OOLTEWAH OWLS (10-2) at FARRAGUT ADMIRALS (11-1)
Stars: The Admirals have depended heavily on QB Adam Fulton and RB Cooper Hardin. Fulton has thrown for 2,400 yards and 29 TDs while Hardin is the leading rusher now with more than 1,000 yards after a 162-yard, 3-touchdown showing against Rhea County last Friday. Fulton also passed for 230. Ooltewah also has been balanced, especially of late, with QB Collin Thurman and WRs Tahj Cargle and Andrew Manning and RBs Cam Turner and Sincere Quinn. Turner and Quinn combined for 257 yards against Walker Valley last week.
Storyline: The bottom line may rest with the Owls' defense, which will be facing another strong passing game. Ooltewah allowed Walker Valley junior phenom Kolten Gibson 330 yards a week ago, and Fulton is averaging better than 200 yards per game. Owls threw just enough last week (13 times, 6 completions) to keep Walker Valley honest. In two playoff games, the Owls have averaged 48 points, Farragut 35. And Farragut has allowed 25.5 per game, Ooltewah 17. The teams have two common opponents. Both defeated McMinn County while Rhea County beat Ooltewah 28-6 on Sept. 16 and lost to Farragut last week.
EAST RIDGE PIONEERS (7-5) at SEQUATCHIE COUNTY INDIANS (12-0)
Stars: As RB Traneil Moore goes, so go the Pioneers. The 2015 Mr. Football winner appears to have recovered from preseason knee surgery and was among a half-dozen starters who missed the first meeting with Red Bank but were on the field last week in the two-overtime win at Red Bank. LB/RB Lorenzo Stewart also returned and bolstered the defense. Sequatchie County is a running team whether it's with Austin Stevens, Hunter Davenport or QB Ethan Barker. Its defense is built around LBs Davenport, Stevens and Kyle Cates. WR/DB Alec Hudson had a TD reception and a 99-yard kickoff return last week in addition to an interception.
Storyline: The Pioneers are glad for the return of QB Eric Bennett, who missed much of the season with concussion syndrome. More than their passer, he proved his worth last week as their trigger-man, accounting for 4 TDs. Both of East Ridge's playoff wins have come on the road — scoring a combined 58 points while allowing 46 against DeKalb County and Red Bank. Sequatchie, which had a couple of close regular-season wins, has handily beat playoff opponents Howard and Notre Dame in Dunlap. Howard lost to the Pioneers (13-7), but Notre Dame overwhelmed them (50-26). Barker showed his versatility last week, going 4-for-4 in passing in the first half while rushing for 73. It is the O-line that has set the pace for the Indians, who last week rolled up 283 yards against an equal-sized Irish defensive line.
MARION COUNTY WARRIORS (11-1) at FORREST ROCKETS (11-1)
Stars: Hunter Zeman helped Marion County to a good start last week against Watertown, scoring the Warriors' first three TDs on a run, a reception and a lateral return. DL Ismael Avila got the defense going with a sack and a tackle for loss in the first quarter. Forrest's leading rusher is Slayton Wild with 99 carries for 624 yards and five TDs, although he doesn't have a 100-yard rushing game (his season high was 94). Fellow senior RB Jacob Jones has 495 yards on 73 carries and six TDs. Junior QB Layton Bennett (.441 completion percentage) has 26 completions all season for 643 yards. Senior LB Billy Clanton is the leading tackler with 85.
Storyline: The Rockets, in a state quarterfinal for the first time since 1977, have some size and speed, but they aren't so much an explosive offense from their wing-T formation as they are a ball-control unit. Sound tackling will be at a premium for Marion's defense to get off the field. Forrest will give the Warriors different looks defensively, with some odd fronts, some even. Marion's passing game with sophomore QB Isaiah Sampson was efficient last week (6-of-8, 181 yards, 3 TDs) because the running game flourished first. The overall numbers are overwhelmingly in Marion's favor. Forrest, which won its first nine, can boast of four shutouts, but the Warriors have held eight opponents to six points or less and nine times they've scored at least 39, including the last five. Marion beat Forrest 38-10 in the second round last year.
SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (11-1) AT COLUMBIA ACADEMY BULLDOGS (11-0)
Stars: Senior RB Logan Neal (5-10, 190) has averaged 104 rushing yards per game and, along with 230-pound sophomore FB Davis Cofer and sophomore RB Josh Cook (5-11, 190), lead the Bulldogs' grind-it-out version of the wing-T, running behind senior OL Matthew Fox (6-3, 280). After throwing for more than 2,200 yards and 27 TDs last year, senior QB Dylan Johnson (6-1, 190) hasn't had to throw much this year (721 passing yards) but is ready if called on. Four South Pittsburg runners have 400-plus yards, led by Kyree Pryor, who's averaging 14 yards per carry. Senior QB Hogan Holland and WRs Cade Kennemore and Jess Morrison give the offense balance. Kennemore is also a dangerous kick/punt returner, while Morrison and Sawyer Kelley lead the defense with three interceptions.
Storyline: This is a rematch of last year's quarterfinals when the Bulldogs pulled away for a 56-28 win after leading 28-21 at halftime. In that game, Columbia Academy rolled up 504 yards of offense and never punted, converting nine third downs and two fourth downs. This will be a test to determine how far the Pirates defense, which returned 10 starters from last year, has progressed. To reach the quarterfinals for just the second time in program history, the Bulldogs needed a pair of fourth-quarter TDs to beat Whitwell last week, including a 14-yard winning pass with 50 seconds remaining. Cofer scored the tying TD last week and converted fourth-and-1 with a tough run on the winning drive. Sophomore WR Ben Thompson, brother of last year's Mr. Football semifinalist Taylor Thompson who caught six passes and two TDs against the Pirates, is picking up where his graduated brother left off, having caught three TD passes in two playoff games, including the game-winner last week. The Bulldogs defense held Whitwell to negative second-half yardage but will be tested by a quick-strike Pirates offense that scored seven TDs in just 18 first-half snaps last week and has scored 40-plus points in nine straight games, including seven of 50-plus.
BAYLOR RED RAIDERS (8-4) AT BRENTWOOD ACADEMY EAGLES (8-2)
Stars: Eagles senior QB Jeremy Oatsvall, an Austin Peay commitment, accounted for 350 offensive yards and three TDs in last week's win over McCallie, and in his previous game he totaled nearly 450 yards and five scores. Slowing his production will be the key for Baylor having any chance. Junior Brendon Harris has rushed for 100-plus yards in three of the four games since Baylor moved him to full-time RB, and senior QB Bryce Verble has helped stabilize the offense since returning, throwing for 174 yards last week. Red Raiders senior DE Tyree Toliver leads the team in tackles and is also disruptive in the backfield.
Storyline: It's easier said than done, but much like last week's focus for McCallie, keeping Oatsvall in the pocket and not allowing him to freelance or make plays with his legs will be the key to slowing the Eagles offense, which has scored five TDs or more in all but two games this year. Oatsvall has compiled more than 1,000 yards of offense in his last three games and has several reliable targets. The Eagles rolled to a 35-0 win over Baylor midway through the regular season, but the Red Raiders look like a different team now. Since making Harris the main ball carrier, Baylor's offense has begun to click, and the defense has been much stingier the past three games, holding two opponents to one TD. Toliver and the Baylor defensive line need to pressure Oatsvall into a few mistakes, or if the Red Raiders' special teams can make a big play, those type plays could provide momentum and keep them in it until the end.
LOVEJOY WILDCATS (7-4) at DALTON CATAMOUNTS (11-0)
Stars: Two teams with balanced offenses tangle at Harmon Field. Spalding is led by QB John Seter, who threw for four touchdowns in last week's 48-28 win over Richmond Hill, three going to WR Jayden Thomas. RB Zion Custis is the team's main weapon and has 1,329 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Jags are without leading WR Marquese Taylor, who is injured. Dalton QB J.P. Tighe is red hot and is coming off a 42-7 win over Winder-Barrow in which he had two TD throws and a TD run. RB Ahmaad Tanner has 1,070 yards and 17 touchdowns, while WRs Zeke Cobb and Kyric McGowan have a combined 1,500 yards and 17 scores.
