For more than a decade, Polk County was a postseason fixture in football.
"Yeah, we used to take that for granted," Wildcats coach Derrick Davis said.
Polk County, a playoff participant from 2001 — Davis' second year back at his alma mater — through 2013, fell on hard times. The Wildcats won just three games from 2014 through 2016.
"The last three years have been tough, knowing you're out and knowing for sure when you're going to be taking up equipment," the coach said. "We have a lot to play for in weeks 9 and 10 as opposed to the last few years. The previous couple of years we've known week 10 was it. We're excited about being back in the playoffs."
Polk will finish second or third in Region 3-2A. Tyner has won the championship, but Polk won't know until after next week's game at Marion County whether it will host a game or be on the road in the first round of the state playoffs. The top two teams in each region play at home; the next two travel.
Signal Mountain also had been a force before falling on hard times two years ago. The Eagles were 2-8 last year and 1-9 in 2015, tough times for a program that had averaged 9.3 wins and earned a state championship in its first five years under Bill Price.
Making the playoffs was a goal the team set this year under first-year coach Josh Roberts.
"Getting a chance to play some extra ball — that was our goal from the get-go," Roberts said. "It's pretty awesome we're back in. It's something these seniors deserve."
The Eagles won't know until next week whether they'll finish third or fourth in Region 3-3A.
"I told the seniors, 'We're not building a team but building a program,'" Roberts said. "We'll ride as far as we can this year and see where it takes us next year."
Signal has lost three games by a total of 20 points, "and I felt we gave two of those away," the coach added. "The kids have come out and competed, which is all we asked. We're getting better and there is now a lot of enthusiasm within and surrounding the program."
Central also has enjoyed rejuvenation. The Purple Pounders reached a goal last year when they made the playoffs, and Cortney Braswell's group is assured this year of hosting at least one postseason game.
Here's a look at the way things are shaking out for the Tennessee playoffs, which begin on Nov. 3:
The first-game hosts have been decided. The region championship, though, is up for grabs. It will be Bradley Central or defending champion Maryville with both, at least for the moment, close to full strength. After that, though, it is a runaway merry-go-round for the next two weeks.
"That's going to be a battle (tonight)," Bradley coach Damon Floyd said of Ooltewah's trip to Cleveland. "Health is a big thing and I don't know who's healthy."
Ooltewah and Cleveland are tied with Maryville Heritage for the third spot. Heritage plays Maryville High tonight but could realistically slide into the fourth playoff spot with a win over Ooltewah next week. Both Heritage and Ooltewah have the head-to-head tiebreaker over McMinn County, which hosts Cleveland next week. William Blount, which plays Bradley tonight, is out of the postseason picture.
The top four will match up with Region 1, which includes Farragut, Science Hill, Dobyns-Bennett, Knoxville Bearden and Hardin Valley.
Has Rhea County locked up at least a host role? The Eagles have finished region play at 3-1 and have the head-to-head advantage over Lenoir City. However, a Lenoir City win over current leader Knoxville Catholic next week will lead to a tiebreaking procedure that favors Catholic. A nonregion loss by Lenoir City tonight against Red Bank and a similar loss by Rhea County at Cane Ridge next week could figure into a tiebreaking equation.
The fourth spot will go to the winner of next week's game between Walker Valley and Soddy-Daisy. Both have nonregion games tonight.
Postseason matchups are with Region 3. That group includes Knoxville Fulton, Oak Ridge and Knoxville West, teams that are currently or have been in the state rankings, and Campbell County. Fulton and Oak Ridge are 4-0 in the region and play each other next week.
They're 8-0 but Anderson County's Mavericks still haven't put the clamps on the championship. They have region games remaining with East Hamilton and Sequoyah and must win at least one of the two.
Central, meanwhile, has sewn up at least the No. 2 spot and a first-round home game.
"Three and four (in the region) is pandemonium," said Coach Braswell, whose team plays at Hixson tonight. "Those last two spots, I have no idea. Sequoyah, East Ridge, East Hamilton, Hixson and Howard are so different. Yeah, one-two is decided and everything else is nuts."
That quintet has region games tonight and next week.
"All I know is that we have to win out," East Ridge coach Tim James said.
Sequatchie County was sitting in pretty good shape until last Friday.
"We could've sewed things up, but we fumbled five times and gave up three big plays," Indians coach Adam Caine said. "Now we have to win out to even be in a tie the way things stand, and I've been told we're on the losing end of all the tiebreakers."
Sequatchie, which beat co-leader Smith County before losing to York Institute, must beat Grundy County this week and then Upperman next week.
"We have a lot of work to do before we can think about that," Caine added.
They'll match up with Region 3 teams.
The first two spots have "occupied" markers belonging to Loudon and Red Bank, which will meet next Friday at Loudon for the championship.
