The four-week road trip to Cookeville for the TSSAA BlueCross Bowl state championship games begins Friday with 22 Chattanooga-area teams scheduled to step on the field for first-round playoff games. Two more area teams will join the mix when Division II-AAA begins its postseason next week.
At least one area team has played for a state title in 10 of the past 11 seasons, including each of the past seven, and there are again a handful expected to be serious challengers. Five area teams won their region and the top playoff spot that comes with a league title, and six are currently ranked in their respective classification's top five.
Meigs County, last year's Class 2A runner-up, was notified earlier this week that its first-round foe, Cosby, would have to forfeit for reasons related to COVID-19. The Tigers, who finished off their third unbeaten regular season in four years, advance to the second round and next week will host the winner of the Oneida at Hampton first-round matchup. Meanwhile in 4A, Howard's season came to an end as it remains under a 14-day coronavirus quarantine.
There is a familiar feel to the first-round games as 30 are rematches from last year, including 11 involving area teams.
The DII-AAA portion of the playoffs will begin next week, but Baylor and McCallie already know their first-round opponents. The Red Raiders will open at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, while reigning state champ McCallie will travel to Christian Brothers in Memphis.
Baylor announced Thursday that it had suspended team operations because members of the football program may have been exposed to COVID-19. The Red Raiders' game at MBA was moved back one day to Nov. 14.
Here is a look at each of this week's first-round games involving area teams:
Jo Byrns Red Devils (4-6) at South Pittsburg Pirates (9-1): Despite playing only seven games on the field, the Pirates lead all 1A teams with 390 points scored and have the state's highest scoring average (55.7 points per game) regardless of classification. These teams have met three times previously, including last year and in the 2010 title game, with the Pirates — who have reached at least the quarterfinal round 10 of the past 11 years and the semifinals three of the past four — winning each by an average of 40 points.
Clay County Bulldogs (6-4) at Copper Basin Cougars (8-1): The Cougars are coming out of quarantine and will be without all-state quarterback Bryson Grabowski, who was lost for the season with a knee injury. Copper Basin has not advanced past the first round since 2014.
Sale Creek Panthers (4-6) at Monterey Wildcats (7-2): One team's streak of postseason futility will finally come to an end. The Panthers are making their third straight trip to the postseason but have yet to score an offensive point in the playoffs, while the Wildcats — whose overall playoff record is 2-22 — have not advanced past the first round since 2014.
Whitwell Tigers (1-7) at Gordonsville Tigers (7-2): Whitwell salvaged its season in a big way with a 38-point win over Lookout Valley to earn the program's seventh straight playoff berth and set up a rematch of last year's second-round game, which was won by Gordonsville.
Cascade Champions (5-5) at Bledsoe County Warriors (10-0): The Warriors completed their first undefeated regular season in program history. Cascade, which is making its first playoff appearance in five years, has held seven opponents to 15 or fewer points.
Westmoreland Eagles (5-5) at Marion County Warriors (6-2): Warriors coach Dale Pruitt is just two wins from 300 for his career, and the Eagles have lost four of their past five first-round meetings with Region 3 opponents by an average score of 42-2, including three to Marion. Westmoreland did not allow more than seven points during a three-game winning streak to close the regular season.
Tyner Rams (4-4) at Trousdale County Yellow Jackets (8-2): The Rams have reached the playoffs in 26 of the past 27 seasons, advancing to at least the second round the past six years. Trousdale has ended Tyner's season the past two years.
Grundy County Yellow Jackets (2-7) at Red Bank Lions (6-1): The Yellow Jackets, who have not won a playoff game since 2003, are back in the postseason after a six-year absence. The Lions have yet to lose on the field this season — their only defeat was a region forfeit due to having to quarantine for a positive coronavirus test. Red Bank, which has played through injuries to multiple key starters and dealt with having three games canceled by COVID-19, has a completely healthy starting lineup for the first time since the season opener.
Brainerd Panthers (6-4) at Smith County Owls (4-6): The Panthers were without seven starters in last week's region upset loss to McMinn Central, a defeat that cost them second place in their region and the right to host a first-round game. This is already the most wins in a season for Brainerd since 2009.
Signal Mountain Eagles (4-4) at Upperman Bees (7-3): This is a rematch of last year's 45-0 first-round win by the Bees, who are coached by former Sequatchie County coach Adam Caine.
