OOLTEWAH OWLS (8-3) at POWELL PANTHERS (11-0)
The key: With two explosive offenses, the focus on the game will be on the defenses. Can the Owls defenders make enough plays to slow a Panthers attack averaging 43-plus points per contest?
Players to watch: Powell running back Dy'Shawn Mobley has rushed for more than 2,000 yards this season and recently got a scholarship offer from Kentucky. Dustin McPhetridge is a mobile quarterback who makes plays, and Jonathan Strozyk had seven interceptions during the season. Ooltewah quarterback Bradley Stephens has spread out his completions, with five having 20 catches or more this season, while back Desmond Pittman ran for more than 200 yards last week. Linebacker Jay Rudwall paces the defense.
Up next: Powell would host the Centennial/Lenoir City winner in the state quarterfinals. Ooltewah would travel to Centennial but host Lenoir City.
BRAINERD PANTHERS (6-5) at GILES COUNTY BOBCATS (8-3)
The key: The Panthers' ability to control the environment. Giles County will feed off a hostile crowd if it is able to get ahead, but if Brainerd can control the game it will have a chance.
Players to watch: Brainerd running back/defensive back Maleek Rooks was named the District 6-AA most valuable player. Sam Caffey is vital to the offense as a decision-maker, and coach Stanley Jackson said his ability in that area has improved as he as grown into the position. Giles County is led offensively by quarterback Al Cobb, who has surpassed 2,200 yards passing for the season and run for more than 800, and receiver Kenton Baker, who has over 1,000 yards receiving. Neico Walker had 82 yards rushing and three touchdowns last week.
Up next: The winner will travel to Sequoyah or Marshall County in the quarterfinals.
ALCOA TORNADOES (7-4) at BLEDSOE COUNTY WARRIORS (10-1)
The key: To begin with, the Warriors must get past the notion they're playing a seven-time defending state champion. They also must put together a complete game. Coach Jason Reel admitted there have been times his team has gotten by despite not playing well for a quarter or a half. That won't work from here forward.
Players to watch: Alcoa can rush the ball with athletes such as Zach Chapman. Quarterback D.J. Oggs is a runner, too, and has a deep threat through the air in wide receiver Cody Lewis. Linebacker JaRod Crenshaw is a defensive playmaker and Brent Burnette is a solid kicker. Bledsoe has two 1,000-yard rushers in Brandon Smith and Holden Boynton and a 2,000-yard passer in Cody Holloway. Smith has 29 TDs from scrimmage and Holloway has thrown 23 TD passes. Leading receiver Jeremiah Gilbert has caught 58 passes for 823 yards. Tyler Henderson leads the team in solo tackles (69) and tackles for loss (28).
Up next: Bledsoe would host Polk County or CAK in the quarterfinals; Alcoa would visit that winner.
POLK COUNTY WILDCATS (8-3) at CHRISTIAN ACADEMY OF KNOXVILLE WARRIORS (9-2)
The key: In a rematch of a second-round game CAK won 28-21 last year, the Wildcats will be facing a whole new set of problems -- primarily one of the state's top passing offenses. Polk coach Derrick Davis said disguising coverages and taking some chances are things the Wildcats will have to try, along with the necessity of making solid tackles. "Our best defense may be our offense," Davis said of Polk's ground-and-pound philosophy.
Players to watch: Mr. Football finalist Charlie High operates CAK's aerial circus and has 3,631 yards on 254-of-351 passing. Seven times he's thrown at least five TD passes in a game, twice throwing six. Josh Smith has 70 catches for 1,284 yards and 17 TDs, and Davis Howell's 67 receptions have gone for 982 yards and 13 TDs. All are juniors, as are leading rusher Corey Rathbone (654 yards, 12 TDs) and leading tackler Camden Wizenburg (89). Polk's top two offensive weapons are fullback Derrick Saxe, who will be playing his third game with a broken hand, and quarterback Al Akins. The two have combined for 2,006 rushing yards and 27 TDs. Akins has chipped in with 601 passing yards and eight TDs. Tackle Derek St. John had a big game last week with five solo tackles, six assists and a caused fumble. Cornerbacks Chris Moses and Collin Wimberley are sure to be tested.
Up next: Playing at Bledsoe County or hosting Alcoa in the quarterfinals.
ROCKWOOD TIGERS (7-4) at BOYD-BUCHANAN BUCCANEERS (9-1)
The key: Stopping Rockwood's potent, but one-dimensional, offense. The Tigers have rushed for 2,600 yards this season and scored at least four touchdowns in seven straight games. They average 6 yards per carry and all but four of their 41 TDs have come on the ground, having thrown for just 316 yards this season. If Boyd-Buchanan's defense, which gives up an average of eight points per game and has allowed more than two TDs in a game just once this year, shuts down the run, it could make for a frustrating night for the Tigers.