"All I know for sure right now is that we're in and we'll host at least one game," Red Bank coach Chad Grabowski said.
Beyond that, "The other region we play, there are tiebreakers over there that could come down to next week too," he added.
As for his own region, Sweetwater and Signal Mountain will be on the road in the first round and will play next Friday at Sweetwater to determine the third- and fourth-place finishers.
Tyner, Marion County and Polk County are in the playoffs, but only Tyner, the league winner, is locked in to host a first-round game. Marion and Polk play next week in Jasper with the winner taking the No. 2 spot and the loser falling to third.
That leaves Bledsoe County and Tellico Plains playing in Pikeville next week for the fourth spot.
The Rams (6-2, 4-0) lost only to Class 6A Ooltewah and Class 3A Signal Mountain but have since reeled off six straight wins.
"I think they're getting better as the year goes on," Polk's Davis said. "They're not the Tyner of old by any means, but they seem to be playing hard and getting better."
They'll start the playoffs paired with Region 4, where Trousdale County currently holds the No. 1 spot. Watertown is the likely second finisher followed by Jackson County and East Robertson. Trousdale and Watertown are the only teams with winning records.
The only team in this league with direct area interest is Meigs County. The state's top-ranked team, still undefeated, has secured the region's No. 1 spot although the Tigers have one league game remaining (next week vs. Wartburg).
Jason Fitzgerald's team, which steps out of league play tonight to host Polk County, will be paired with teams from upper East Tennessee. Meigs' likely first-round opponent, barring upsets, is South Greene (3-6, 1-2).
South Pittsburg has won the region again (three straight), and Whitwell, even with an unlikely loss next week against Sale Creek, will be hosting a postseason game for the third straight year.
The Pirates have been a first-round playoff host 15 of the past 16 seasons.
Copper Basin and Lookout Valley, because of Basin's win in their matchup last week, will be Nos. 3 and 4 and will travel for the first round.
They're matched against Region 4, with the four most likely representatives being Gordonsville, which currently is undefeated in region play, Clay County, Jo Byrns and Monterey. However, Red Boiling Springs is still alive and could make it interesting these last two weeks. Gordonsville and Clay County meet next Friday.
Father Ryan figures greatly in postseason play for both Baylor and McCallie, which the Irish play tonight and next Friday. After Father Ryan tonight, Baylor will host Montgomery Bell Academy as the AAA East/Middle Region shakes out.
As it stands now, McCallie would host Father Ryan and Baylor would host Pope John Paul II, which it defeated earlier in the season.
Given the current standings, both are in the bottom half of the state bracket. If Baylor won the first week, it would travel to Memphis, most likely to play Christian Brothers. McCallie, with a first-week win, would travel to Nashville, likely facing Ensworth, a previous victim of the Blue Tornado.
Tonight's games will go a long way in deciding the AA East Region champion.
A Notre Dame win over Chattanooga Christian would give the Irish the region title outright. A CCS victory could throw things into a three-way tie for first since the Chargers lost to Knoxville Webb last week. While Notre Dame will be finished with its region schedule after tonight's duel, CCS still must host Knoxville Grace Christian while Webb will play Silverdale Baptist. Webb has a game tonight against Christian Academy of Knoxville.
Last-place teams in the East and West Regions do not advance to the postseason.
Chances are good that Grace Academy will get into the postseason despite games these final two regular-season weeks against Mount Juliet Christian and Middle Tennessee Christian. Based on current standings, Grace would travel to Jackson Christian, Tipton-Rosemark or Fayette Academy.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him on Twitter @wardgossett.
III. GENERAL REGULATIONS (Division I: Class 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A, 6A)
A. In Class 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A, all teams are required to play all other teams within their region. The teams with the best region records shall be declared the region winner, runner-up, third and fourth place and shall advance to the first round of the football play-off series.
B. If at any point when the following tie-breaking procedures are applied, one team has beaten all the other teams that are tied for a play-off position, that team shall be rated above the others.
C. In the event of a tie for the region winner, runner-up, third-place, or fourth-place team, if either team(s) has defeated the other(s) in regular-season play, the team(s) shall be rated above the other(s) in the standings. (After the region winner has been determined, the tie-breaker procedure shall begin all over again starting at the top to work out the runner-up position. The procedure shall be repeated to determine the third- and fourth-place teams.)
D. The following tie-breaking procedures shall be applied and all regular-season games, both region and non-region,shall count (After each of the following steps have been applied, item C above shall be applied.):
1. The team with the greatest number of victories.
2. The team who plays the greatest number of teams who win 50 percent or more of their games.
3. The team who has the greatest number of victories over teams winning 50 percent or more of their games.
4. The team whose opponents have earned the most victories.
5. The team whose opponents have received fewer defeats.
6. Coin Flip