion coach Justin Brown
Up next: The winner will play the winner between Emmanuel County Institute and Johnson County. Trion would host ECI but travel to Johnson County.
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