SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (10-2) at COALFIELD YELLOW JACKETS (10-1)
The key: Each team averages scoring more than 40 points per game, so limiting big plays will be a huge step for either. The game could be decided by which team can force the other to drive the length of the field rather than rely on the big plays they are accustomed to. After a one-point loss to 3A Pigeon Forge to open the season, Coalfield has rolled to 10 straight wins by an average of 46-9. While much was made of Coalfield suspending eight players and its head coach following last week's brawl with Lookout Valley, only two starters will miss the game and none of the other six got much playing time.
Players to watch: The biggest loss for the Jackets is likely running back Allen Seiber, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season. But senior quarterback Cody Hill has thrown for 21 touchdowns and more than 2,200 yards, and senior Michael Clore was impressive filling in for Seiber last week after making the switch from receiver. Heath Tinker is Hill's favorite target and has nearly 700 receiving yards and seven TDs, while Logan Simms' 97 tackles, 18 for loss and five sacks lead a Coalfield defense that has allowed more than one TD just three times. Chris Henes has nine tackles for loss and four sacks. South Pittsburg has arguably the top two running backs in 1A, led by sophomore Jajuan Lankford, who leads the area with 1,759 yards and 25 TDs and is a Mr. Football finalist, while junior Demetric Johnson has been impressive since returning from injury, averaging more than 150 yards in the playoffs and just 47 shy of 1,000 for the season. Each averages more than 9 yards per carry and more than 105 yards per game, while quarterback Jake Stone brings balance with 1,228 passing yards and Mr. Football finalist Coltin Blevins is a solid blocker in the line and the team's leading tackler at middle linebacker.
Up next: The winner will travel to Gordonsville or Eagleville.
FRIENDSHIP CHRISTIAN SCHOOL COMMANDERS (9-3) at BOYD-BUCHANAN BUCCANEERS (10-1)
The key: The answer to the question "Where's the beef?" can be answered by looking at the Commanders across the line of scrimmage. Boyd-Buchanan coach Grant Reynolds estimates they average about 250 pounds per player up front, so how well the Bucs deal with that will be telling. Linebacker play is another strength for Friendship Christian, so Boyd-Buchanan's running game will be challenged by that. Defensively, not surrendering big plays is the Bucs' primary goal.
Players to watch: FCS is so run-oriented that quarterback Brennan Swindoll's 111 passing yards in last week's victory over Trousdale County was a season high. But Kyle Wood threw a touchdown pass against Trousdale and ran for two TDs. Dekolas Reeves, who like Wood doubles at running back and linebacker, scored three TDs in the Commanders' first-round playoff game against Jackson County. Connor Gaines (6-3, 275) anchors a formidable line. Boyd-Buchanan also features the running game, which is directed by quarterback Jim Cardwell. With linemen such as Austin Bailey and Phillip McGuire leading the way, Chase Reed is the leading rusher, complemented by fellow running back John Hale. Malik Brewer has had some noted performances at defensive tackle, and the Bucs could use another.
Up next: The Oneida-Oliver Springs winner would host Friendship or play at Boyd-Buchanan.
CHRISTIAN BROTHERS PURPLE WAVE (9-2) at BAYLOR RED RAIDERS (10-1)
The key: Christian Brothers got off to a quick start last week, jumping to a 34-7 lead after three quarters and holding on for a 37-34 win over favored Brentwood Academy. Baylor squandered two opportunities inside the 10 but won 20-10 over Montgomery Bell Academy to reach the semifinals. CBHS needs another quick start -- like what coach Kevin Locastro said was as good as the Wave had played all year -- while Baylor needs to avoid that early push and take advantage of all of its opportunities. Last week's win was the Wave's first in the postseason since 2006, putting them in their first semifinal since 2005. Baylor reached the state final last year and fell to Ensworth in the waning moments.
