It's a whisper for the moment, but the Whitwell football team is close to a playoff appearance.
The Tigers rolled to a 53-8 victory over Sale Creek at Finley Stadium on Thursday and improved to 4-5 with a game remaining next Thursday against Monterey at Tennessee Tech.
"We've got a shot. If we can win that last one, we'll put ourselves in position for a chance [to get in]," Tigers coach Billy Barnhart said following his team's third straight victory. "With this [TSSAA] playoff system we probably won't know until it's announced that Saturday after the regular season ends."
Defeating the first-year Panthers gave Whitwell its longest winning streak since 2009, and a win next week would mark the first time since 2001 that the Tigers won four in a row. Thursday also was Whitwell's third straight game to enjoy a running clock in the second half.
And they did it with freshman Blake Davenport making his first start at quarterback. He was pressed into action after it was discovered that regular starter Tyler Tate had suffered a concussion last week.
Davenport's job was to call the plays and pretty much hand off to Clay McHone. Named the Times Free Press player of the week Monday for last week's performance, the diminutive sophomore gained 192 yards and scored three touchdowns. Coaches called an end to his night after a single second-half series.
The Tigers offense really got a boost from their defensive counterparts. Bailey Blaylock returned two of Whitwell's four interceptions for TDs, and Marvin Watson returned a blocked punt for another score. The defense also recovered three Panthers fumbles.
Sale Creek managed just 74 rushing yards due to bad snaps, fumbles and lost-yardage hits and had 55 passing yards.
"The defense has really come on the past three weeks. We've got a new defensive coordinator and a new defense, and everything is finally coming together," Barnhart said.
Sale Creek's lone score, the last of the game, came with 0:01 left in the second period on a 5-yard pass from Jarod McGhee to Drake Steele. The two then combined for the two-point conversion.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.