There is just one more hurdle to be cleared for the Chattanooga area's two remaining teams in the TSSAA football playoffs to reach the BlueCross Bowl championship games.
But for Meigs County in Class 2A and Whitwell in 1A — each 13-0 but both relatively new to continuing the season past Thanksgiving — there are a pair of deep-rooted perennial playoff powers standing in the way tonight.
Trousdale County, which hosts Meigs, and Greenback, which travels to Whitwell, have combined for 16 state championship game appearances, 11 titles and more than 120 playoff wins. Conversely, Meigs County and Whitwell, both of which lost in the quarterfinals last year, are in the semifinals for the first time in more than 20 years.
The last time Meigs reached the semis, it had to knock off another traditional power, Alcoa, before falling in the 1995 championship game. The Tigers have reached the semifinals only two other times, losing there in 1993 and losing in the 1980 title game.
Whitwell is back in the semis for the first time since losing to eventual state champion Franklin Road Academy in 1991, the furthest the Tigers have ever advanced.
"When you talk about teams with tradition in our state, Trousdale is one of the first ones you have to mention," Meigs coach Jason Fitzgerald said. "They're one of those teams that it just seems are right there every year challenging for a championship."
Trousdale owns three championships in the past 10 seasons, and the losses this season for the Yellow Jackets (9-3) have been 16-12 to Lebanon, which reached the Class 6A playoffs; 13-7 in overtime to Whitwell; and 22-21 to Watertown, an Aug. 31 defeat that was avenged with a 15-8 win last week.
The Jackets have held seven of their past eight opponents to eight or fewer points, including a 35-0 thumping of Tyner in the second round of the playoffs. The Rams had averaged 40 points per game coming into that Nov. 9 matchup.
After hosting in the first three rounds and rolling by an average score of 34-10, top-ranked Meigs, the Region 2 champion, now travels to one of the most feared home-field advantages in the state. Region 4 runner-up Trousdale has won 21 of the past 23 playoff games it hosted.
"I've always heard about how tough it is, but this will be the first time I've ever taken a team there," Fitzgerald said. "If you love good high school football, why wouldn't you want to go experience that type atmosphere? It will be two good teams going at it.
"I would bet that most kids today don't know anything about how many state championships Trousdale has won or the history of their program. Most of our kids don't even know where it is. Our guys just show up and want to play and try to keep the run we're on going."
Similarly, Greenback has been a longtime contender in 1A, winning its second state title last season and looking to reach the championship game for a fourth straight season. The Cherokees (12-0), the Region 2 champions, will come to Whitwell riding a 20-game winning streak.
Whitwell, which already has set a school record for wins, has proven it knows how to put teams away quickly, with an average margin of 45-9 this year. But the Region 3 champions also know how to win close games, with the proof in their overtime victory against Trousdale on Oct. 5 and last week's double-overtime win against South Pittsburg, a game the Tigers never led in regulation.
Whitwell, which twice rallied from two scores down against South Pittsburg, held the Pirates to an average of just 1.5 yards per play in the second half.
"We want it more than anybody," Whitwell senior Hudson Petty said after last week's win.
Petty, a Mr. Football semifinalist, was clutch when his team needed him most, throwing for a fourth-down touchdown on the final play of the first half, then adding the 2-point conversion before scoring both touchdowns and a 2-point conversion in the extra periods.
"We play for each other," Petty said of the Tigers, "and refuse to stop fighting and finding a way."
The Meigs-Trousdale winner will play the winner of tonight's other semifinal between Waverly (10-3) and Peabody (12-1) in the 2A BlueCross Bowl at noon Eastern next Thursday at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville. The Whitwell-Greenback winner will play the winner between Cornersville (13-0) and Lake County (12-1) for the 1A championship at noon Eastern on Saturday, Dec. 1, also at Tennessee Tech.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.