CHATTANOOGA CHRISTIAN CHARGERS (5-3, 3-1) at NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (7-1, 5-0)
Storyline: There's a trap here, no pun intended, but Irish coach Charles Fant may have sniffed it out. There will be no overconfident Notre Dame players when CCS comes calling. The Irish know what's at stake — the outright Division II-AA East Region championship. They and the Chargers are aware of the schools' burgeoning rivalry. Both pride themselves on a physical brand of football, CCS with power-running Mondo Ellison behind a two-tight-end line and the Irish often slipping from their Air Raid into a Mustang package featuring fleet ATH Cameron Wynn.
RED BANK LIONS (6-3) at LENOIR CITY PANTHERS (5-3)
Storyline: This is a nonregion game for Class 3A's Red Bank against a team from two classifications up, and Lenoir City has wins this season against Soddy-Daisy and Walker Valley, who have victories over the Lions this year. Red Bank, of course, can rely on RB Zay Brown and versatile ATH Calvin Jackson, along with QB Madox Wilkey. The key could be the Lions' OL play and the determination of the DL. Red Bank's secondary will have to be on its toes to account for Tyler Dutton, who often moves from the backfield to a slot, and Hunter Blue, who also lines up there.
BAYLOR RED RAIDERS (3-5, 1-3) at FATHER RYAN FIGHTING IRISH (3-5, 0-4)
Storyline: Father Ryan hasn't been above .500 since the third week of the season, but the Irish played within a TD of always strong Montgomery Bell Academy. They have struggled the past two weeks, but that was against fellow DII-AAA East/Middle Region teams Ensworth and Brentwood Academy. Baylor, on the other hand, has scored no more than 24 points in any of its losses, and the Red Raiders have managed 14 points over the past two weeks while falling to Brentwood Academy and McCallie. They've had their good offensive moments, which seem to come when the passing and rushing games are balanced, as evidenced in wins over Notre Dame, Pope John Paul II and Chattanooga Christian.
HOWARD HUSTLIN' TIGERS (3-5, 1-3) at EAST RIDGE PIONEERS (5-3, 1-3)
Storyline: Both teams are still in the hunt for a postseason spot, but a loss tonight will end one's hopes. Howard, looking for its first winning streak of the year, is coming off its first Region 2-4A victory of the year (21-13 at Hixson), and each of the Tigers' wins has come on the road. East Ridge, meanwhile, has scuffled recently after opening the year with five wins. After scoring 13 points the previous two weeks, the Pioneers broke out for 29 last week but still came up short to Sequoyah.
OOLTEWAH OWLS (4-4, 2-2) at CLEVELAND BLUE RAIDERS (5-3, 2-2)
Storyline: With RB Keegan Jones, QB Kellye Cawood and RB/WR Micaleous Elder, Cleveland has left Ooltewah defensive coordinator Doug Greene with much for which to prepare. And he is doing it with a unit decimated by injuries. It's questionable whether Ooltewah RB Sincere Quinn will play. Quinn, sidelined earlier this season with an ankle injury, did not play after the first quarter last week, when he rushed for 98 yards against Maryville. It's likely that more players than Owls coach Mac Bryan would like will be pulling double duty as the teams try to remain in the chase for the best possible postseason slot. It isn't certain, but it's likely the winner of this Region 2-6A game will finish third, while the loser will be fourth.
SODDY-DAISY TROJANS (4-4) at SIGNAL MOUNTAIN EAGLES (3-5)
Storyline: This game may take a while, because both teams have passing QBs — Gavin Chambers for the Trojans and Tom Vatter for the Eagles. Soddy-Daisy most often plays with cohesion on both sides of the ball, and that plus superior line play could be the difference. One player Josh Robinson plans on his Eagles eyeing on every play is Ty Boeck, who had 21 solo tackles and 10 assists last week while also rushing for 84 yards and three TDs. Signal Mountain will have to rely heavily on its speedy receivers and Vatter throwing under pressure.
TYNER RAMS (6-2, 4-0) at BRAINERD PANTHERS (1-7, 0-4)
Storyline: Tyner already has the Region 3-2A title secured, and while Brainerd has been eliminated from playoff contention, this is a rivalry game and the Panthers already have proven to be dangerous with several close losses against playoff-bound foes. Joseph Norwood is one of the best athletes in the city and can get his hands on the ball in a variety of ways. Tyner has no shortage of big-play potential with RBs Jeremy Elston and Ke'un Webb, as well as WR Jeremiah Batiste.
SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (8-0) at GOODPASTURE COUGARS (1-7)
Storyline: The Cougars returned the majority of starters from last year's 10-win team that reached the Class 3A quarterfinals, but they have struggled against Division II competition this season. Goodpasture will have a size advantage along both lines and can rely on four junior playmakers — RB/LB Julius Elders (5-foot-11, 205 pounds), RB/DB Jacob Seals (5-9, 160), RB/LB Samuel Macauley (5-8, 175) and WR/FS Ammon Turner (6-1, 175). Top-ranked South Pittsburg is coming off a physical and emotional win over county rival Whitwell last week, a victory that secured the Region 3-1A title. But the Pirates were fatigued in the second half, which allowed Whitwell to dominate the final quarter and will make conditioning a point of emphasis beginning tonight. Junior FB Garrett Raulston and senior RB Sawyer Kelley have been the workhorses on offense, but the Pirates will need to continue working on their passing with young QBs Jaylyn Hubbard and Brayden Sanders for the balance they'll need in the playoffs.
