(All kickoffs 7:30 unless noted)
BRAINERD PANTHERS (0-3) at BAYLOR RED RAIDERS (2-1)
Storyline: The Panthers came within a field goal of their first win last week at Red Bank, and they may be settling in offensively. Sam Caffey had a 300-yard passing game last week. Baylor will be their second Division II-AA opponent in three weeks, and the Red Raiders are coming off their first loss of the season. The Baylor offensive scheme is built around RB George Porter, who ranks second among area rushers. Sophomore Ryan Parker has been the Red Raiders' top defender, already with four sacks and five lost-yardage tackles.
BRADLEY CENTRAL BEARS (1-1) at HIXSON WILDCATS (2-1)
Storyline: The Class 4A Wildcats take a step up against the 6A Bears, who are coming off an open date. These programs haven't met since 1990, a 22-21 Wildcats victory. The Bears' 2013 win is over fellow 6A team Riverdale (0-3). Hixson came from behind with three fourth-quarter TDs last week to beat District 6-AA co-favorite Tyner. Players to watch include the Wildcats' Isaiah Robinson and Kedrick Bradley, who combined for 297 rushing yards last week, and Bradley QB Brett Standifer and WRs Dee Crisp, Cal Pickel and Daniel Clark.
CENTRAL PURPLE POUNDERS (1-2) at MARION COUNTY WARRIORS (3-0), 8
Storyline: These are opposite-direction opponents tonight in Jasper. Central has lost two straight games and was shut out last week. While Pounders have struggled to put points on the board, the Warriors have averaged 39.3 points per game behind bruising Blake Zeman, including 35 in a shutout of county rival Whitwell a week ago.
LOUDON REDSKINS (0-3) at HOWARD HUSTLIN' TIGERS (0-2)
Storyline: The Redskins are averaging about six points per game with a scoring differential of minus-30. The Tigers also need to bolster their defense -- they've given up 81 points in two games. Even the grueling preseason conditioning program can carry Howard's 24-man roster only so far. The Tigers also have struggled to hang onto the ball, fumbling seven times in the loss to Stratford.
McCALLIE BLUE TORNADO (3-0) at SIEGEL STARS (1-2), 8
Storyline: This could be one of the best nondistrict games in the midstate area this year. While the Stars are 1-2, they gave powerful Oakland a serious run before falling 35-25, and they beat offense-strong Ooltewah 58-47. McCallie has clicked on most all cylinders -- coach Ralph Potter has been pleasantly surprised, at least with the offense -- and QB JaVaughn Craig has been a welcome addition to backfield crew that includes Alex Trotter, Andrew Busby and Tyler Payne. Siegel is led by RB Denzel Harding, selected in the preseason as Rutherford County's best player by Murfreesboro's Daily News Journal.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN EAGLES (2-1) at RED BANK LIONS (1-2)
Storyline: The Lions celebrated their first win last week but had to hold on late for the 20-18 defeat of Brainerd. Both teams got their initial district wins last week. Signal has been benefiting greatly from the presence of FB James McClellan, one of the area rushing leaders. The Eagles emptied the bench last week at Bledsoe County in a shutout. Lions QB Michael Robinson, their rushing leader, left last week's game with an injury and was still limping at midweek, and RB Shawn Caldwell is serving a one-game suspension after being ejected last week.
ALCOA TORNADOES (1-1) at McMINN COUNTY CHEROKEES (1-2)
Storyline: The Cherokees have struggled on both sides of the ball their previous two weeks, resulting in losses by a combined 77 points. They'll be looking to play more mistake-free football and create some opportunities against a tradition-rich Alcoa team coming off a 31-2 loss to rival Maryville two weeks ago.
EAST HAMILTON HURRICANES (3-0) at RIVERDALE WARRIORS (0-3), 8
Storyline: The Hurricanes are looking for their best start in history and face a Warriors squad having the Murfreesboro school's worst start in 26 seasons. East Hamilton QB Hunter Moore showed how effective he can be throwing the ball last week with more than 400 yards, but the Hurricanes' defense will be tested against a Riverdale team that will be hungry for a victory with a large home crowd.
