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Red Bank's Gerald Riggs breaks an attempted tackle by Soddy Daisy's Brad Jaquith during first half play Thursday night at Finley Stadium.

Times Free Press' top ten area state championship teams

1. Red Bank (2000 Class 5A): As heavy white flakes swirled around Tom Weathers, the longtime Red Bank coach fought back tears as he glanced one last time at the scoreboard towering over Floyd Stadium at Middle Tennessee State University. With heavy snow blowing in throughout the game, the Lions capped a perfect 15-0 season with a 27-7 victory over perennial power Murfreesboro Riverdale for the 5A championship.

Said Weathers, as he clutched the championship coach's plaque: "I really can't put into words what this feels like. Not right now. It will take some time to look back on everything these kids did and be able to describe the feeling."

After the game, several Lions players lay flat on their backs, sliding their arms and legs back and forth to make snow angels on the field in celebration. Red Bank's title marked the first time in 27 years that a Hamilton County team had won a championship in the state's largest classification.

The Lions opened the season at Finley Stadium with a 34-7 win over a Brentwood Academy team that went on to play for the Division II Large state title, and they also beat state-ranked teams Cleveland, Murfreesboro Oakland, Bradley Central (twice) and Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett along the way. Red Bank finished No. 11 in the USA Today national rankings, outscoring opponents an average of 40-12, and held its last six opponents to 14 points or less, giving up more than two touchdowns only twice all season.

After trailing at halftime for the first time all season, 7-6, the Lions rallied to bury Riverdale under an avalanche of 250 rushing yards in the second half. The Red Bank defense also held Riverdale all-state runner Ralph King to 78 yards on 14 carries, the first time all season he didn't go over 100 yards rushing, and the Lions ran 33 more offensive plays.

Junior Gerald Riggs, who was tabbed the nation's No. 1 running back prospect the next fall, earned BlueCross Bowl offensive MVP honors after rushing 31 times for 209 yards and three touchdowns. He also was the state's Mr. Football back of the year after gaining 2,434 yards and scoring 37 touchdowns for the season. Backfield mates Jamichael McGoy and Cole Goins each added more than 950 yards.

The Lions' punishing offense gained 6,493 yards and their turnover ratio was plus-31.

 

2. Cleveland (1993 4A): The Blue Raiders outscored opponents an average of 45-7 and were so talented that sophomore Dante Hickey, who is considered one of the best athletes to come through the Chattanooga area, was a fourth option to carry the ball.

Cory Prigmore tossed a 17-yard TD pass to Keith Cobb with 43 seconds remaining for the winning score as Cleveland knocked off previously unbeaten powerhouse Brentwood Academy 26-21 to cap a 14-0 season with the program's first championship.

The Blue Raiders opened the season with a 70-3 win over Hixson and didn't allow a touchdown until the sixth game. They had three 1,000-yard rushers, led by twin all-state speedsters Keith and Kevin Cobb, who both had 4.3-second speed in the 40 and went on to play collegiately for Memphis. Chris Whaley was a 240-pound bull of a fullback, and Prigmore was the title-game MVP, hitting on 12 of 18 passes for 160 yards.

In a win over Maryville, Cleveland started the second half by scoring a TD on each of its first five snaps, and in the title game the Blue Raiders held Brentwood Academy to two second-half first downs.

"That was one of the best high school teams I've ever been around or seen," said then-Cleveland coach Benny Monroe. "I thought we were the best team in the whole state, regardless of class. I don't know anybody that could stop us.

"Everybody talks about the offensive speed we had, but you just couldn't score on us. We had 11 stallions on defense. We were phenomenal on both sides of the ball."

