ALCOA TORNADOES (12-1) at SEQUATCHIE COUNTY INDIANS (13-0)
Stars: Tornadoes QBs Walker Russell and Jaylen Myers have combined for 1,847 passing yards and Myers has another 617 rushing. Alcoa's top RB is Colton Wright (101-1,098), and he also is their leading scorer with 14 TDs. Tykee Kellogg's 710 yards lead the receivers. It is on defense, though, that Alcoa really stands out, especially DL Tristan Woody, Landon Ray, Dontae Walden and Ian Dunkin. The leading tackler by a long shot is LB Jack Warwick, who's credited with 92. He also is runner-up to TFL and sacks leader Dunkin. Sequatchie's Hunter Davenport and Kyle Cates, considered by some the best pair of LBs in the Chattanooga area, are the Indians' tackles leaders with 118 and 115. Cates has 14 lost-yardage hits and Davenport 11. Davenport is the team's No. 2 rusher behind Austin Stevens, Davenport with 1,112 yards and Stevens with 1,481. QB Ethan Barker has thrown for 844 yards and run for 851. Each of the trio averages more than 6 yards per carry, and Stevens and Davenport have scored 286 of their team's 456 points. A positive performance from a senior-laden OL is crucial for the Indians.
Storyline: The programs haven't met since the 1995 playoffs, when the Indians fell to Alcoa 35-9 in the third round of the playoffs. The Tornadoes, who have won 12 state championships, have averaged 40.3 points in the postseason while the Indians have averaged 39.7 in the past three games. Alcoa's 17 points in a 3-point quarterfinal win over Elizabethton last week are the fewest they've scored since a 20-14 loss to Maryville on Sept. 11 of last season. The Tornadoes' lone loss came early in the year against the 6A powerhouse Rebels (42-29). They have since won nine straight. They have held five opponents to 10 or fewer points. Sequatchie, meanwhile, struggled last week and was forced to overtime before edging East Ridge 21-14. That 21 was the third fewest the Indians have scored this year, but they have held seven opponents to 14 or fewer, with shutouts against Grundy County and Upperman. The most they've given up in any game came in a 56-28 second-round win over Notre Dame. The Indians' 13 wins is an all-time best for the program. The keys in this one are how Sequatchie handles Alcoa's passing game, how Alcoa contends with the Indians' ground-and-pound and whether the Indians can control the clock.
AUSTIN-EAST ROADRUNNERS (12-1) at MARION COUNTY WARRIORS (12-1)
Stars: The Roadrunners' offensive leader is senior QB Darius Harper, who going into last week's win had completed 141 of his 219 passes with four interceptions for 2,946 yards and 38 touchdowns. His 47 rushes had produced 406 yards and eight TDs, and he also was averaging 43.7 yards per punt. His favorite target has been senior Kashif Warren, who in 11 games has had 42 receptions for 1,060 yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior RB Gedarian Mobley in 11 games has 656 rushing yards and 11 TDs on 69 carries. He's also factored into the passing game with 20 catches for 462 yards and four TDs. Sophomore LB Robert Allen has more than 100 tackles and more than 20 for loss. Marion features senior RBs Hunter McClain and Hunter Zeman and junior Jacob Saylors, each of whom has at least 897 yards on the ground. Saylors has scored 18 total touchdowns and McClain and Zeman have scored 17 each. Sophomore QB Isaiah Sampson is 89-of-110 passing for 1,121 yards and 13 TDs with one interception. He's also run for 240 yards and 14 TDs. Alex Kirkendoll and McClain are the top tacklers, and fellow LB Zeman leads with 21 tackles in the backfield.
Storyline: Austin-East has a prolific offensive attack. Harper not only has a 1,000-yard receiver, but two others have more than 500 receiving yards apiece. The Warriors also know Harper is capable of rushing for a big gain. Marion coach Joey Mathis said among the points of emphasis to his defensive front for this game will be "maintaining gap integrity and not giving him escape routes." The secondary will have two key functions. One is to cover the Roadrunners' pass receivers long enough to allow the players up front to get pressure on Harper. Of the other, Mathis said: "We've just got to tackle. We can't give up yards after the catch. They're going to make catches — we've got to be able to tackle in space." Although much is made about Austin-East's offense, its defense while giving up double-figure scoring six times has registered five shutouts. Don't expect Marion to waver from its offensive philosophy of trying to establish the run, then be efficient in the passing game. The Warriors have proven leadership with their 16 seniors. As much as they want to play in a state final for a third consecutive year, they know all their focus must remain on tonight's game.