RHEA COUNTY GOLDEN EAGLES (2-0) at WALKER VALLEY MUSTANGS (2-1)
Storyline: The teams are mirror images in some ways. Both run the wing-T with coaches who preach ball control and mistake-free football. A win for the Eagles would make them 3-0 for the first time since 2008, but a young Mustangs team will be a tough test, having played well before faltering late in a 55-35 loss to East Hamilton last week.
WILSON CENTRAL WILDCATS (2-1) at CLEVELAND BLUE RAIDERS (2-1)
Storyline: There could be another high-scoring battle looming for the Raiders, who are averaging 40 points per contest. The Wildcats present another potentially explosive attack with athletes on the perimeter. They're not unaccustomed to life on the road, as tonight will mark their fourth consecutive road game to start the season.
OOLTEWAH OWLS (2-1) at TYNER RAMS (0-2)
Storyline: The Owls proved just how balanced their offense is last week with 300-plus passing yards from Brody Binder and 130 rushing by Desmond Pittman. This will be the third straight difficult foe for Tyner, after losses to Signal Mountain and Hixson. The Rams offense has been solid, but their defense is giving up far too many rushing yards, including 300-plus to Hixson last week.
COPPER BASIN COUGARS (0-3) at TELLICO PLAINS BEARS (1-2)
Storyline: Copper Basin coach Patrick Daley will be going against John Mullinax, for whom he played at Copper Basin in the early 1980s. The Bears have a distinct size advantage and will look to wear down the Cougars. Daley said his team's defense has shown improvement, so working on getting the offense going is a priority.
GRACE CHRISTIAN ACADEMY RAMS (3-0) at McMINN CENTRAL CHARGERS (1-2)
Storyline: Knoxville's Rams are equally adept at getting in a double-wing formation and keeping the ball on the ground as they are lining up in shotgun formation and throwing it around. McMinn Central coach Josh Goodin is emphasizing assignment football, trying to guard against Grace's many misdirection plays. Picking up first downs and keeping their defense off the field is pivotal for the Chargers, who will be without WR/S Josh Scudder. He has a foot injury.
POLK COUNTY WILDCATS (2-0) at EAST RIDGE PIONEERS (1-2)
Storyline: The Pioneers' defense has been a mainstay, and their multilook offense has shown improvement. Cutting down on mistakes has contributed. East Ridge has big-play capabilities, so Polk County coach Derrick Davis will be emphasizing good technique defensively. He said last week's bye came at a good time because a few Wildcats were ailing, including standout fullback and linebacker Zach Miller.
SILVERDALE BAPTIST SEAHAWKS (3-0) at GRUNDY COUNTY YELLOW JACKETS (1-2), 8
Storyline: Grundy QB Houston Mainord struggled last week with the passing game against Sequatchie, but the Yellow Jackets have been able to run with Michael Nolan averaging 155 yards per game. The Seahawks also have a quality runner in Josh Rogers (138 yards per game), but the Class 2A team is stepping up in classification against Grundy, a postseason 3A team. Rogers and Nolan also lead their teams' tackle charts.
YORK INSTITUTE DRAGONS (1-2) at BLEDSOE COUNTY WARRIORS (1-2), 8
Storyline: Both teams are coming off shutout losses, York to Macon County (23-0) and the Warriors to Signal Mountain (48-0). Bledsoe is still trying to find its offensive identity while looking for increased continuity from QB Connor Boynton. The Warriors spent much of the preseason working on routes with WR Nathaniel Collins, but the lanky senior has been away from football following a death in his family. York had 14 players out in its lone win (over Oliver Springs), so it may be more formidable this week. Former Bledsoe coach Dickie Brown is in his fifth year coaching the Dragons.
