Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / South Pittsburg football players huddle at midfield before the TSSAA Class 1A BlueCross Bowl state championship game against Fayetteville on Dec. 4, 2020, at Tennesee Tech. The Pirates lost 20-14 that day in Cookeville, but they are pushing for another shot at the title this year and will host a quarterfinal against Gordonsville on Friday night.

If familiarity truly does breed contempt, then Friday's prep football matchups for the four remaining Chattanooga-area teams in the TSSAA playoffs are maligned with malice. Whether its a longtime postseason feud or a rematch from last year — or earlier this season — three of the four games involving area teams have plenty of history between the programs.

All three classes for Division II have semifinal showdowns this week, including McCallie hosting Pope John Paul II, with the winners advancing to the BlueCross Bowl, while the six public-school classifications have reached the quarterfinal round. The state titles for all nine classes will be decided during BlueCross Bowl competition Dec. 2-4 at Finley Stadium.

Class 1A — Gordonsville (11-1) at South Pittsburg (8-2): It has almost become an annual meeting as they have faced off 16 times in the playoffs, with South Pittsburg winning 11 of those, including three straight. Last year the Pirates went on the road and, after falling behind 7-0 early, broke open a one-score game with a 24-0 run in the second half.

The only loss this year for the Tigers, who have allowed just 9.5 points per game, came by four points at 2A perennial power Trousdale County, which is still alive in its bracket. No other opponent has scored more than 15 points on Gordonsville this season.

South Pittsburg's defense was also stout last week, holding a Clay County team that had scored 30-plus points seven times to just 22 yards on 22 rushing attempts. However, Gordonsville relies heavily on a passing game led by junior quarterback Matthew Albritton, who has thrown for more than 2,200 yards.

The Pirates, who scored in every phase last week and struck for three scores in three minutes in the third quarter, are led by senior De'Andre Kelley, a Tennessee Titans Mr. Football semifinalist who last week ran for 95 yards and a touchdown, returned a kickoff 80 yards for a score and also had an interception on defense.

Class 4A — Upperman (11-1) at Red Bank (9-3): These teams are meeting in the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons, with the series tied at two wins apiece.

Both scored 40-plus points against their first two playoff opponents this year and have very similar winning scores against two common foes, with the noticeable difference being a 28-0 win over Fayetteville by Red Bank, while Upperman lost to Fayetteville 19-14 after having the potential winning score on the game's final play erased by a penalty.

Since opening the season by losing three of its first four games, Red Bank has won seven straight, with the Lions allowing more than seven points only once during that streak.

Class 5A — Rhea County (10-2) at Powell (10-2): Although they haven't faced one another since 2019, they have followed similar paths to reach this point. Both have losses to quality opponents — Rhea's defeats were to Elizabethton (last year's 4A state champ) and Alcoa (winner of six straight 3A titles), while Powell's were to 17-time state champ Maryville and by one point to DII-AAA's Knoxville Catholic.

Powell's Panthers, who haven't reached the semifinals since 2012, have allowed more than seven points only once in their past seven games, including three shutouts. That stat will be tested by an offense that has scored 42-plus in five straight games, including 51 and 63 in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Rhea, which most recently reached the semis in 2015, has rushed for more than 4,000 yards as a team, but Powell's stingy defense is led by lineman Walter Nolan — the nation's top overall prospect, according to ESPN. The 6-foot-4, 325-pounder, who has narrowed his college choices to Tennessee, Texas A&M and Florida, has 17 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.

Division II-AAA — Pope John Paul II (8-4) at McCallie (11-0): Think the Blue Tornado practiced defending onside kicks? Failing to recover two late onside kicks by Father Ryan last week turned a 21-point fourth-quarter lead into McCallie needing its defense to make a late stand to cling to a seven-point win and preserve its push for a third straight state title. Add in the fact that PJP senior kicker Andrew Southland is a two-time all-region performer who specializes in onside kicks, and it's a certainty that McCallie has given plenty of extra attention to special teams this week.

These teams met just three weeks ago, with McCallie rolling to a 58-27 road win to cap the regular season. In that game, the Blue Tornado raced out to a 37-3 first-half lead before the Knights struck for three touchdown passes in the second half on their way to throwing for 369 yards.

McCallie has won all 12 previous meetings, with only two of those decided by fewer than 21 points.

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Times Free Press sports editor Stephen Hargis

Contact Stephen Hargis at or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.


Friday, Nov. 19, 2021

TSSAA playoffs

All games 7 p.m. local time

Class 1A quarterfinal

Gordonsville (11-1) at South Pittsburg (8-2)

Class 4A quarterfinal

Upperman (11-1) at Red Bank (9-3)

Class 5A quarterfinal

Rhea County (10-2) at Powell (10-2)

Division II-AAA semifinal

Pope John Paul II (8-4) at McCallie (11-0)

GHSA playoffs, second round

All games 7:30 p.m.

Class A public

Trion (10-1) at Wilcox County (8-3)

Class AAA

Ringgold (10-1) at Thomson (10-0)

Class AAAA

Northwest Whitfield (8-3) at Bainbridge (8-3)


Calhoun (9-2) at Ware County (9-1)