Sullivan South Rebels (8-2) at East Hamilton Hurricanes (7-3): The Rebels built a 14-point lead in the first half in last year's first-round matchup, but they had to convert on fourth-and-2 late to be able to run out the clock and hold off the Hurricanes' rally for a four-point win. It will again be a contrast in styles as Sullivan South will rely heavily on a massive offensive line to run the ball and try to control the clock, while the Hurricanes will throw on most snaps.
East Ridge Pioneers (6-4) at Elizabethton Fighting Cyclones (10-0): The Pioneers have won three of their past four games but now must face the top-ranked team in the classification. Elizabethton has a 37-point average margin of victory this season and won last year's meeting with East Ridge 44-8.
Fulton Falcons (4-4) at Rhea County Golden Eagles (9-1): The Falcons, who were under quarantine the previous two weeks, have not played a game since an Oct. 16 win over Campbell County. Rhea beat Fulton 47-14 in last year's first round.
Powell Panthers (8-2) at Walker Valley Mustangs (7-2): This is only the second home playoff game for the Mustangs in program history, with the first in 2004. Their most recent postseason win came in 2016, but they have been among the hottest teams in the area in the second half of this season, averaging 46 points per game and not allowing more than 14 points in any of their past five games.
Soddy-Daisy Trojans (3-7) at Oak Ridge Wildcats (7-3): The Trojans have never beaten Oak Ridge in the playoffs, and this is the fourth straight year these programs will face off in the first round. The past two meetings have ended with the exact same score, 40-23, and the Trojans enter this one having lost their past three regular-season games.
Bearden Bulldogs (4-5) at McMinn County Cherokees (9-1): There is no shortage of familiarity between these teams. The Cherokees won 42-0 in the fifth week of the regular season, and Bearden won last year's first-round meeting.
Bradley Central Bears (7-3) at Farragut Admirals (7-3): These teams met in the season opener, a game with three weather delays and a winning touchdown by the Admirals with less than two minutes remaining. The decisive score came on a drive aided by three penalties for pass interference, two of which converted third-and-10 situations. That 25-21 win was the fifth straight for Farragut over the Bears, including last year's first round.
Cleveland Blue Raiders (5-5) at Dobyns-Bennett Indians (8-2): The Blue Raiders, who will try to advance past the opening round for the first time since 2014, are close to having two 1,000-yard passers this season: Gage Kinsey has thrown for 1,150 yards and Drew Lambert 990. The third-ranked Indians lost their final two games of the regular season, including 20-7 to 3A's top-ranked Alcoa last week.
Boyd Buchanan Buccaneers (3-4) at Christian Academy of Knoxville Warriors (10-0): Only two teams have come within 14 points of the top-ranked Warriors, who beat the Bucs 34-10 earlier this season.
Silverdale Baptist Academy Seahawks (5-5) at Christ Presbyterian Academy Lions (7-1): This will be the first meeting between these programs. CPA was last year's state runner-up, while the Seahawks are looking for their first postseason win since reaching the 2013 quarterfinals.
Chattanooga Christian Chargers (4-3) at Knoxville Grace Rams (8-2): The Chargers rallied for a wild 59-48 road win against the Rams on Oct. 9, one of the biggest victories in program history. Now they must repeat that feat against a team that snapped a two-game losing streak last week with a 10-point win over Boyd Buchanan.
THIS WEEK’S CHATTANOOGA-AREA PREP FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Friday, Nov. 6, 2020
TSSAA playoffs, first round; games begin at 7 p.m. local time
Jo Byrns at South Pittsburg
Clay County at Copper Basin
Sale Creek at Monterey
Whitwell at Gordonsville
Cascade at Bledsoe County
Westmoreland at Marion County
Tyner at Trousdale County
Grundy County at Red Bank
Brainerd at Smith County
Signal Mountain at Upperman
Sullivan South at East Hamilton
East Ridge at Elizabethton
Fulton at Rhea County
Powell at Walker Valley
Soddy-Daisy at Oak Ridge
Bearden at McMinn County
Bradley Central at Farragut
Cleveland at Dobyns-Bennett
Boyd Buchanan at Christian Academy of Knoxville
Silverdale Baptist Academy at Christ Presbyterian Academy
Chattanooga Christian at Knoxville Grace
Games begin at 7:30 p.m.
Armuchee at Trion
Calhoun at Cass
Christian Heritage at Mount Paran Christian
Dade County at Coosa
Douglas County at Dalton
Murray County at North Murray
Ridgeland at Pickens
Sonoraville at LaFayette
Southeast Whitfield at Northwest Whitfield