GREENBACK CHEROKEES (13-0) at SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (12-1)
Stars: The Cherokees have experienced talent at every position, led by a pair of Mr. Football finalists. Senior RB Kayne Roberts (6-3, 200) has averaged 12.6 yards per carry in gaining 1,919 yards and 32 TDs this season. He also has 324 receiving yards, averaging 27 yards per catch, and five receiving TDs and is a physical defensive back. Senior OL-DL Josh Silvey is considered the best lineman in 1A and was a huge reason Greenback reached the state-title game last year. The Cherokees have gained much of their rushing yards behind Silvey, who grades out as a 95-percent blocker, and he also leads the team with 99 tackles, 29 for loss, 11 sacks and 25 QB hurries. He's also been used as a runner in short-yardage situations, carrying the ball 10 times for 74 yards and three TDs. Senior TE-DE Tavin Kilpatrick (6-4, 240) is a coach's son and very active on both sides of the ball. The Pirates have three RBs with more than 500 rushing yards, led by senior Kyree Pryor's 816 (12.8 per carry), senior Joseph Lilly's 616 (9.9 per carry) and junior FB Sawyer Kelley's 536. Kelley is also one of the team's leading tacklers. The Pirates have 52 rushing TDs, but senior QB Hogan Holland and junior WR Cade Kennemore have become a lethal combination, including two more TD hook-ups last week. Of Holland's 1,470 passing yards and 19 TDs, Kennemore has 693 yards and 10 TD catches. Kennemore and Lilly are also threats as kick and punt returners.
Storyline: Greenback returned most of its starters from last year's state-runner-up team and South Pittsburg brought back all but one starter from a team that reached the quarterfinals, so this is the semifinal matchup most people expected to see when the season began. The game will feature the Cherokees' size against the Pirates' speed, but both offenses can score in a hurry and although they have different approaches, the results mirror one another: Greenback's average victory margin this year is 48-11; South Pittsburg's is 47-11. The Pirates' biggest improvement this season has been on defense, allowing just two opponents to score more than 20 points. They not only have to match Greenback's physical run game, but Cherokees senior QB Hunter Willis (6-1, 195) is a dual threat who must also be accounted for. "It will be a tremendous challenge for us," Pirates coach Vic Grider said. "They're an old team. Most of their players have been in a lot of big games, so they're confident and they can cause some physical mismatches up front on both sides because they're pretty imposing, plus their back-end guys can run, so you can't really break away from them much. Things have come fairly easy for us the last few weeks, but we know they'll throttle us sometimes, so we'll have to be patient and grind and work for it. We set a goal 10 months ago: We knew looking ahead at the bracket that the semifinal game would be here if we could get there. We've put ourselves here so now we have to see if we can handle the situation. We're right where we wanted to be."
COFFEE COUNTY TROJANS (7-5) at DALTON CATAMOUNTS (12-0)
Stars: Coffee, the only No. 4-seeded team remaining in the GHSA playoffs at any level, has a bevy of stars on each side of the ball. QB Max Hughes, who passed for 214 yards and a touchdown in last week's 42-34 win over Alexander, has 2,973 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, while RB Demetrius Davis has 1,287 yards and 14 scores. Davis left last week's game with a possible concussion, but reports are that he has been cleared to play. WR Milton Jackson has 900 yards on nearly 70 receptions while WR Delrone Donaldson is a 6-foot-3 leaper who has 579 yards and seven TDs. Defensively, the Trojans feature LB Jameon Gaskin, who has 127 tackles; DL Derrick Newton, who has 13 sacks and 22 tackles for loss; and twin DBs Jorqauvious and Marquavious Jefferson, who have a combined 11 interceptions. Dalton's balanced offense is led by RB Ahmaad Tanner, who had 182 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 24-14 win over Lovejoy, and QB J.P. Tighe, who has 1,902 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2016. Receivers Zeke Cobb and Kyric McGowan give him two elite playmakers, while FB Keith Adams does the dirty work. Defensively, tackles John Wesley Whiteside and Max Mainor are major run stuffers, while LBs Tucker Sumner and Matthew Howell each has 100 tackles.
