Class 1A semifinal
SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (13-0) at GREENBACK CHEROKEES (11-1)
Storyline: This is a rematch of last year's semifinal, where the Cherokees rallied from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit — sparked by a 37-yard scoring pass on fourth-and-12 — to score seven of the next eight touchdowns and pull away for a 42-27 win. Greenback has finished state runner-up each of the past two seasons, while South Pitt is looking to get back to the title game for the first time since 2013. The Cherokees are averaging 44 points per game, including 53-plus in each of their past five games. Junior RB Breeden Gilbert (5-10, 195) is Greenback's most dangerous offensive player, particularly when he's running from the wildcat formation. So far this season he has 863 rushing yards and 18 TDs, and dual-threat QB Bryce Hanley has 1,756 rushing and passing yards combined and 18 total TDs. Those two also make up part of an active LB group. Sophomore WR Holden Willis (6-3, 185) creates matchup problems because of his height and athleticism and junior RB Josh Edwards (6-0, 185) has a slashing running style that complements the physical Gilbert. Junior Reese Plemons (6-1, 250) is the Cherokees' best lineman on both sides of the ball. Not being able to match Greenback's physicality was a major point of emphasis for South Pitt during its offseason strength-and-conditioning program and tonight will be the best gauge to determine if the gap has been closed. It all starts up front with OL Grayson Lawson, Dakota Blevins, E.J. Cagle, Hayden Branham and Cooper Stewart, who pave the way for a rushing attack that averages better than 8 yards per carry. The Pirates' backfield of junior FB Garrett Raulston (6-2, 225), senior RB Sawyer Kelley (5-10, 170) and sophomore RB Ronto Tipton (5-10, 165) has combined for more than 2,400 rushing yards. Defensively, the front seven of linemen Franklin Russell, Jabron Hale, Lawson and Blaine Pittman and LBs Raulston, Kelley and Mason Fuqua have been stingy this season. The Pirates have held eight opponents to seven points or less.facebook
Class 2A semifinal
TYNER RAMS (11-2) at ROCKWOOD TIGERS (10-3)
Storyline: Since the third week of the season the Ram Train has been gathering steam, winning 11 straight, all by double figures. Tyner gained a ton of confidence with its regular-season win over Marion County and has won the eight games that followed by an average of 40-9, including last week's mercy-rule decision over Marion in a rematch. Senior QB Jaylen Bowens has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and rushed for nearly 500 and has 20 total TDs, as well as six interceptions on defense. He's surrounded by speed, beginning with RB Jeremy Elston, who had more than 1,200 rushing yards, and sophomore WR Jeremiah Batiste, who has 800-plus receiving yards. FB Tyon Young is a load to bring down and gives the Rams a solid short-yardage option. As impressive as Tyner has been on offense, the defense has been equally dominant, led by DL Tracey Justice and Tyrique Henry. Justice leads the area with 19 sacks and has 29 tackles for loss, while Henry has 15 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. Few opponents have managed to get past the Rams' defensive front, which will be challenged tonight by Rockwood's power-running wing-T, led by QB Nate Brackett (6-2, 215), who also has a strong arm. The Tigers' first option on offense is FB Ryan McCain (6-3, 215), then WBs Joe Ashburn (5-7, 140) and Zander Price (5-9, 170). McCain ran for 153 yards and a TD in last week's upset win at top-ranked Meigs County. Rockwood, which has won eight straight going into tonight, outgained Meigs 241-112 on the ground in that game and forced three turnovers. Because of Tyner's big-play potential and Rockwood's ability to grind out long drives, the Tigers could try to manage the clock and limit the number of touches the Rams' offense gets. This is the furthest Tyner has advanced since its 1997 state championship season, while Rockwood is trying to return to the state-title game for the first time since 1976.
Class 3A semifinal
RED BANK LIONS (11-2) at ALCOA TORNADOES (11-2)
Storyline: Red Bank is led in rushing by senior RB Zay Brown, who has rushed 296 times for 2,039 yards and 22 TDs. Hybrid athlete Calvin Jackson has been a scoring machine, rushing for 20 TDs, receiving 12, returning a kickoff for one and converting three two-point conversions. Sophomore QB Madox Wilkey has completed 65.7 percent of his 230 passes for more than 2,100 yards. The DEs are standouts on the Lions' defense. Jamel Davis and Ivan Young both have made double-digit tackles in the backfield. Alcoa coach Gary Rankin guided the Tornadoes to their 15th state championship last year and got his 400th coaching victory earlier this season. Alcoa's offense is led by junior QB Walker Russell. He's surrounded by several capable skill-position players. Ahmauud Sankey caught a 50-yard TD pass in last week's win over Austin-East and Connor Canfield hauled one in from 28 yards. Senior WR DiAndre Johnson and freshman TE Grey Carroll are other top targets for Russell. The running game is led by K'Vaughn Tyson and Jalen McCord. Defensive playmakers include Landon Ray, who had a sack for a 14-yard loss last week. The teams played last year in the regular season with Alcoa winning 28-0. Red Bank coach Chad Grabowski said among the things his team learned about the Tornadoes is that they don't make a lot of mistakes, and they're patient while playing a field-position game waiting for a scoring opportunity to arise. Defense in the red zone could be a determining factor, although Red Bank might be challenged to drive a long way to get there. K Zeke Rankin has been solid for the Tornadoes. But holding them to FGs would enhance the Lions' chances of winning.
GHSA Class AAA quarterfinal
CALHOUN YELLOW JACKETS (11-1) at LIBERTY COUNTY PANTHERS (9-3)
Storyline: A coin flip sends Calhoun on the road in this battle between region champions. While the Yellow Jackets have made 10 consecutive quarterfinal appearances and now 14 times overall under coach Hal Lamb, the road hasn't been kind. Despite an 8-5 record in this round, Lamb's teams are just 1-2 on the road. To advance the Jackets need to correct the offensive issues that plagued them in last Friday's 28-20 win over Monroe Area. While RB Zack Fuller had 154 yards and two scores, the usually potent passing game was limited and numerous penalties didn't help the cause. QB Gavin Gray and WRs Brannon Spector, Bralin Barton and Luke Moseley will need more production tonight against a Liberty team averaging more than 40 points in its seven-game win streak. The Panthers do most of their damage on the ground behind RB Kris Coleman, who has 1,767 yards and is averaging 9.4 yards per carry. QB Dionte Bowens has thrown for 1,025 and has 516 rushing, part of a ground game that has amassed 3,328 yards. The Calhoun defense held 1,700-yard rusher Chandler Byron to less than 50 yards last week as linemen C.J. Fuller and Brice Craig along with LBs Davis Allen and Bailey Lester controlled things up front. A key for the Jackets tonight is taking advantage of the aggressive nature of the Liberty defense, one that has 133 tackles for loss and 31 forced turnovers. Gray should have several downfield opportunities if the offensive line holds up.