 

3. Baylor (1973 AAA): Before the season, coach E.B. "Red" Etter had said, "No way Baylor can be as good in 1973 as it was in 1972." But one year after a loss in the title game, plenty of talent returned on both sides of the ball — including 29 seniors — to help the Red Raiders finish off a championship run. Despite being outgained 209-140 in the championship game by Hillcrest, the Red Raiders held on for a 6-0 win and later were named national champions by Minnesota-based National Sports News Service. One play after Cal Jumper had recovered a fumble at the Hillcrest 6-yard line, quarterback Bobby Worthington hit Tim Tucker for a second-quarter touchdown that wound up being the game's only points. Hillcrest's biggest scoring threat came when what would have been a 15-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter was caught out of bounds on fourth down.

Baylor forced three turnovers and the defense, led by back-to-back tackles for loss by linebackers Rob Davis and Andy Stockett when Hillcrest had driven to the Red Raiders' 11, was key in the 13-0 finish to the season. The Red Raiders held seven opponents to seven or fewer points, including five shutouts.

The offense rushed for 3,939 yards, led by all-state back Andy Rutledge's 989 yards and 16 TDs. He went on to play for Vanderbilt. Clay Gibson added 813 yards on the ground. All-state defensive back Scott Price, who later helped Alabama earn two national titles, stepped up offensively in the playoffs to fill in for Rutledge, who had been injured in the final regular-season game. Receiver Mike Shuford and quarterback Worthington, who threw for 813 yards, went on to play for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

 

4. Marion County (1994 3A): The starting defense allowed just 22 total points in 15 games, including one touchdown in the season's first 48 quarters. That included a season-opening shutout of a South Pittsburg team that went on to average nearly 50 points on its way to the 1A title. The Warriors failed to scored 40-plus points just twice in finishing 15-0, winning all but one game by at least 26 points.

Despite attempting just 74 passes all season, the offense averaged 42 points in the regular season and 46 in the playoffs, led by running backs Rayburn Prince and Eric Westmoreland, who each finished with more than 1,000 rushing yards. Prince gained 154 yards in the title game, and Westmoreland ran for 151 and four TDs to earn offensive MVP honors. He was also a Mr. Football finalist, while linebacker Jason Muir was a Mr. Football award winner and the title-game defensive MVP.

"It literally (ticked) us off if the other team got a first down," said Westmoreland, who returned two of his seven interceptions for TDs. "We went into every game with the goal of getting a shutout. We had the fewest points scored against us in the whole state, so yeah, we took defense pretty serious."

 

5. McCallie (2001 Division II-AAA): The Blue Tornado fought back from a 10-0 halftime deficit to take the lead early in the fourth quarter of the championship game. But with 3:38 remaining, McCallie found itself trailing again when Brentwood Academy kicker John Vaughn made a 42-yard field goal. McCallie countered with a 16-play, 76-yard drive, converting two third downs and a fourth-and-16 before attempting a winning field goal.

Sophomore kicker Trey Meyer connected on a 22-yarder with 11 seconds remaining to lift McCallie to a 17-16 victory.

"I never had time to get nervous before the kick," Meyer said after the game. "I was on the sideline warming up, and all of a sudden I hear the coaches yelling for the field-goal team. It was just an amazing feeling to watch the ball go through the uprights."

The win capped McCallie's first unbeaten season — 12-0 — since 1936 and was its fifth victory by seven points or less.

 

6. Marion County (1995 3A): Having already won three state championships to begin the decade, the Jasper juggernaut couldn't find anyone in the Warriors' own classification willing to schedule them. Needing four non-region games to fill out the schedule, Marion coach Ken Colquette added road games at Baylor, Soddy-Daisy, Rhea County and Shelbyville — all schools in larger classifications and each state-ranked.

Solidifying their status as "Bullies of the Valley," the Warriors overcame the beefed-up schedule to complete their second straight 15-0 season. By the time the playoffs began Marion found competing against teams in its own classification much easier, outscoring its five postseason foes an average of 44-14. That included a thorough title-game beating of Humboldt, which featured Mr. Football finalist Kelcey Williams at running back and Tennessee offensive line signee Toby Champion.