Players to watch: Freshman Zach Baddour kicked what turned out to be the winning field goal for CBHS, set up by a 46-yard run by sophomore Ramade Warren, who finished the game with 177 rushing yards. QB Grant Powell, who ran for 114 yards and two TDs and passed for another last week, is competent running or passing. He has completed exactly 50 percent of his passes (80-of-160) with seven TDs and seven interceptions. Baddour has made five of six field-goal tries with a long of 37 yards. Chris Carrier, the Wave's leading tackler, has three lost-yardage hits, two interceptions and a fumble recovery, while Salem Smith leads them with five interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Chase Robinson has 12 lost-yardage hits, four sacks and 13 quarterback hurries. Baylor relies heavily on quarterback Matthew Oellerich, who has 918 rushing yards and 1,288 passing yards. He also is the team's leading scorer, but he isn't afraid to share the wealth. Kicker Henrique Ribeiro is the team's leading scorer, having converted 10 of 13 field-goal tries with a long of 57 and 42 of 44 PATs. Connor Davidson is second to Oellerich with 753 rushing yards, and the Red Raiders have four receivers with 200-plus receiving yards, led by Reggie Upshaw and Deosha McColley. Landry Taylor, Bryce Reynolds and Russell Burton have three interceptions apiece while tackle leaders John Tipton and Spencer Craig have two and one.
Up next: A week off and then the championship game in Cookeville on Dec. 1 against the winner between Memphis University School and Ensworth.
BROOKS COUNTY TROJANS (9-2) at CALHOUN YELLOW JACKETS (11-0)
The key: The Trojans will bring the most speed into "The Reeve" of any team this season, something that concerns Calhoun coach Hal Lamb. While the Yellow Jackets' defense has been stifling, it hasn't had this kind of challenge.
Players to watch: The Trojans' offense is geared around quarterback Malcolm Parrish, who accounted for three touchdowns and 263 total yards in a first-round playoff win over Tattnall County. Receiver Deric Herring is Parrish's top target, while running back Chris Jones, who has committed to Georgia Southern, is a strong runner between the tackles. The defense is led by 6-foot-4 end E.J. Shipman and 230-pound linebacker Javious Jones. The Calhoun passing attack is triggered by junior quarterback Taylor Lamb and receiver Ben Lamb, his cousin, while fellow widouts Chase Rierson and Clay Johnson are strong possession-types. Running back Darius Washington, while not flashy, gets tough yards. The strength of the defense lies in experienced and aggressive linebackers Alex Kirby, a UTC commitment, Hunter Knight and Gabe Freeman. Kicker Adam Griffith, who hasn't really been needed to win games this year, might get tested tonight.
Up next: The winner will play the winner of the Dublin/Westminster game. Calhoun would host Westminster and would participate in a coin flip to determine the host if Dublin is the opponent. Brooks County would host Westminster or travel to Dublin.
RIDGELAND PANTHERS (7-4) at PEACH COUNTY TROJANS (10-1)
The key: Speed kills. At least that's what the Trojans are counting on. They are a remarkable 38-2 since the start of the 2009 season, a year that ended with a state title. The Panthers have to make Peach earn every yard and prevent big plays.
Players to watch: Ridgeland is not devoid of speed itself, beginning with running back Darrell Bridges, who led a convincing win over Monroe Area last week with 160 yards. Wingback Vonn Bell will match up well with the Peach defenders and can use his 6-foot height to win jump balls. Linebackers Bridges, Torrie Porter and Daniel Johnson and free safety Bell will have their hands full with an array of playmakers, beginning with quarterback Kentel Kendrick. The Trojans rotate freely in the backfield, with Darion Howard and Keyshawn Lowe usually getting the most carries. Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson is a threat to go the distance on any play. Linebacker Ryan Bowman averages over 10 tackles per game to lead an aggressive unit.
Up next: At Carrollton or Stockbridge, in Ridgeland's case, while Peach County would host Stockbridge or participate in a coin flip with Carrollton to determine the host.