Few prep teams have dominated region competition quite like Meigs County football the past four seasons. The Tigers claimed 16 consecutive wins over league foes and used the four straight region titles as a springboard into the playoffs, where they reached the Class 2A state championship game the last two years and the semifinals the season before that.
But when the TSSAA set its new regions late last fall, Meigs County was moved from the region it had owned for four years into a league already stacked deep with traditionally strong programs, creating what is essentially one of the state's toughest regions.
Besides Meigs County, Region 3-2A also consists of perennial powers Marion County and Tyner as well as last year's league champion Bledsoe County, plus Polk County and Tellico Plains.
At least one of those teams has reached a state title game in six of the last seven seasons.
"There's no such thing as an easy week in that region now," said Meigs coach Jason Fitzgerald, whose program has compiled a 62-7 overall record the past five seasons. "I know from past experience how tough Marion and Tyner are traditionally and Bledsoe is just as tough now so any of the four of us could wind up winning the region.
"We'll have our work cut out for us for sure."
Although the Tigers must replace all-state running back Will Meadows, a Mr. Football finalist, they will return eight defensive starters, including all-state linebacker Ben Smith and defensive end Daquan Tatum, as well as offensive stars in quarterback Logan Carroll and multi-purpose all-state athlete Cam Huckabee.
Bledsoe County won the region for the first time in a decade last year and, although most of its linemen on both sides of the ball graduated, dual-threat quarterback Harmon Keith, running back Cadillac Siever and leading tackler Gunner Sweat all will be back from an 11-win team.
While both Bledsoe and Meigs will need to plug holes in their line, that could be the strength for Marion, which also brings back all-state athlete Taye Hutchins, who accounted for more than 1,500 total yards last season. He will run behind an offensive line that includes Michael Showalter (6-2, 315), Keenan Cummings (6-2, 280) and Kane Bohannon (6-4, 340).
"We've got good size up front and all of those kids have gotten a lot stronger in the weight room, which helps," said Warriors coach Dale Pruitt who is just one win shy of 300 for his career. "It's going to be a very tough region. That's why we've got to work on depth. Playing against that schedule, you'll have some people banged up so whoever stays healthy will be the key to winning it."
Another region shake-up that should create new rivalries among strong area programs is in 4-5A, where Rhea County and Walker Valley are now joined by Ooltewah and McMinn County — both dropping down from 6A — as well as Howard, which moves up from 4A. From that group, all but Ooltewah reached the playoffs last season with three of those advancing to at least the second round.
2021 Chattanooga-area prep football regions
Region 3-1A: Copper Basin, Lookout Valley, Sale Creek, South Pittsburg, Whitwell
Region 3-2A: Bledsoe Co., Marion Co., Meigs Co., Polk Co., Tellico Plains, Tyner Academy
Region 3-3A: Brainerd, Kingston, Loudon, McMinn Central, Signal Mountain, Sweetwater
Region 4-3A: Cannon Co., Community, Giles Co., Grundy Co., Sequatchie Co.
Region 3-4A: Central, East Hamilton, East Ridge, Hixson, Red Bank, Sequoyah, Soddy-Daisy
Region 4-5A: McMinn Co., Ooltewah, Rhea Co., Howard, Walker Valley
Region 2-6A: Bearden, Bradley Central, Cleveland, Farragut, Hardin Valley, Maryville
Division-II AA East: Boyd Buchanan, Chattanooga Christian, Christian Academy of Knoxville, Knoxville Grace Christian, Notre Dame, Silverdale Baptist, Knoxville Webb
Division II-AA East/Middle: Baylor, Father Ryan, Knoxville Catholic, McCallie, Montgomery Bell Academy, Pope John Paul II
Similarly, the new Region 3-4A is also loaded as East Hamilton, Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy — all having won or finished second in region standings the past two seasons — will be grouped together with Central, East Ridge, Hixson and Sequoyah.
"It's a high-caliber region as far as the quality of competition," said Soddy-Daisy coach Justin Barnes. "Red Bank and East Hamilton are as good as anybody around our area and Central and East Ridge typically have some really dangerous athletes. It's a tough league but it should make for a lot of fun games for the kids and fans and I would expect some new rivalries will develop too."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.