(7 p.m. start times)
Class 1A Semifinals
No. 1 SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (11-1) AT No. 6 COALFIELD YELLOW JACKETS (9-3)
Key players: Coalfield is led by junior two-way lineman Zach Stewart (6-5, 305), a University of Tennessee commitment, and senior two-way lineman Benson Napier (6-3, 310), who is being recruited by Middle Tennessee State University, UT-Chattanooga and VMI, among others. Besides their offensive blocking, Stewart has 74 tackles, 13 for loss and 11 sacks and Napier has 62 tackles, six for loss and four sacks. LB Brent Keener leads Coalfield with 74 tackles, four for loss and an interception. Sophomore Andrew Clore has stepped in nicely for all-state RB Addison Bible, who was lost for the season with a week-two shoulder injury. Clore has 1,376 rushing yards and 13 TDs, while QB Ryan Hill adds balance with 898 passing yards to go with 484 rushing. Hill also has 55 tackles as an outside linebacker. South Pittsburg, which has just one lineman who weighs more than 245 pounds (senior tackle Ricky Fehr at 6-1, 265), will counter Coalfield's size with speed. The Pirates are led by senior running back Jajuan Lankford, a Mr. Football finalist for the second time in three years who has 1,765 yards and 27 TDs this year, averaging 11 yards per carry. Fullback Kahlil Mitchell adds 1,163 yards and 14 TDs, picking up 7.6 yards per carry, and junior Corbin Fitzgerald ran for 142 of his 453 yards last week. Junior QB Kitt Grider has 823 passing yards and eight TDs, and senior linebacker Payne Mosley is a big hitter and leads the team in tackles.
Key for South Pittsburg: For the Pirates to make their fifth appearance in the Class 1A state title game in the last seven years, they must get their speedy backfield past Coalfield's front line. If Lankford, Mitchell and Fitzgerald can get into the secondary, they have the speed advantage to go for big plays.
Key for Coalfield: Limiting South Pittsburg's offense from gaining yards in chunks and controlling the clock by using its size advantage to pick up first downs and hold possession of the ball.
Previous meeting: South Pittsburg has won all five previous meetings, including a 36-6 decision in the 2011 quarterfinals. The Pirates have won each of their last four trips to the semifinals, not having lost in this round since a road trip to Cloudland in 2001.
Best playoff finish: South Pittsburg has won 1A state titles in 1969, 1994, 1999, 2007 and 2010. Coalfield is trying to get over the hump, having lost in each of its three previous trips to the semifinals, including in 2010 to South Pittsburg and last season to Gordonsville.
Key quote: "South Pitt has a lot of speed and quickness, like always. That's something that scares you because their speed can really hurt you on any play. And this year they can run it right at you with that big Mitchell kid, too, so they give you a lot of problems. They're No. 1 for a reason. They've got great talent and great tradition." -- Coalfield coach Keith Henry
Up next: The winner will meet the winner of Nashville Christian (11-1) vs. Union City (11-1) for the 1A state championship next Friday at noon EST at Tennessee Tech.
Class 5A Semifinals
Key players: Cleveland QB Austin Herink has completed 66 percent of his passes for 3,187 yards and 33 scores. Most of his completions have gone to the senior WR trio of Parker Smith, Tyler Davis and D.J. Jones, but recently they haven't been needed as the tailback duo of T.J. Parker and Raekwon Bunion have run for 1,955 yards and 10 scores. Kimsey Bell (8 sacks, 13 tackles for loss) and Jonathan Terrero (135 tackles) lead the defense. West's trio of QB Seth Marshall, TB Nathan Cottrell and FB Justin Hodge have combined for 3,444 yards and 48 touchdowns, but the Rebels lost junior Alex Burch, who leads the team with seven interceptions, to a broken leg last week.
Key for Cleveland: Jumping out to a lead and success defensively on early downs. Marshall has completed only 45 percent of his passes, with just as many interceptions (8) as touchdowns, so if the Raiders can force West to have to throw, there should be opportunities for turnovers.
Key for Knoxville West: Having success early running the ball. If the Rebels get the opportunity to do the thing they like to do best, it means they've been able to score and most likely they're ahead and can use the explosive backfield options they have in Marshall and Cottrell.