Storyline: Dalton is accustomed to having a speed disadvantage, but the Catamounts haven't seen Coffee County speed this season. While Whiteside and Mainor can contain the middle, the defensive edges will be tested early and often, and if DBs McGowan and Nassir Love-Porter have to help stop the run the Trojans will hit them deep with play-action. Dalton has proven adept at taking what a defense gives and will need to do so again tonight and avoid red-zone turnovers. The winner will face the Valdosta/Stephenson winner.
CEDAR GROVE SAINTS (10-2) at CALHOUN YELLOW JACKETS (10-2)
Stars: You want stars? Go no further than the Cedar Grove sideline tonight for no less than seven senior FBS commitments. QB Jelani Woods (6-7, 240), who's headed to Oklahoma State, possesses a strong arm and is difficult to stop on short-yardage runs. Georgia Southern-bound RB Grant Walker, who had 205 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 28-3 win over Jenkins, is the main offensive threat and has 1,504 yards for the season. The real strength lies up front, where UGA recruits Netori Johnson (6-3, 348) and Justin Shaffer (6-5, 340) anchor the state's largest line. It doesn't stop on offense, either, where those two will rotate up front. The secondary has three big-time recruits in Korey Hernandez (Arkansas), Dennis Bell (Louisville) and Tre Shaw (North Carolina). Calhoun's list of FBS recruits starts and ends with QB/RB/LB Baylon Spector, who's headed to Clemson as a safety. He and Gavin Gray will rotate at QB, with the pair combining for 250 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 41-20 win over Jackson. The team, which lost standout RB Olico Dennis midway through the season to a knee injury, rotates several backs with Spector, including Zach Fuller, behind an improved line led by William Long. The Jackets have a deep receiving corps featuring Malik Lawrence, Ryan Randall, Luke Jones and Bryson Davis. Defensively, Lawrence and Randall are stout on the back end, with Spector and NG C.J. Fuller leading an aggressive front seven.
Storyline: Coach Hal Lamb knows the Jackets will be outclassed in talent, but that's often been the case deep into postseasons. Calhoun defeated the Saints 38-18 in 2014 in a game that was chippy from the start. Cedar Grove did not handle the atmosphere at Phil Reeve Stadium well then and is still prone to undisciplined play, as evidenced by last week's 15 penalties. Lamb and his elite coaching staff want to frustrate the Saints with long offensive drives and big hits on defense. Will it be enough? The winner will play the winner of the Pierce County/Crisp County game.
CHATTOOGA INDIANS (8-4) at HAPEVILLE CHARTER HORNETS (9-3)
Stars: Chattooga, the surprising No. 3 seed from Region 7, has its run game in high gear. In last week's shocking 38-7 win at Washington County, the Indians surpassed 300 rush yards. Twins Isaac and Isaiah Foster combined for 186 yards and five touchdowns as the Indians produced TD drives of 71, 75, 77 and 81 yards in the first half. Coach Charles Hammon credits improved line play as the biggest key to the team's surge, led by 300-pounders Mike Adams and Dustin Pope and 290-pound Armand Ford. Those guys are also strong on the defensive front, and the back end isn't too bad, either, as each of the Fosters had an interception last week. Hapeville, a school that opened in 2011, pulled its own upset last week of Jefferson County, 14-6. The Hornets, the Region 6 champs, boast a stout defense led by UGA recruit DB William Poole III that has produced three shutouts and three more games of six or fewer points. Hapeville boasts three standout LBs in Caleb Kelley, Truth Daniels and Richard Hayes, while two-way linemen Ousman Traore (6-3, 310) and Corey Freeman (6-1, 290) provide the team with ample size. The offense is built around QB Hajj-Malik Williams, a junior who has 2,202 yards and 24 touchdowns to go with 350 and five rushing scores. The Hornets don't run very often, preferring to let WRs Rory Starkey, Andunte Devereaux, Christian Nelson and Kivante Johnson do most of the damage.
Storyline: Chattooga's formula for success is simple: Use its big, physical line to open holes for the Foster twins, eat up yards and the clock while also wearing down the defense. This, however, may be the best defense the Indians have seen. Chattooga hasn't faced many pass-first teams this season, so the secondary will be forced to keep plays in front of it and tackle when needed. Having survived in WACO's famed House of Pain, the Indians will not be intimidated. The winner will face the winner of the Rabun County/Fitzgerald game.