In the title game, Eric Westmoreland accounted for 153 of Marion's 226 rushing yards to earn offensive MVP for a second straight year. He also had 12 tackles. Westmoreland finished his final prep season with 2,359 rushing yards and 40 TDs to also win Mr. Football honors.

 

7. Cleveland (1994 4A): Despite a noticeable drop in the depth of talent, the Blue Raiders still had more than enough to finish off a second straight unbeaten championship season. In the title game, against a Haywood team coached by current Baylor coach Phil Massey that averaged 40 points, all-state athlete Dante Hickey was the star on both sides of the ball. His third-quarter 11-yard scoring run was Cleveland's only touchdown, but it proved to be enough with Joe Cordero's extra point and the Blue Raiders defense holding Haywood to six points. Hickey, who could high jump 7 feet, leaped high to make a one-handed interception to stop a late Tomcats drive in Cleveland territory, securing the team's fourth win by six points or less.

"It really didn't matter where we put Dante, because whenever he got the ball he was going to be spectacular," coach Benny Monroe said. "He's one of the best pure athletes I've ever been around."

The Blue Raiders overcame the loss of starting quarterback Cory Prigmore midway through the season to finish 15-0. In Tez Davis' first game starting at quarterback, he led the team to a 42-6 thumping of Maryville.

 

8. South Pittsburg (2007 1A): Against a schedule dotted with nine state-ranked opponents, the Pirates led all Tennessee teams, regardless of classification, by averaging 48 points per game, and they held nine opponents to one TD or less. With an offense that averaged 19 yards per play and scored 41 TDs covering 30-plus yards, South Pitt finished 15-0, claiming 11 of its victories by the state's 35-point mercy rule. The Pirates scored touchdowns on 31 of 38 playoff possessions and punted only twice in their final 11 games. Eight players went on to earn college scholarships, and fullback Robert Robinson ran for a program-record 2,439 yards, including 204 and four TDs in the title game. David Jones, who went on to play safety for Middle Tennessee State, added 1,100 rushing yards and was the state-title-game defensive MVP. Terrell Robinson, who later in his career would become a Mr. Football award winner before signing with UTC, was relegated to playing defense as senior quarterback Cody Robinson threw for more than 1,500 yards, including a single-game program record 227 in a playoff win over Friendship Christian. Rashawn Weatherspoon, who went on to play for Tennessee State, had 17 TD receptions.

In the title game, the Pirates rolled up 528 yards of offense and held a McKenzie team that came in averaging 41 points scoreless until the fourth quarter of a 52-20 win.

 

9. Tyner (1997 2A): The Rams became Hamilton County's first public-school team to win a title. The scores required a double-take and the talent was lethal in a season that culminated on the green carpet of Vanderbilt's Dudley Field with a Class 2A championship. Like a shooting star, Rory Hinton's 29-yard pass pierced the Nashville night air, refusing to fall to earth until receiver Windarek Stewart cradled it in his arms and lifted Tyner to a 13-10 victory over stubborn Union City.

The team outscored its opponents an average of 45-8, including six shutouts, in racking up a 14-1 record. The loss was to eventual Division II state champion Battle Ground Academy in a scoring shootout, and the Rams had seven players who signed college scholarships, including three to Football Bowl Subdivision programs. One of those, fullback/linebacker Kelvin Hughley, became the school's first Mr. Football, earning Class 2A's lineman of the year honor.

 

10. Signal Mountain (2010 2A): In only its second year of varsity competition, Signal Mountain joined elite company among some of Tennessee's most talked-about programs. The Eagles finished 14-0 and won their state championship in fewer years than it had taken any other program in state history.

"That's something that's just unheard of," said former TSSAA executive director Ronnie Carter, who worked with the state's governing body for high school sports for more than 30 years. "I don't know that anybody would have thought it was possible for a second-year program to not only get to the state championship game, but to be undefeated."

