CLEVELAND BLUE RAIDERS at RHEA COUNTY EAGLES
Storyline: It's an early battle between longtime rivals, and the Blue Raiders have won six of the nine games played since 2007, with one of those in the second round of the 2013 playoffs. That was one of two years they didn't meet in the regular season. However, the Eagles have won each of the past two seasons. Cleveland has an outstanding QB prospect in Kellye Cawood, a run-pass junior who has a plethora of speed at his disposal, including Micaleous Elder and Keegan Jones. The defense looks to be much quicker, too. More than in the recent past, Rhea's offense may be more of a clock-eating, long-distance plodder, though QB Zach Pemberton, another runner-passer, has more capable receivers and a proven commodity in RB Christian Simon. Cleveland has joined the Class 6A ranks, while Rhea remains in Class 5A.
FARRAGUT ADMIRALS at BRADLEY CENTRAL BEARS
Storyline: Without competing in his team's own classification (6A) or inviting a Division II team, Farragut is about as tough as Bears coach Damon Floyd could find for an opener. Once an annual opponent for Bradley, the Admirals return 14 starters — seven on each side of the ball — from last year's Class 5A championship team. Included in the group are three Southeastern Conference-caliber prospects — Tennessee-committed TE/DE Jacob Warren (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) and receivers Jaden Gibbs (6-3, 185), a junior, and Braden Collins (6-1, 195), a senior. The Bears are just as loaded with 18 returning starters. Ten are on offense, including senior WRs Lameric Tucker and Nick Howell and OT Chris Cash.
RED BANK LIONS at SODDY-DAISY TROJANS
Storyline: Both are breaking in new starting QBs — Red Bank sophomore Madox Wilkey and Soddy-Daisy junior Gavin Chambers. This is another of the area's storied rivalries, one that dates back to the 1940s. Since Justin Barnes took over as head coach in 2013, the Trojans have won three of four meetings with the Lions. Red Bank ended that streak last year by winning 23-14. Both teams have a key player, one around which the offense will revolve. For the Lions, it's junior Calvin Jackson, who has moved from QB to play numerous offensive positions. For the Trojans, it's senior Ty Boeck, who was called on to play QB after numerous 2016 injuries but will concentrate on RB and LB this year.
EAST HAMILTON HURRICANES at SIGNAL MOUNTAIN EAGLES
Storyline: Are the woes near an end? That's a question new Eagles coach Josh Roberts has fielded more than once since taking over last winter. The past two seasons haven't been easy to watch as the powerhouse built by Bill Price, the school's first coach, crumbled. Signal Mountain managed three wins in the past 20 games, falling far short of the nearly 60 wins of their previous six seasons. The Hurricanes and Eagles have played since Signal first fielded a varsity team in 2009, and East Hamilton evened the series with wins the past two years. There are experienced players, including QB Tom Vatter, among the 50-plus now on the Signal roster. East Hamilton is breaking in a new QB, Jared Price, who will share the offensive load with RBs Jhaden Smith, Adam Caudle and Drako Wise.
McMINN CENTRAL CHARGERS at McMINN COUNTY CHEROKEES
Storyline: As storylines go, suffice it to say that the winner grabs a year's worth of bragging rights. The game could be over quickly. McMinn Central will pass the ball, with senior QB Hunter Powers one of the few starters returning to the Chargers. McMinn County's throwing, said coach Bo Cagle, will be limited this season to throwing the balls in the bag, throwing them in the bus when they travel and then throwing them out on the field for practices and games. The Cherokees' aim is to use their wing-T offense and returning starting QB Bradley Hayes for clock-running ball control. It's likely that Jalen Sharp, a McMinn Central transfer, will be a centerpiece in McMinn County's running game.
MEIGS COUNTY TIGERS at SWEETWATER WILDCATS
Storyline: After they went 10-2 last season, there was major rebuilding for the Tigers, who started spring practice with just five returning starters. However, the rebuilding had a quality starting point in returning QB Aaron Swafford, who also will step in as a full-time starter in the defensive backfield. The Tigers received a welcome addition in LB Jawan Martin, who transferred from Rhea County along with WR/DB JonJon Beeler and LB Jair Beeler. Also, DL Trace Corne moved in from Dunnellon, Fla. While Meigs moved from Region 3-2A to Region 2-2A, Sweetwater is expected to be one of the Region 3-3A favorites.
OOLTEWAH OWLS at TYNER RAMS
Storyline: It's hard to find a local opponent any tougher than neighboring Tyner, the preseason pick to win Region 3-2A. The Rams have 13 returning starters, and coach Wayne Turner is high on two-way lineman Tracey Justin (6-2, 280), his defensive line and secondary plus a plethora of skill players, including dual-threat QB Jaylen Bowens. Ooltewah, meanwhile, returns 14 from the 2016 starting groups and included are three big OL, led by Zaire Bruner, quick RB Sincere Quinn and a handful of quality WRs. Andrew Manning, one of those WRs, may be the only Owl to go both ways. Like Bowens, Ooltewah QB Kyrell Sanford is a run/pass threat who looked sharp in last week's jamboree. He also is the first nonsenior to start at QB in the Mac Bryan coaching era.