POLK COUNTY WILDCATS (4-4) at MEIGS COUNTY TIGERS (8-0)
Storyline: Polk County still has something to play for in the regular season, but not until next week, when it travels to Marion County for a Region 3-2A matchup in which a home game in the state playoffs is in the balance. Region 2-1A champion Meigs County, ranked No. 1 in its class, has nothing left to play for — except an undefeated season. To hear Polk coach Derrick Davis tell it, the Tigers' success starts with QB/DB/PR Aaron Swafford (1,746 yards of total offense, 120 points). To hear Meigs coach Jason Fitzgerald tell it, Swafford's surrounding cast is the reason success has led to perfection. A stout offensive line has helped RB Martin Smith contribute 482 rushing yards and nine TDs. Jon Jon Beeler, Caleb Hyde and Austin Judd have teamed for 572 receiving yards and seven TDs. The Wildcats will need some long drives to be competitive tonight, and they'll need to score often at the ends of them. It doesn't help that they'll be without Gavin Miles (concussion), a starter at CB and a backup QB, and possibly without Kyle Dunn (wisdom teeth), one of three RBs on the team with more than 300 rushing yards.
HIXSON WILDCATS (0-8, 0-4) at CENTRAL PURPLE POUNDERS (5-3, 4-1)
Storyline: Opposing coaches repeatedly say Hixson's record is not indicative of its level of play. The past two weeks, the Wildcats' losses have been by three and eight points. At this stage, first-year coach Gary Murray just wants his players to relax and have fun on Friday nights. The entire OL graduated off last year's team, so that's where the most growing pains have been. Murray insists the group has shown progress, which bodes well for the future. Central didn't fare well last week against Anderson County with the Region 2-4A title on the line. Coach Cortney Braswell said it was the first championship game for his group at any level. Last year's Pounders started 1-6. The team before went winless. This year, despite the loss to the Mavericks, they've already secured a home game in the state playoffs. Central has key players to watch in RB Michael McGhee (797 rushing yards, 15 TDs) and LB Vincent McColley (73.5 tackles).
LOOKOUT VALLEY YELLOW JACKETS (4-4) at SUNBRIGHT TIGERS (4-4)
Storyline: These teams have beaten two common opponents — Sale Creek and Oakdale — although the Tigers own more lopsided wins over those foes. Sunbright runs a veer offense, which means Lookout Valley defensive players will need to focus more on their specific assignments than any certain offensive player. The biggest point of emphasis this week for the Yellow Jackets will be cleaning up some of the costly mistakes — namely five turnovers — from last week's loss at Copper Basin. Tonight is a nonregion game and has no bearing on the playoffs, but the Jackets are looking to build some momentum before next week's regular-season finale and their trip to Gordonsville in the first round of the postseason.
MOUNT JULIET CHRISTIAN SAINTS (6-2, 3-2) at GRACE ACADEMY GOLDEN EAGLES (4-4, 2-3)
Storyline: With nothing but DII-A East Region games left for both, these teams are in the mix for a playoff spot, albeit one in the bottom three. The fourth position is far more attractive than the sixth, though, and not only in potential matchup. With the top two getting a bye, fourth comes with a home game in the first round. The Saints will test Grace's defense with their balanced attack, and they'll challenge the Golden Eagles to move the ball against a stacked front. QB Cade Tinsley is Grace's marquee player, but primarily because of his rushing prowess (922 yards, 12 TDs). He has thrown for 320 yards, but he may have to pass more than usual tonight. The OL will have to protect, too, and receivers like Noah Gray, Jimmy Green, Jacob McCawley and Ryan Merritt will need to help him out.
MARION COUNTY WARRIORS (3-5) at LOUDON REDSKINS (7-1)
Storyline: Looming next week for both teams are huge region games that will determine playoff positioning. Loudon will travel to Red Bank with the Region 3-3A title on the line, while Marion will host Polk County to determine second place in Region 3-2A. Loudon has rebounded from last year's one-win season with the return of coach Jeff Harig, who had a successful stint with the Redskins before leaving three years ago. Harig is also the defensive coordinator and has turned around a unit that allowed 30 or more points six times last year. Led by LB Darrell Cozart (5-9, 200), the Redskins have given up two or fewer scores five times this season. Marion will need big plays from senior RB Jacob Saylors and junior QB Isaiah Sampson. Loudon's offense is led by sophomore Drew Jackson (5-11, 175), who has made a smooth transition from RB to dual-threat QB and is joined in the backfield by shifty senior RB Skyan Lyle (5-10, 160).