The Eagles still rank as the highest-scoring team in area history, averaging 51.6 points and bringing home the championship trophy with a 56-28 come-from-behind win over Trinity Christian Academy, which led the game 21-7 early in the first half.

Grinding out the title win with a dominating rushing attack in rainy weather, the Eagles ran for 523 yards, led by offensive MVP Donnie Garner's 218 yards and three TDs. Andrew Price added 133 rushing yards, while quarterback Hogan Whitmire passed for 165, including an 80-yard TD to Will Queen.

 

The best of the rest

(Listed alphabetically)

Bradley Central (1976 AAA): The Bears won five games by a touchdown or less in a 13-0 season and were considered underdogs in all three of their playoff games, beginning with an 18-0 upset of a Kirkman team that had finished the regular season 10-0. The semifinal game against Dobyns-Bennett was played at Sevierville High, which had just built a new field through a generous donation form Dolly Parton to her alma mater. Dobyns-Bennett had allowed just 28 points all season, but it was the Bradley defense that rose to the occasion by holding the Indians to 91 rushing yards and intercepting three passes in a 24-18 Bears win. A week later the title game was played on Thanksgiving night at MTSU against a Jackson Central-Merry team had been top-ranked all season. Bears quarterback Scott Kyle scored 32 points — five TDs and a 2-point conversion — for a championship game record that stood for more than 20 years in a dramatic 50-48 triple overtime win.

Cleveland (1995 4A): The defense, led by all-state linebacker Tony Styles, allowed an average of just nine points per game, giving up more than 14 only twice all season. That included a second straight title-game win over Haywood, 14-3. Running back Stepfon Woods earned Mr. Football back of the year honors after his second straight season of rushing for more than 1,500 yards, and offensive tackle Eric Stout (6-5, 270) was Mr. Football lineman of the year.

Cleveland finished 14-0 to run its consecutive streak to 43 straight wins and claimed its third consecutive 4A title. "That Haywood team we played was one of the most physical teams I ever coached against," Coach Benny Monroe said. "But our defense just didn't give up a single yard without a fight."

Boyd Buchanan (2003 1A): One year after a heartbreaking overtime loss in the 1A title game, the Buccaneers would not be denied. Led by a defense that held eight of 14 opponents — including four of five playoff foes — to seven points or less, Boyd Buchanan finished off a 12-2 season with a 26-3 championship win over Donelson Christian Academy. The only losses came to 2A state-ranked Goodpasture and at Division II-AAA Baylor. The offense was just as impressive as junior tailback Matt Peardon ran for more than 1,900 yards (averaging 8.1 per carry) and 31 TDs and Drew Akins made a smooth transition from receiver to quarterback, throwing for 1,100 yards and rushing for another 500 to help the team score 40-plus points eight times.

Marion County (1990 2A): Marion had knocked on the door several times in the 1980s, including title game losses in '82 and '84, followed by runs to the quarterfinals or semifinals each of the five years before the 1990 season. The close calls had taken a toll and that frustration was the motivation for players to run extra sprints or put in an extra rep in the weightroom during offseason workouts. After two regular-season losses, Marion blistered its first four playoff opponents by an average of 45-12, then dominated previously unbeaten Memphis University School 26-7. MUS had owned wins over Germantown, which was playing for the AAA championship, as well as perennial power Brentwood Academy and had not allowed more than 105 rushing yards to that point. Rodney Rankin ran for 118 and two TDs by himself, earning MVP honors, and the Warriors defense held MUS to 61 rushing yards and forced five turnovers.