GRACE ACADEMY GOLDEN EAGLES (0-3) at LOOKOUT VALLEY YELLOW JACKETS (0-2)
Storyline: While it's a nondistrict game, it's more than just both teams' chance to earn their first win. Both still have tough games within their respective districts coming up, so for either team to have playoff hopes as the season continues, this becomes an almost must-win game.
MEIGS COUNTY TIGERS (0-2) at SALE CREEK PANTHERS (0-3)
Storyline: The Tigers' early-season schedule has been brutal, including last week's loss to state-ranked Greenback, but this is their chance to get well. Against an outmanned, first-year program, Meigs County will try to establish dominance early and hope to get some younger players game experience.
SEQUATCHIE COUNTY INDIANS (2-0) at SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (2-1)
Storyline: This will be a big-time measuring stick for both teams to gauge what type season they can expect to have. The Pirates were thoroughly whipped up front in their loss to Hixson two weeks ago and will be tested physically by the Indians. One thing Indians coach Ken Colquette knows how to do is find an opponent's weakness and exploit it. He will look to frustrate the Pirates' speed advantage with a physical, methodical offense.
WHITWELL TIGERS (1-2) at HARRIMAN BLUE DEVILS (1-2)
Storyline: The Tigers want to bounce back after a narrow loss two weeks ago and the struggle against rival Marion County last week. Their one consistent positive has been RB Clay McHone, who has run for more than 100 yards in each game and likely will carry much of the load again tonight. While this is a nondistrict game, it is another chance for Whitwell to build toward a potential playoff run.
CENTRAL, CARROLL LIONS (2-1) at RINGGOLD TIGERS (2-0)
Storyline: Central roared to a 2-0 start, outscoring its opponents 104-0 before committing five turnovers in a 17-7 loss to Bremen, so holding the Lions and prolific QB Wesley Long in check is the key for Ringgold. The Central defense will focus on Tigers QB Slade Dale, meaning playmakers Kile Sholl, D.L. Goins and Christian Plott will get plenty of chances to shine.
CALHOUN YELLOW JACKETS (2-0) at CARROLLTON TROJANS (2-0)
Storyline: One of the elite matchups in the state features strong defenses. The Class AA top-ranked Jackets have not allowed an offensive point and have held powerful teams Ridgeland and Dalton to less than 200 combined yards. To stop the Class AAAA second-ranked Trojans, though, they will have to contend with elite RBs in speedsters Trey Chivers and Jarvis Terrell. Calhoun also must clean up the offensive mistakes after committing four turnovers and allowing a safety last week.
CASS COLONELS (1-1) at HERITAGE GENERALS (0-2)
Storyline: Heritage let a winnable game get away last week against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe by giving the ball away five times despite holding the Warriors to less than 150 total yards. The Generals want to throw the ball more, meaning sophomore QB Dylan Bice needs to be mistake-free for any chance against a team that beat them by 38 a year ago. The Colonels aren't flashy, but they are large up front on defense with end Montavius Parker and tackle Aja Morris.
CEDARTOWN BULLDOGS (2-0) at LaFAYETTE RAMBLERS (0-1)
Storyline: Welcome to the Nick Chubb show. The 2014 University of Georgia commitment and five-star RB prospect is off to a flying start this year with 481 yards and eight touchdowns. Obviously, any chance the Ramblers have revolves around LB Sam Lemons and his defensive mates and their ability to slow Chubb.
PICKENS COUNTY DRAGONS (1-0) at NORTHWEST WHITFIELD BRUINS (1-0)
Storyline: After impressive opening wins, this matchup will give both teams a good gauge on where they stand. Stopping Pickens means controlling a pair of three-year starters in QB Tanner Brumby (208 total yards and four TDs against Sonoraville) and electric RB Shannon Brooks. Offensively, Northwest wants to build off a strong opener in which WR Tevin McDaniel (7-144) gave QB Caleb Shiflett a go-to target.