Previous meeting: West defeated Cleveland 35-25 on Sept. 27.
Best playoff finish: Cleveland won three consecutive state championships from 1993 to 1995. This is the deepest the Raiders have been since. West has advanced to the semifinals twice and lost -- 41-7 to Marion County in 1994 and 7-0 to Columbia last season.
Key quote: "Cleveland is much more balanced now. When we played them earlier, they were about 70-30 pass. Now they're balanced and they have a running back (Bunion) that we didn't see the first time." -- West coach Scott Cummings
Up next: The winner will face the winner of Clarksville Northeast and Henry County in the Class 5A state championship game next Friday at Tennessee Tech.
(7:30 p.m. start times)
Class AAA Quarterfinals
CENTRAL-CARROLL LIONS (10-2) at RINGGOLD TIGERS (10-2)
Key players: The Lions are a physical, run-first offense -- they have attempted only five passes in two playoff games -- that has produced 600 yards on the ground the past two weeks. Demarius Owensby is one of three main running threats and leads the team with 896 yards, while Curtis Davenport has 634 yards and Jayleen Terry has 381. Safety Josh Dunson has 12 tackles for loss among his 47 stops and leads the team with four interceptions, while Lamar Daniel has six sacks. Ringgold QB Slade Dale, who was held to a season-low 55 yards rushing in the teams' first meeting, has 3,066 total yards and 39 combined rushing and passing touchdowns, while Kile Sholl is the second-leading rusher and leading receiver with 741 yards on the ground and 600 through the air. DE Zach Morris has more than 20 tackles for loss, and LB Dakota Baer leads the team with 150 tackles.
Key for Ringgold: Make the Lions become a passing team. Central runs the ball over 90 percent of the time and prefers to pass only when a golden opportunity arises. If Morris, Baer and company can control the run, the Tigers will have the upper hand.
Key for Central-Carroll: Do what it did back in September. The Lions made sure Dale didn't beat them with his legs and regularly had two spies watching his every move.
Previous meeting: Central won 19-15 in September.
Best playoff finish: This is already Ringgold's deepest push in the playoffs, while Central won back-to-back state titles in 1986-87.
Key quote: "Defense is the key for us Friday night. If we let them, they will line up and pound us, so we have to tackle well and get off blocks." -- Ringgold coach Robert Akins
Up next: The winner will travel to play the winner of the Washington County-Blessed Trinity game.
Class AA Quarterfinals
CALHOUN YELLOW JACKETS (11-1) at BENEDICTINE CADETS (12-0)
Key players: Calhoun relies on the accurate right arm of QB Fields Chapman, who helped lead a comeback last week against Greater Atlanta Christian with a pair of touchdowns and 193 yards and who now has 24 touchdown passes. The availability of RB Alex Urbano is up in the air, but Cole Jackson has filled in nicely. Receivers Tydus and Chandler Curtis have combined for 1,800 yards and 29 touchdowns. Benedictine, a Savannah military school, has a balanced offense that will run right at an opponent until forced to stop. Three backs -- J.T. Gaines, Mike Huggins and Chance Jackson -- have 600 yards or more, and QB Stevie Powers has thrown for 1,445 yards and 16 touchdowns, with 663 yards and 11 of the scores to WR Brad Stewart. Miles McGinty and Matthew Provence are the leading tacklers, with Ben Wright the top DB.
Key for Calhoun: Finding a way to handle the extreme size advantage the Cadets will have. Calhoun coach Hal Lamb says they remind him of Carrollton, a team that had its way in the trenches with the Jackets earlier this season. Expect Calhoun to risk a few more blitzes.
Key for Benedictine: Control the Curtis boys. GAC found out last week that it takes just one missed tackle for Tydus or Chandler to get to the end zone.
Previous meeting: This is the teams' first meeting.
Best playoff finish: Calhoun has won two state titles, the last one in 2011, while Benedictine is in the quarterfinals for the first time in school history.
Key quote: "After watching all their films, they haven't really played anybody that runs our offense, and I'm hoping they're going to struggle with it because they haven't seen it. I think that could be a nice advantage for us." -- Calhoun coach Hal Lamb
Up next: The winner will play the winner of the Jefferson at Lamar County game. Each would host Jefferson and would have a coin flip with Lamar County to determine home field.
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