Marion County (1992 2A): A bulldozing offensive line — which included all-state performers Chip Lockhart and T.J. Gentle, who both went on to play for MTSU — paved the way for the Warriors' unlikely second championship. The Warriors, who won all but two games by 20-plus points, averaged better than 300 rushing yards per game. They finished off a 15-0 season in front of more than 16,000 fans at Vanderbilt by rallying from a 13-0 deficit and scoring two TDs in the final minutes to beat nationally ranked Brentwood Academy 28-26. A huge key to the game was Warriors 5-foot-8, 185-pound senior center Timmy Rash consistently whipping Eagles 6-2, 290-pound all-state noseguard Reggie "The Mountain" Williams in the second half. The Warriors finished 15-0 for the first time in program history, winning their final three playoff games by seven points or less. The championship loss was so devastating for the Eagles, who had won 26 straight games, that they left the runner-up trophy on the field. When a TSSAA official notified Eagles coaches, a team manager was sent from the bus just to fetch the unwanted hardware.

South Pittsburg (1969 1A): The defense allowed one touchdown or less in nine of 11 games, and the offense was led by speedy tailback Jimmy Wigfall, who ran for 2,165 yards and 28 TDs and later signed with Austin Peay. The Pirates rallied from a two-score second-half deficit for a 28-22 win over rival Marion County to earn a playoff berth, then thumped Oneida and TPS in the postseason by a combined 54-12. TPS came into the title game as a prohibitive favorite, having shut out eight of its 10 opponents, averaging 50 points per game and riding a 22-game win streak. However the Pirates defense allowed the Broncos to cross midfield only once. Wigfall ran for 168 yards and intercepted a pass in the title game to complete an 11-0 season.

South Pittsburg (1994 1A): Led by a defense that held 11 of 15 opponents to one touchdown or less, and an average of just 1.9 yards per carry, the Pirates outscored opponents by an average of 42-7. The only loss in 15 games was a 6-0 defeat in the season opener to a Marion County team that went on to claim the 2A title. The only points in that game came on Eric Westmoreland's 66-yard interception return. Quarterback/safety Perry Hutchins was ranked as one of the state's top 10 college prospects, with recruiting interest from Tennessee, Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame among others, and tailback Corey Tipton ran for 2,130 yards, including a school-record 349 in the first round of the playoffs and 208 in the title game to earn offensive MVP honors. Linebacker Vincent Banks was a Mr. Football finalist.

South Pittsburg (1999 1A): The Pirates defeated eventual Alabama 1A state champion Courtland and knocked off two-time defending state champion Trousdale County in the semifinals before completing the school's first 15-0 season by soundly whipping Moore County 42-13 for the championship. There were 20 seniors on the 36-player roster — all but one starter were seniors — and six players earned college scholarship offers, including Aaron Chambers and Tim Starkey, who were both Mr. Football finalists. Tailback Sam Pickett ran for 231 yards and scored a championship game record six touchdowns. Pickett, Starkey and halfback Ronnie Griffith each ran for more than 1,000 yards, and the team scored 50-plus points five times.

South Pittsburg (2010 1A): The Pirates claimed 10 of 12 victories by the state's 35-point mercy rule and averaged nearly 50 points per game. Senior running back Raquis Hale set a school record with 2,454 rushing yards, including 228 and five TDs in the title game to earn offensive MVP honors. Hale ran for 1,076 yards in the team's four playoff games alone (averaging 13 yards per carry and scoring 15 postseason TDs), and the Pirates rolled to a 41-6 championship win over Jo Byrns.

Whitwell (2018 1A): The Tigers joined the other two county programs with a memorable run that included rallying for dramatic wins in each of their final three playoff games and a 15-0 finish. After snapping a 28-game losing streak to county rival South Pittsburg, Whitwell rallied from a two-TD deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Pirates again in double overtime in the quarterfinals. The following week the Tigers kicked a field goal with just seconds remaining to defeat 2017 state champion Greenback in the semifinals. In the title game, Whitwell scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter before holding off a desperation drive by Cornersville in the final seconds for a 7-6 win.

The Tigers, who also beat 2A runner-up Trousdale County on the road in overtime, set several school records including most points scored — averaging 41, led by two-way star Hudson Petty, who became a Mr. Football semifinalist.

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