Region 4-5A could be a tangled web by the end of tonight's games.
Four of the region's seven teams remain in contention for the top spot. Rhea County is the current leader, having made it thus far without a loss, but the Eagles' remaining regular season includes Walker Valley and McMinn County. Those two join defending champion Ooltewah as the No. 1-contending quartet.
"It's really tough down the stretch here," said Rhea coach Mark Pemberton, whose final two regular- season games are against Walker Valley tonight and McMinn County next week. "We knew Walker Valley was going to be good and McMinn County has inserted itself right in the middle of it. Cleveland would've been there, too, if they didn't have all the injuries."
Defending champion Ooltewah, which had to regenerate and retool after heavy graduation losses, is the other team in the No. 1 chase and the Owls, who lost to Rhea early, pinned the lone region loss on McMinn County. Tonight they play Cleveland, which has lost close to a dozen starters, including four quarterbacks.
But it gets even more interesting next week with Rhea hosting McMinn and Ooltewah traveling to Walker Valley.
Mustangs coach Glen Ryan said he hoped more than expected the last two weeks to be significant for his team.
"I hoped it would come down to these last two games meaning a lot. I told our boosters after we lost to McMinn that we still control our own destiny, and for us it's down to Rhea and Ooltewah," he said. "It's anybody's to win or lose at this point."
That's further down the road than he has looked at any point this season, and he and his staff have emphasized one game, one week, one opponent, one win.
"We know the situation but can't allow ourselves to get caught up in it. We slipped up against McMinn and we can't afford any more slip-ups. Every game is important to us and our goal has been to be 1-0 for that specific week," he said.
- The road so far: Bradley Central, which stumbled last week after an injury to QB Cole Copeland, still retained a shot at the title entering last night's home game vs. undefeated Maryville. The loss to Hardin Valley could cost them a host's role, especially if they wind up with two region losses.
- On the line tonight: Bradley-Maryville on Thursday night was the game of the year, but Hardin Valley, which lost to Dobyns-Bennett, is at William Blount. Science Hill, currently tied for fourth, is at Bearden and Dobyns-Bennett is at Jefferson County.
- The road ahead: The Bears will play next week at William Blount, most likely needing a win to finish no worse than third. Dobyns-Bennett hosts Science Hill and Hardin Valley goes to Maryville. By virtue of that win last week, Hardin Valley holds the edge over Bradley due to the head-to-head outcome. Playoff games in the first round will come against Region 2-6A.
- The road so far: Rhea County is the only unbeaten remaining in the region with the other three in the top 4 currently being Ooltewah, McMinn County and Walker Valley. Cleveland, Soddy-Daisy and White County are mathematically still in the picture, but head-to-head competition will likely eliminate them.
- On the line tonight: Rhea has the first of two really tough games to end the regular season. The Eagles will be hosting high-powered Walker Valley. Ooltewah also could nail down a playoff assurance if it defeats Cleveland. McMinn is at home vs. Soddy-Daisy. McMinn, Ooltewah and Walker Valley each have one region loss.
- The road ahead: Another big game for Rhea County against a physical title contender in McMinn County. Meanwhile, Ooltewah will be at Walker Valley with each having a possible claim on the second-place finish. A win by McMinn over Rhea would really scramble things since the Cherokees beat Walker Valley but then lost to Ooltewah, which lost to Rhea. Region 4-5A teams will square off vs. Region 3-5A teams in the first round.
- The road so far: Stone Memorial has had the lead, or at least a share, since week one. Hixson, after three losses to open the season, has but one region loss and a first-round host's role locked up. The Wildcats have a one-game lead and head-to-head advantage over East Hamilton and Central, which has the head-to-head over East Hamilton.
- On the line tonight: A postseason host role is no sure thing for Central, which plays at home tonight against Sequoyah but a win should give them at least a 3rd-place finish. East Hamilton's final regular season game is against unbeaten Stone Memorial while Hixson is at one-win Livingston Academy.
- The road ahead: Hixson finishes the season with a nonregion game vs. Soddy-Daisy, and East Hamilton will be sitting, watching and waiting to see what Central does at Cumberland County. It appears that Stone Memorial and Hixson are in, Hixson by virtue of wins over Central and East Hamilton, and it could be that Central and East Hamilton make the playoffs but as first-round, on-the-road teams. Those matchups will be against Region 4-4A teams.
- The road so far: The title and top two playoff berths will be decided down the road. Both Alcoa and CAK are unbeaten. McMinn Central already has played the pair and a win over Kingston in Week 3 will definitely help their chances.