RIDGELAND PANTHERS (0-1) at RIVER RIDGE KNIGHTS (0-2)
Storyline: It's been two weeks since the Panthers were dismantled at home by Calhoun, and coach Mark Mariakis has been using tough practices to see who wants to help fix the offensive issues. The key tonight lies up front, where the Ridgeland offensive line was not effective against Calhoun. River Ridge, which lost to Ridgeland twice last year, including the region title game, has lost to two AAAAA teams. Stopping QB Marcus Spears will be the Panthers' top defensive priority.
SOUTHEAST WHITFIELD RAIDERS (2-0) at GILMER COUNTY BOBCATS (2-0)
Storyline: The undefeated Raiders -- yes, undefeated -- will get a stern test in Ellijay featuring teams that like to get physical. Southeast used a bruising defense to hold Gordon Central to 51 total yards last week. Gilmer features a large line, 250-pound FB Tyler Bertolini and stocky TB Johnie Flakes -- each a state wrestling champion. The key for the Raiders is cleaning up offensive penalties and fumbles.
LAKEVIEW-FORT OGLETHORPE WARRIORS (1-1) at DADE COUNTY WOLVERINES (1-1)
Storyline: The Warriors had a strong defensive showing against Heritage last week, forcing five turnovers and winning despite gaining only 141 total yards. The Wolverines found a playmaker in RB Zac Freeman, who had 141 yards on nine carries against North Murray. There will be nothing fancy about this game, though Dade is known to pull off a trick play or two. This one will be determined in the trenches.
GORDON LEE TROJANS (2-0) at ARMUCHEE INDIANS (0-2)
Storyline: Gordon Lee QB Hayden Casteel has taken control of the offense, which has averaged more than 7 yards per play this season. The Indians scored one touchdown against a Class A team and one against a Class AAA team. It may be limited to that number against a bigger Gordon Lee defense.
CHRISTIAN HERITAGE LIONS (1-1) at COAHULLA CREEK COLTS (1-1)
Storyline: The Lions and Colts -- both new to the GHSA in recent years -- are building a rivalry in football and other sports as well. Both teams are improved from a year ago, even a week ago. Lions QB Trevor Brown is as exciting a passer as there is in the area. He has more than 600 yards and seven touchdowns in two games.
MURRAY COUNTY INDIANS (0-2) at GORDON CENTRAL WARRIORS (0-2)
Storyline: Neither team has seen its offense get in sync. The Warriors had four turnovers in each of their first two games, and the offense has scored one touchdown. Sophomore QB Shy Williams seemed more comfortable in the 11-point loss to Southeast Whitfield.
GAINESVILLE JOHNSON KNIGHTS (1-2) at NORTH MURRAY MOUNTAINEERS (0-2)
Storyline: The Mountaineers will face a Georgia Tech style of offense operated by Knights QB Paul Barker. The Mountaineers won last year with a large group of seniors. QB Hinton McConkey reduced his mistakes to two last week and had North Murray in position to win with four minutes to play.
MODEL BLUE DEVILS (1-1) at SONORAVILLE PHOENIX (0-2)
Storyline: The Phoenix are in their home opener after suffering two losses on the road. Coach Roger Gentry has altered his offense to involve RB Andrew Slaton in more sets. He rushed for 195 yards on 12 carries last week. The Phoenix have a reputation of playing well against Class AA teams.
DARLINGTON TIGERS (1-1) at CHATTOOGA INDIANS (0-2)
Storyline: The losing scores of 48-12 and 30-0 don't seem to be representative of the Indians' efforts in the opening weeks, because they've been in the games deep into the third quarter. But they have been allowing big plays and committing ill-timed offensive penalties. Those need to change this week against an athletic team of Tigers.
NORTH JACKSON CHIEFS (0-2) at ARDMORE TIGERS (2-0)
Storyline: The Tigers haven't won in the series' five previous meetings and haven't come closer than 26 points. But they are riding a wave of confidence with an undefeated start, while the Chiefs have struggled on both sides of the ball in their two losses.
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 ...