Storyline: The Dalton ground game has been stalled by attacking defenses in recent weeks, and the Cats expect the same approach from the Jags. The Dalton defense has feasted on passing teams and has 16 interceptions, five by Nassir Love-Porter, so if a front seven led by Max Mainor, John Wesley Whiteside and Tucker Sumner can hold Custis in check, the opportunistic DBs could have another field day.
SPALDING JAGUARS (7-4) at RIDGELAND PANTHERS (9-1)
Stars: Spalding features a well-rounded run game led by 220-pound QB Naricuss Driver, who had 159 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-17 first-round win over Eastside. Driver has 1,119 yards to lead the team, while RB A.J. Moses has 917 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Jaguars have 2,811 yards and 37 touchdowns rushing. Ridgeland counters with its own dangerous ground game and comes in with 3,635 yards and 49 touchdowns in just 10 games. Jalyn Shelton, who had 222 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 21-14 win over St. Pius, leads the Panthers with 1,378 yards, with Grayson Moore adding 723 and Markeith Montgomery 658.
Storyline: While Ridgeland does not throw the ball much, the loss of WR/DB Stephon Walker to a knee injury hurts. The key for the Panthers offensively is to control Spalding LBs Kelvin Johnson and Kameron Weems, who have a combined 23 tackles for loss. Expect DL Skye Wilson to try to get as many hits as possible on Driver.
NORTHWEST WHITFIELD BRUINS (8-3) at WOODWARD ACADEMY WAR EAGLES (10-1)
Stars: Northwest, which never has reached the quarterfinal round, again will ride the right arm and legs of QB Luke Shiflett. The junior passed for 216 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for two scores in a 31-20 win over Oconee County. Senior WR Jay Jones had 200 of those yards on 17 catches. RB Dominique Sistrunk has 1,000 yards but has been slowed by injury. Woodward is winning games by more than 30 points this season and features a stout air attack led by QB Ryan Glover. The Colorado State recruit has 2,230 yards and 27 touchdowns against just two interceptions and passed for 317 yards and four scores n a 42-0 win over Upson Lee last week. WR Josh Johnson had 200 yards and three scores and now has 908 yards for the year. RB Tahj Gary leads the War Eagles with 517 yards.
Storyline: Can the Northwest defense hold up? The Bruins were feisty early against Oconee but wilted a bit late. They can't afford to make defensive backs cover very long, so expect a lot of blitzing. Offensively, getting the 240-pound Sistrunk and running mate Sebastian Oroszco going early is a must to open things up for Shiflett, Jones and Will Blanchard.
HERITAGE GENERALS (8-3) at MARY PERSONS BULLDOGS (9-2)
Stars: Heritage is riding high after posting, according to Maxwell Ratings, the state's biggest upset in the first round, a 37-30 win at Stephens County in the program's first postseason game. Senior QB Corbee Wilson, after a pair of early interceptions, rallied the team with five TD passes and now has 2,588 yards and 31 scores. Receivers Ryan Carter (964 yards and an area-leading 16 touchdowns) and Luke Grant (753 yards, six touchdowns) are especially dangerous after the catch. Mary Persons, which earned its sixth consecutive first-round playoff win last week (45-12 over North Clayton), is a dangerous run team led by Zach Harvey, who has 1,151 yards and 19 touchdowns, and Quen Wilson, who had 213 yards last week.
Storyline: This could be a game of big plays as each defense is noted for imploring multiple blitz packages, preferring to stop plays before they begin. For Heritage, that means DL Tanner Nance and LBs Zaine Burton and Zach Goins, who have a combined 40 tackles for loss, will need big games. Conversely, the Bulldogs have 90 tackles for loss as a team, led by elite DL Malik Herring's 23.