- On the line tonight: Very little. Alcoa played Red Bank in a nonregion game last night and CAK and Scott County have open dates this week. McMinn Central also is playing a nonregion game (hosting Notre Dame).
- The road ahead: It will all be decided next week, and there's no room for debate. Alcoa is at CAK and that game will decide first and second. McMinn Central's game at Scott County will decide third and fourth. First-round state games are against Region 1.
- The road so far: Other than nonregion losses to state-ranked opponents (No. 1 Knoxville Catholic, No. 2 Calhoun City, Miss.) Notre Dame and has accumulated a 4-0 region record. Red Bank stands No. 2, although the Lions stumbled in a loss at Howard. East Ridge and Howard have positioned themselves for postseason appearances as well.
- On the line tonight: There are no games that have a direct bearing on the region. Red Bank and Howard are off, Notre Dame plays at McMinn Central and East Ridge is at Loudon.
- The road ahead: A huge game will take place at Red Bank when the Lions host Notre Dame. That will decide the region championship. Notre Dame already has secured a postseason home game and Red Bank has head-to-head over East Ridge. If the Pioneers wind up tied with Howard, the Hustlin' Tigers would have the advantage. But Howard's game at Signal Mountain is ultra important because Signal could wind up backing into the playoffs with a win. If East Ridge happens to lose at Chattanooga Christian and Signal beats Howard, then you're looking at a three-way tie for third. Postseason opponents will come from Region 4.
- The road so far: Sequatchie County has had its way this season, rising to No. 2 in state rankings with an 8-0 record. The Indians are the only team without a region loss.
- On the line tonight: Sequatchie is at home against Grundy County, which has but a single region win. Upperman and DeKalb County play with the loser dropping to third. If DeKalb beats Upperman and Sequatchie bests Grundy, Sequatchie will secure the region championship. The winner between Smith County and York Institute will stay in the playoff picture.
- The road ahead: It's possible the region title will hinge on the outcome of the Sequatchie-Upperman game but that scenario is contingent on both winning tonight. They will be matched with Region 3's top 4.
- The road so far: On its way to a 6-0 start, Marion County has knocked off the most likely championship contenders, Boyd-Buchanan and Meigs County, and Meigs then bested Boyd-Buchanan.
- On the line tonight: While Marion enjoys an open date, Boyd has a challenging but nonregion test at South Pittsburg and Meigs, which has won 5 straight, plays neighbor rival Polk County. The biggest game finds Silverdale Baptist battling Tyner with both eyeing that last playoff berth. While it isn't guaranteed, the winner should be in.
- The road ahead: Only Polk separates Marion from an undefeated region slate, and that game will be at Polk. Boyd plays at Silverdale and with each having lost already to Marion and Meigs, they could be playing for third place. Tyner has lost to Marion, Boyd and Meigs and a win over Brainerd is its last shot. They are paired with Region 4 to start the postseason.
- The road so far: As one might expect, South Pittsburg has dominated and the Pirates have locked down the region championship with one region game remaining. They'll be joined in the postseason by Copper Basin, Whitwell and Grace Academy. The question is the final pecking order, with Whitwell and Copper Basin still having a shot at that second host role.
- On the line tonight: All teams are playing nonregion games.
- The road ahead: The headliner will be Whitwell at Copper Basin and at stake will be 2nd place and a first-round game at home. Even if it wins against South Pittsburg, Grace is locked into fourth place because of earlier losses to Whitwell and Copper Basin. Teams that advance will be matched with the top four from Region 4.
- The road so far: It has been rocky for the local pair, Baylor and McCallie. McCallie beat Baylor but then went the next week and lost to Ensworth, which lost to Baylor earlier in the season. As it stands now, McCallie would be at home and Baylor on the road in the first round.
- On the line tonight: Both are on the road tonight for region affairs, Baylor at MBA and McCallie at Pope John Paul II, which surprised Baylor last week. Baylor will be an underdog at MBA, which beat preseason favorite Brentwood Academy and McCallie earlier this season. McCallie will be favored against PJP II, although each team's two region wins have come over the same opponents — Baylor and Father Ryan.
- The road ahead: In their final regular-season games, McCallie will be at home against Brentwood Academy, which currently stands No. 2 in Division II-AA East/Middle, and Baylor will travel to Father Ryan, which is winless to date in four region outings. All Division II teams currently advance to the postseason.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-86-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.