Players to watch: The Tigers have had 16 players carry the ball this year, led by Ethan Headrick's 559 yards, Everett Campbell's 451 and Jared Breazeale's 412. The team doesn't have a receiver with more than 97 yards this season. Linebacker Gunnar Mitchell leads the team with 48 tackles and nine for loss, and Matt Cofer has five interceptions. Stephen Ingram has 60 tackles for Boyd-Buchanan, while Kyle Thomas and Andrew Peace have combined for seven interceptions. The Bucs defense has been impressive all season, and the offense is balanced, led by quarterback Jim Cardwell (1,040 passing yards) and running back Chase Reed (1,086 rushings yards, 18 TDs).
Up next: At Trousdale County or hosting Friendship Christian in the quarterfinals.
LOOKOUT VALLEY YELLOW JACKETS (8-2) at COALFIELD YELLOWJACKETS (9-1)
The key: Lookout Valley cannot get caught up in Coalfield's nine-game win streak or its six-game home winning streak. Tony Webb's team might be as well off to get in a shootout with Coalfield, which has scored 40 or more points in six of its wins. Lookout Valley is capable of putting up points as well, hitting 40-plus on four occasions.
Players to watch: Lookout Valley quarterback Vann Scribner has thrown 15 TD passes with just four interceptions and also is the team's second-leading rusher with more than 400 yards. Jamal Jones has run for 1,358 yards. Leading defenders are Delaney Heathington, Levi Wallace and Scribner. Coalfield quarterback Cody Hill has completed 62.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,144 yards and 21 TDs. His primary targets are Anthony Wilkins, Heath Tinker and Michael Clore, and Coalfield has a 1,000-yard rusher in Allen Seiber.
Up next: South Pittsburg or Greenback; Coafield would host that winner, but Lookout Valley would travel.
SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (9-2) at GREENBACK CHEROKEES (9-1)
The key: Whether South Pittsburg gets off to a fast start. The Pirates' big-play offense scored seven first-half touchdowns last week, and the defense added a TD and a safety. The Cherokees need the home-field advantage to create enough uncomfortable surroundings to prevent the Pirates from jumping out big early. If that happens, South Pittsburg has struggled at times in the second half this year.
Players to watch: For much of the season Greenback has been a two-man offense with quarterback Hogan Goodson and tailback Richard Seymour being better athletes than opposing defenses. Goodson, a transfer from Alcoa, prefers to run first but is a capable passer, and Seymour has more than 1,000 rushing yards. South Pittsburg continues to welcome back injured starters, and now that the Pirates are healed, there is no limit to their offensive weapons. Sophomore Jajuan Lankford, a Mr. Football finalist with nearly 1,700 rushing yards, has had his carries decrease the last couple of weeks with the return of junior Demetric Johnson, who has rushed for more than 150 yards in two of the last three games. Receiver Anotonio Chubb is the fastest player on a team loaded with speed, and linebacker Coltin Blevins also was named a Mr. Football finalist this week.
Up next: Playing at Coalfield or hosting Lookout Valley in the quarterfinals.
MONTGOMERY BELL ACADEMY BIG RED (6-5) at BAYLOR RED RAIDERS (9-1)
The key: MBA improved as the season progressed, winning five of its last six games including a 40-14 first-round playoff win last week over Briarcrest Christian. This is not the same team the Red Raiders beat 23-16 in early September, but then Baylor has spent the better part of two weeks preparing for MBA and head coach Phil Massey and his staff attended the Big Red's game last week. MBA has played much better on the road (4-1) than at home (2-4).
Players to watch: Jhamall Wright's 6.7 yards per carry leads MBA rushers, but the offensive key is quarterback Aaron Simonis, who had two rushing TDs last week. Cade Hooper intercepted two passes and returned one for a TD. The tackle leaders are James Kay and Kevin Murphy. Quarterback Matthew Oellerich is the Red Raiders' rushing leader and is 186 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season. He also has completed 54.5 percent of his passes for 1,138 yards and 15 TDs, five of those to Deosha McColley and four to Reggie Upshaw. Spencer Craig, John Tipton and Colton Jumper have been Baylor's defensive leaders; Jumper has 10.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Up next: Semifinals vs. Brentwood Academy or Christian Brothers; Baylor would host, but MBA would travel.
McCALLIE BLUE TORNADO (5-5) at MEMPHIS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OWLS (7-3)
The key: How McCallie reacts to its longest road trip of the year and how MUS handles McCallie's running game, which is averaging 255 yards behind Daniel McClure. The senior has amassed 1,269 yards.
Players to watch: For the Tornado they are McClure; quarterback Trent Lusk, who's passed for 816 and rushed for another 370; and receivers Sam Barry, Harry Goldman and Samir Usman. Defensive leaders include Hayden Cronan and Eric Wolf. Quarterback Toby Baker has 10 TD passes for MUS but also has thrown nine interceptions. The Owls' running game is anchored by Shane Tucker and Eric Van Ho, who have combined for 1,417 yards.