JACKSON RED DEVILS (8-3) at CALHOUN YELLOW JACKETS (9-2)
Stars: Jackson will be a serious second-round test for Calhoun and enters Phil Reeve Stadium riding a ground game that produced 434 yards in a 44-7 rout of Brantley County last week. Antavious Grier is the leading rusher with right at 1,000 yards and averages 8 yards a pop. QB Shaderious Crowder has 936 yards passing, with WR Daryon Ingram his favorite target. Calhoun's season turned around when sophomore QB Gavin Gray entered the picture and has thrown for 1,146 yards and 20 touchdowns in seven games, including 156 yards and three scores in last week's 42-0 win over Monroe Area. He has a talented group of WRs, led by Malik Lawrence, Ryan Randall and Bailey Lester. Baylon Spector has gone from starting QB to leading RB while also anchoring an improved defense.
Storyline: The Calhoun defense is notorious for making offenses do things they don't want to, and in this case that means stacking the line and forcing the Red Devils to throw it. If they do, DBs Lawrence, Randall and Brannon Spector must play well.
NORTH MURRAY MOUNTAINEERS (8-3) at PEACH COUNTY TROJANS (10-1)
Stars: North Murray, off its first playoff game and win last week, 28-14 over Jackson County, faces one of the state's most successful programs in a hostile environment. The Mountaineers feature a massive OL led by University of Georgia recruit Luke Griffin (6-6, 280), Dawson Oliver (6-3, 270) and Marcus Thomas (6-3, 300) that has paved the way for RB Brady Harper to total 1,392 yards and 27 touchdowns. Peach is a pass-first team led by QB Antonio Gilbert, who has 2,223 yards, 25 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He passed for 282 yards and two scores in a 42-13 win over Tattnall County last week and has three elite WRs in Devonte Howard, Kearis Jackson and Justin Harris.
Storyline: The North Murray ground game can eat up large chunks of clock and must do so tonight. Sophomore QB Preston Poag Jr., making his fourth start, adds another dimension to the run game and has a big arm, as evidenced by his 11-of-15, 111-yard, 2-TD performance last week. Defensively, a secondary that has at times given up big yards will have to tighten up and make tackles when needed. DBs Waylyn James and Fernando Pulido, who each had an interception last week, will get plenty of chances tonight to make plays.
SONORAVILLE PHOENIX (8-3) at LIBERTY COUNTY PANTHERS (10-1)
Stars: The biggest star on the field is easily Liberty WR/DB Richard LeCounte, a five-star University of Georgia recruit who has 733 yards and 16 touchdown catches this season, including three last week in a 56-10 win over Pike County. LeCounte, however, isn't the team's most important player. That would be QB Jaalon Frazier, who passed for 320 yards and six touchdowns last week and now has 2,521 yards and 37 touchdowns against just three interceptions this season. And he's rushed for 1,051 yards and 13 scores. Sonoraville relies on a stingy defense that isn't afraid to take chances, led by LB Sherrod Agee, who for the second consecutive week forced a game-turning turnover in last week's 15-9 win over Franklin County. Kicker Kevin Villatoro gives Sonoraville a huge edge most weeks and rarely allows kickoffs to be returned.
Storyline: The Phoenix have to get their ground game going to have any shot, meaning QB Patrick Moore and RB Tristan Key need big games. Neither program is accustomed to making it past the first round, so whichever team gets over the nerves might have a big edge.
CHATTOOGA INDIANS (7-4) at WASHINGTON COUNTY GOLDEN HAWKS (8-3)
Stars: Chattooga, coming off its first playoff win in more than 50 years of playing football, rode a huge game from twins Isaac and Isaiah Foster in a 44-14 win at Lamar County. The lines, anchored by 300-pounders Mike Adams and Dustin Pope and 290-pound Armand Ford, dominated last week and will need to again tonight. WACO, one of the state's storied programs, is coming off a 49-22 win over Berrien County. The Golden Hawks feature a ground game led by 1,000-yard rusher Darius Tucker and a huge line anchored by Chandler Seals and Mitch Lord.
Storyline: Chattooga will live and die by the run game, one that has two 1,000-yard rushers in the Foster twins and has amassed more than 3,500 yards. WACO, led by LBs Darkeveus Swint and Preston Daniels, will load the box and use its speed to keep the Indians contained. Expect a lot of counter action and maybe a handful of trick plays as the Indians try for upset No. 2.