HIXSON WILDCATS at MARION COUNTY WARRIORS
Storyline: This game could go a long way in answering several lingering questions for both teams. It's the head coaching debut for Hixson's Gary Murray and the first varsity game for Wildcats QB Jack Jullian, an all-district baseball player who is giving football another shot after a few years away from the game. Julian (6-2, 190) has the athleticism to make a difference, but there isn't much experience surrounding him as he catches back up to speed. Among the new starters is the entire OL, which will face an swarming Marion defense. On offense, the Warriors will feature all-state RB Jacob Saylors, who's a threat to go the distance on any carry. Junior QB Isaiah Sampson is a dangerous runner who also passed for more than 1,100 yards last year and has a bona fide speed weapon in senior WR Kane Hale.
SEQUATCHIE COUNTY INDIANS at SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES
Storyline: The Indians have handed the Pirates season-opening losses each of the past two years, each time controlling the second half for narrow wins. But graduation took a heavy toll on Sequatchie, which returns just two starters on each side of the ball from a team that reached the Class 3A state semifinals last year. Dual-threat QB Ethan Barker (6-2, 210) is one of those back, but he will have a completely new group of linemen blocking for him. That could be the deciding factor, because the Pirates are deep in experienced linemen, led by senior G Hayden Branham and two-way T Cooper Stewart, who had been slowed since the spring with a lower leg injury. But while South Pitt is strong up front, and has a good group of power runners led by senior Sawyer Kelley (5-11, 175) and junior FB Garrett Raulston (6-2, 225), the Pirates will start freshman QB Brayden Sanders, who must adjust to the speed of the varsity game.
WHITWELL TIGERS at BOYD-BUCHANAN BUCCANEERS
Storyline: This is arguably the most talented Tigers team in 25 years. Not since Whitwell reached the semifinals in 1991 has the program entered a season with so much hype and expectations. But the Tigers will face an unforgiving schedule, which begins tonight against one of the area's premier small-school programs. Not only do the Tigers return 10 starters on both sides of the ball, but they also will feature Josh Wingo, a heralded transfer from Grundy County who will add to the backfield talent that includes all-state RB/DB Hudson Petty, RB Trace Condra and QB Dawson Holloway. Although Boyd-Buchanan isn't as experienced, the Bucs do have one of the area's top overall players in Kohl Henke, a hard-hitting safety who's committed to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and can help at any offensive skill position needed. If the game comes down to special teams, the Bucs have a decided advantage with kicker Eli Terrell and punter Riley Barnes. Those juniors could either pin the Tigers' offense deep or boot a long field goal if asked.
EAST RIDGE PIONEERS at STONE MEMORIAL PANTHERS
Storyline: East Ridge wants to get the ball to its athletes in space. Stone Memorial wants to play keep-away with its methodical wing-T offense. It's crucial for the Pioneers to make stops on those third-and-3 situations. East Ridge standout MLB/RB Lorenzo Stewart is back after missing jamboree action because of a death in the family in Florida. Stone Memorial was whipped by Knoxville Catholic in its jamboree but played without projected starting QB Thomas Arnold. He is expected to be available tonight. The Panthers will miss RB/DB Cody Wyllins, who has transferred to The King's Academy for his senior year.
THE KING'S ACADEMY LIONS at SILVERDALE BAPTIST SEAHAWKS
Storyline: Some of those who suffered preseason injuries are starting to come back for Silverdale, which wants to control the ball and the clock. King's Academy is riding high, coming in off defeating host Knoxville West 7-0 in its jamboree. West is a Class 5A school. The DII-A Lions have a little more than 20 players. However, some are sizable athletes and Stone Memorial transfer Cody Wyllins could provide a boost on both sides. Oh, and Seahawks: Watch for the double pass and the end-around and the Utah pass. Watch for everything.
CHATTANOOGA CHRISTIAN CHARGERS at McCALLIE BLUE TORNADO
Storyline: Each team could have started preparing for the other's offense back in the spring, and neither needed much video. Discipline will be key as CCS tries to defend a complex option offense and McCallie takes on the wing-T. Senior Dylan Clark has emerged at QB for the Chargers, who have groomed enough talent to avoid having any two-way starters. Deangelo Hardy takes over as the Blue Tornado's QB. Coach Ralph Potter likes his explosiveness, his footwork and his ability to operate the option. His passing isn't as far along, but he's working on it.
GRUNDY COUNTY YELLOW JACKETS at EAST HICKMAN EAGLES
Storyline: These are programs that mirror each other in multiple ways. They run the same double-wing offense. They've both struggled in recent years. But they mostly played young players last season. Grundy coach Casey Tate isn't so much concerned about how his players will feel after an hour-and-a-half bus ride. He's more concerned with them not turning the ball over, giving up big plays or allowing special-teams touchdowns. The Eagles may have a slight edge in overall size, but if the Yellow Jackets make the routine plays, they'll increase their chances of winning.