Up next: Semifinals vs. the Ensworth-Father Ryan winner; MUS would host either, and McCallie would host Father Ryan.
MONROE AREA HURRICANES (8-2) at RIDGELAND PANTHERS (6-4)
The key: To earn the program's second playoff win, the Panthers have to contain two Monroe players, one on each side of the ball.
Players to watch: Offensively, the team's spread attack revolves around senior quarterback Floyd McCoy. The shifty McCoy is especially dangerous on plays that have broke down, as evidenced by his 158 yards and two touchdowns on only 12 carries last week against North Hall. Defensively, end Kenderious Whithead, who has received scholarship offers from Georgia and Notre Dame among 20-plus college programs, will create havoc in the backfield if not contained. Ridgeland has its own stars in running back/linebacker Darrell Bridges and wingback/free safety Vonn Bell, who will test the 'Canes defense inside and outside.
Up next: At Peach County or hosting Worth County game.
DALTON CATAMOUNTS (4-6) at GAINESVILLE RED ELEPHANTS (9-1)
The key: An improved Dalton defense must find a way to slow a Gainesville offense that, following a season-opening shutout loss to nationally ranked Buford, has averaged 50 points per game. The Dalton offense will try to use its potent ground game to eat up clock and keep the Gainesville offense off the field.
Players to watch: The return to full health of senior tailback Tre Beck gave the Catamounts new options last week against Cartersville, including a few plays with 1,400-yard rusher Tre Bonds at wildcat quarterback. Linebacker Robert Hardaway, defensive lineman Cody Patterson and defensive back Brandon Dale will have to have strong games. Gainesville sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson has had a breakthrough season with more than 2,000 yards passing. He threw for 340 yards and five touchdowns in last week's Region 8 championship game, four to junior receiver Tray Harrison. Nose tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter leads a defensive unit that has posted three shutouts.
Up next: Baldwin or Monroe; Gainesville would host, but Dalton would travel.
JEFFERSON DRAGONS (8-2) at CALHOUN YELLOW JACKETS (10-0)
The key: This arguably is the toughest opening-round playoff game the Yellow Jackets have had to play in their string of 10 consecutive region titles. A team that is accustomed to subbing out its regulars shortly after halftime might have to push its starters a bit longer tonight.
Players to watch: Legendary coach T. McFerrin's second season at Jefferson has seen the option offense blossom under junior quarterback Bryant Shireffs and running back Tristen Jackson. Defensive end Carson Newman is coming off a 17-tackle game, the fifth consecutive game he's had at least 15 tackles. Trying to stop the Jefferson offense will be the responsibility of one of Calhoun's most talented defenses, led by linebackers Alex Kirby, Hunter Knight and Gabe Freeman. Offensively, senior running back Darius Washington had one of his best games in last week's championship win over Pepperell.
Up next: Brooks County or Tattnall County; Calhoun would host, but Jefferson would travel.
GORDON CENTRAL WARRIORS (7-3) at NORTH OCONEE TITANS (10-0)
The key: The Warriors will have to play their best defensive game of the season to knock off the Titans, who are coming off the first region championship in school history.
Players to watch: Gordon Central has offensive playmakers in tight end/quarterback D.J. Prather, running back Jayden Compton and wideout Tyshaun Clemmons, but it's the defense that led by leading tackler C.J. Bell that will have to step up. North Oconee has a balanced offense led by quarterback Blake Gaubert, who is coming off a 290-yard, four-touchdown game. Receiver John Jarrard and running back Nick Colvin are the top playmakers.
Up next: Appling County or Thomasville; North Oconee would host, but Gordon Central would travel.
FAYETTE COUNTY TIGERS (8-3) at NORTH JACKSON CHIEFS (11-0)
The key: Fayette County scored 42 points in an eight-point win last week over Central-Florence, so the Chiefs defense probably got a little extra work this week. The Tigers are riding a two-game winning streak after losing in Week 9 to Midfield, 34-6. North Jackson had but one serious regular-season challenge, beating Guntersville 23-21. The Chiefs were challenged last week but pulled out a 35-28 win over Cleburne County. They must get their passing game clicking to control the game.
Players to watch: Fayette County relies heavily on Marcellus Redmond, who has thrown for 1688 yards and 18 TDs and rushed for 429 yards and seven scores. The Tigers' rushing leader is Kyle Nalls (533 yards), and their leading tackler is Darnell Williams. Chiefs quarterback Kitt Grider has thrown for 1,892 yards with 21 TDs and seven interceptions. Kahne Cooper and Daqwan Lowrance are the leading receivers and Dakota Garner and Austin Blevins the top rushers. Blevins also has six interceptions while Dwight McGowan is the leading tackler.
Up next: The Dora-Anniston winner.