WILLIAM BLOUNT GOVERNORS (0-8, 0-5) at BRADLEY CENTRAL BEARS (7-1, 4-0)
Storyline: The biggest reason to attend this Region 2-6A game is to celebrate Bradley's senior class, which has contributed to a 28-14 record during its four seasons and has the program headed to the playoffs again. The Bears will know their postseason fate after next week, when they travel to play at Maryville with the league's No. 1 seed up for grabs. Bradley coach Damon Floyd vows his team is thinking about tonight's game, not next week's. This is one in which the Bears are looking to start fast. Their overall focus will be on details, such as executing properly while avoiding penalties and turnovers. Bradley's passing game has flourished this year, but leading rusher Adam Mullis (550 yards) could get a workout tonight. Stephen Muhonen (466 receiving yards) has been a nice complement to 1,000-yard WR Lameric Tucker. PK Clay Shoemaker is 3-for-6 on field-goal attempts and 34-for-36 on PATs.
PICKENS DRAGONS (4-3, 2-1) at RIDGELAND PANTHERS (7-0, 3-0)
Storyline: Even after a statement-making win a week ago at Heritage put the Panthers in a position to win the Region 6-AAAA championship, there will be no overlooking the Dragons tonight. Pickens upset Ridgeland a year ago, making a mess of the region standings before the Panthers eventually won the title. Ridgeland's dominating defense will be tested by one of the region's top playmakers, Pickens QB Jacob Brumby, who has 1,607 yards passing, 288 rushing and 18 TDs. RB Robert Davis leads the team with 876 rushing yards and has 11 TDs, while WR Zach Goss has 621 receiving yards and 11 TDs, so the Panthers cannot focus on stopping one aspect. On offense, Ridgeland's success has come mainly on the ground and through FB Jalyn Shelton (638 rushing yards, 14 TDs) and WB Markeith Montgomery (653, nine TDs), but QB Tanner Hill has provided balance with 655 passing yards and seven TDs without an interception, with 511 yards going to WR Stephon Walker. Pickens gave up 300 yards on the ground to Northwest Whitfield FB Dominique Sistrunk, though, so Ridgeland's Shelton should be eager to get this one started.
SONORAVILLE PHOENIX (4-4, 1-2) at CALHOUN YELLOW JACKETS (6-1, 2-0)
Storyline: This Gordon County matchup has been decidedly one-sided in Calhoun's favor, but Sonoraville has increasingly made the games more competitive. A Phoenix upset tonight would shake up the 6-AAA South subregion standings, while a Calhoun win would wrap up a top seed for the region crossover games that close the regular season and determine playoff fate. Sonoraville's usually solid defense was gashed a bit by big-play Adairsville in a 35-25 loss and will need to tighten up against a Calhoun offense that can also score quickly behind QB Gavin Gray (1,603 passing yards, 13 TDs). The Jackets can run the ball with FB Zack Fuller, who has 578 yards and nine TDs, but it's through the air they do the most damage, with Gray's top targets WRs Luke Mosely (454 receiving yards), Brannon Spector (325) and Bralin Barton (301). Sonoraville must have some success through the air to loosen up the Calhoun defense, which means QB Patrick Moore and WR Tristan Key have to be active early.
MURRAY COUNTY INDIANS (3-5, 1-2) at LAKEVIEW-FORT OGLETHORPE WARRIORS (4-3, 2-0)
Storyline: If you like throwback football, Tommy Cash Stadium is the place to be tonight for a key 6-AAA North subregion game. Passes will be few and far between with these two ground-oriented offenses at work. Murray has one of the state's leading rushers in senior Tucker Gregg, who has a whopping 1,415 yards and 13 TDs after putting up 257 last week against Coahulla Creek. QB John Reed, who has been hobbled because of injury, had his best game with 125 rushing yards and three TDs while adding two more scores through the air. LFO's leading rusher, Nathan Williams (773 yards), doesn't have Gregg's eye-popping numbers, but in the past four games he has averaged considerably more than 100 yards. QB Zach Vaughn is the second option on the ground and doesn't mind sticking his nose in the pile to get extra yards. Which defense can make the opposing offense uncomfortable?
MOUNT ZION-CARROLL EAGLES (7-0, 4-0) at TRION BULLDOGS (5-2, 3-1)
Storyline: Trion has the opportunity to throw the 6A-A subregion race into a frenzy tonight at Sam R. McCain Stadium. Mount Zion, after enjoying its best season in program history a year ago, was thought to be in rebuilding mode, but after an overtime win against Darlington three weeks ago, the title is the Eagles' to win. They do most of their damage on the ground behind stout RBs Breon Henderson and Kareem Walker. Trion must attempt to forget last week's heartbreaking 35-31 loss at Darlington, where the Bulldogs thought they had won in the final seconds until Cole Phillips' TD run was called back, having been ruled out of bounds at the 7. Phillips (500 total yards this season), Logan Blevins (648 rushing) and Tanner Railey (540 total yards) give the Bulldogs threats inside and outside, while QB Jarrett Gill (725 passing), can hurt teams over the top. Can Trion's two-way starters, which include leading tacklers Blevins and Phillips, contain the speedy Mount Zion backs?