POLK COUNTY WILDCATS at COPPER BASIN COUGARS
Storyline: The last time these bitter rivals played, the seniors were just starting school. Being neighboring programs should make the gate intake a good one. Polk is scheduled to get the big payday next year. Expect coaches to emphasize to their players to act in a classy manner, and crowd behavior will be important — both schools could stand to see this series renewed. As far as the game itself, guarding against turnovers and avoiding blown assignments are generally keys for Polk. Copper Basin wants to exploit the team speed it has, and it needs senior Keaton Mickens (6-2, 190) to make an impact, no matter where he lines up on either side.
RINGGOLD TIGERS at NORTHWEST WHITFIELD BRUINS
Storyline: It's a matchup of two of the best offenses in northwest Georgia. Each averaged nearly 40 points per game a year ago, with the Bruins getting the upper hand in week one, 49-24. Northwest QB Luke Shiflett is a dual threat, while 220-pound RB Dominique Sistrunk can wear down defenses, as he did a year ago against the Tigers. Ringgold counters with junior QB Cole Kibler — he passed for more than 2,000 yards with an injured arm last season and is now healthy — and the top WR in the area, junior Andre Tarver. This game will be won on the defensive end, where each team struggled at times last year. Tarver, Noah Keaton and Ty Jones form what new Ringgold defensive coordinator Houston White believes is one of the best LB units around. The strength of the Northwest defense is DT Jon Tant and LBs Jon Connor and Hunter Reece.
RIDGELAND PANTHERS at ADAIRSVILLE TIGERS
Storyline: Last year's 49-7 Ridgeland win, which included more than 400 rushing yards and a running clock in the second half, did not leave a good taste in the Tigers' mouths. Adairsville returns 14 starters from that team, though a new QB must step up between candidates Bryce Burgess and Mason Boswell. Ridgeland returns several components of last year's rout, including FB Jalyn Shelton, WB Markeith Montgomery and WR Stephon Walker, who wasn't healthy when these teams last met. The key tonight for each team is in the trenches. The Panthers are inexperienced and relatively small up front, so the inside runs that gashed the Tigers a year ago may not be there tonight.
HERITAGE GENERALS at LAKEVIEW-FORT OGLETHORPE WARRIORS
Storyline: This Catoosa County rivalry, which Heritage leads 5-4, has been heated at times. The Generals have won three consecutive games in the series, including last year's 38-0 rout. The biggest question mark for Heritage entering the season was at QB, where Blake Bryan has replaced three-year starter Corbee Wilson. Bryan, though, has stood out this summer, including a strong effort in a scrimmage against Tennessee's McMinn County. The quick-passing attack features WRs Ryan Carter, Luke Grant and Carson Sherrill plus a front line deemed the most physical in coach E.K. Slaughter's four years. LFO coach Bo Campbell said his team is also more physical this year and will look to pound the Generals with QB Zach Vaughn and RBs Jacob Flanagan (6-1, 215) and Nathan Williams (5-10, 210). Each coach would like to see better play from his defense.
GORDON LEE TROJANS at DADE COUNTY WOLVERINES
Storyline: A sneaky good opener in Trenton matches teams that want to play physical, run-oriented offense and attack defensively. Gordon Lee did most of the attacking a year ago as sensational senior Drew Cobb gashed the Wolverines for 275 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-18 win. Cobb is gone, but senior Braden Jarvis, coming off an 800-yard season himself, is back, as is senior QB Austin Thompson. Dade will have the physical edge inside on offense thanks to its line — including Austin Riley (6-7, 280), Noah Brown (6-1, 270) and Tyler King (6-4, 310) — and its two leading rushers from a year ago, senior Lee Spencer and exciting sophomore Malaki Webb. The latter had 400 yards and six touchdowns in five games in 2016 before being injured.
CHRISTIAN HERITAGE LIONS at NORTH MURRAY MOUNTAINEERS
Storyline: The initial Battle of the Poags – brothers and head coaches Jay (Christian Heritage) and Preston (North Murray) — went to Preston and the Mountaineers a year ago. Their 49-14 win was the start of what became the best season in program history. North Murray should be even better offensively this year as junior QB Preston Poag Jr. has a full handle on the position and brings a dual-threat component to the offense. He's got a bevy of playmakers around him, including WRs Connor Rice and Preston Buck and the versatile Waylyn James, who played some at RB in the summer. Christian Heritage has some offensive firepower of its own. Chattanooga Christian transfer Matthew Neff is set at QB in the spread attack and has elite WRs Zach Gentry and 6-foot-7 Christian Koneman to wing it to. Can the Lions handle the North Murray lines, which feature University of Georgia-committed junior Luke Griffin, Nick Hagan and Bailey Blankenship?
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Silverdale was playing at King's Academy, but Silverdale is hosting tonight's game.