In a year when nothing has been ordinary, three Chattanooga-area prep football teams can still accomplish the extraordinary.
A TSSAA season that was in doubt four months ago culminates this week with the annual BlueCross Bowl state title games at Tennessee Tech University. The schedule is for nine games during a three-day stretch in Cookeville, with an area team competing for a title in its classification each day. It will be only the third time — and the first time in a decade — to have so many from the Scenic City area reach championship weekend.
Competition for area teams begins with the Division II-AAA matchup between McCallie (8-3) and Memphis University School (10-2) at 8 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, with the Blue Tornado trying to repeat as champions.
South Pittsburg (13-1) will face Fayetteville (12-2) for the Class 1A title at 4 p.m. Friday, while Meigs County (14-0) takes on Peabody (13-0) for the 2A crown at 4 p.m. Saturday in a rematch of last year's title game that was won by Peabody, which is trying to secure its third consecutive title and fourth in seven seasons.
The 1994 season was the only time three area teams (Cleveland in 4A, Marion County in 3A and South Pittsburg in 1A) won state championships.
"If you had told me back in midsummer that this would've happened, that we would've been able to play an entire season and have championship games, I would've laid odds against it," Blue Tornado coach Ralph Potter said. "We were quarantined before the start of the season and most of fall camp. We were one of many teams to have games canceled and at one point in the middle of the season we had played just one game in a month.
"But we've managed to get to this point, and now we just want to play one more. The look on the kids' faces after our semifinal win, knowing what they've fought through to get here, that was a real highlight to see."
McCallie is one of five 2019 champions back in the title round, joined by Alcoa (3A), Davidson Academy (DII-A), Elizabethton (4A) and Peabody (2A).
"When you have success, the next class behind that has a lot of motivation and feels like that's where they ought to be," Potter said. "That experience can create expectations and teaches younger players what goes into reaching that level."
In addition to Meigs County facing Peabody, there are two other rematches from last year's BlueCross Bowl (Davidson Academy versus University School of Jackson and Lipscomb Academy versus Christ Presbyterian Academy in DII-AA), and half of the 18 teams competing are returning after playing in last year's title games.
MUS eliminated McCallie from the playoffs in 2018, 2013 and 2011, while McCallie beat MUS in the 2003 postseason.
All three area teams will showcase Tennessee Titans Mr. Football finalists. Those up for the annual awards include McCallie running back B.J. Harris, who is committed to Missouri and has rushed for 1,325 yards and 18 touchdowns to lead a balanced offense that has averaged 176 yards rushing and 161 passing per game.
South Pittsburg boasts two of the three Mr. Football finalists in 1A: Running back Hunter Frame has averaged 14 yards per carry while gaining 1,835 yards and scoring 36 touchdowns, while fellow senior Jared Stone is a two-time all-state offensive lineman and the team's second-leading tackler. The Pirates are back in the title game for the first time since 2013, looking to win the program's sixth championship but first since 2010.
Running behind a very physical offensive line that has paved the way for Meigs County to rush for nearly 300 yards per game, Will Meadows — who is part of a senior group that has compiled a 52-4 four-year record — became the program's fourth consecutive Mr. Football finalist. He has gained 1,780 yards and scored 31 touchdowns, and junior quarterback Logan Carroll has also been impressive with 986 yards rushing and 856 passing.
"Working out over the summer, it was always in the back of my mind, 'Am I doing all this for nothing?'" Meadows said. "Didn't know for sure if we'd get to play any games, but here we are, back in the championship with a chance to do something that hasn't been done here before. I'm really grateful for that."
This will be the Tigers' fourth appearance in the championship game, and the program is looking for its first title.
"With everything that's gone on this year, not knowing if we would get to have a season, this is really special," Tigers coach Jason Fitzgerald said. "My hat's off to the TSSAA for getting us to this point to allow the kids who have worked so hard to be rewarded with this opportunity."
Due to COVID-19 concerns, the capacity for each game will be limited to 6,000, and Tucker Stadium will be cleared after each game. Temperature checks will be administered at each gate, and masks must be worn in the stands.
Tickets are $12 per game and must be purchased in advance at https:gofan.co/tssaa. Parking is $10 per vehicle, with only cash accepted.
BlueCross Bowl Schedule
At Tennessee Tech
All times Eastern
DII-AA: Lipscomb Academy (10-2) vs. CPA (10-1), noon
DII-A: USJ (10-2) vs. Davidson Academy (12-0), 4
DII-AAA: McCallie (8-3) vs. MUS (10-2), 8
Class 3A: Alcoa (13-1) vs. Milan (11-1), noon
Class 1A: South Pittsburg (13-1) vs. Fayetteville (12-2), 4
Class 5A: Oak Ridge (11-3) vs. Summit (13-1), 8
Class 4A: Elizabethton (14-0) vs. Haywood (10-3), noon
Class 2A: Meigs County (14-0) vs. Peabody (13-0), 4
Class 6A: Oakland (14-0) vs. Brentwood (11-3), 8