Chattanooga’s contingent of 11 prep football teams heading into the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association playoffs Friday night is headed – at least record-wise – by three 9-1 teams: Silverdale Baptist Academy’s Seahawks, Boyd-Buchanan’s Bucs and East Hamilton’s Hurricanes.
Of the 200 schools competing for state championships in eight public and private classifications, just 15 have perfect 10-0 records. Twenty-nine have a second-best 9-1 mark.
Amazingly, five of six teams in Quad 1 of the Class 2A bracket roll into the postseason with one loss. Three more one-loss teams are spread throughout the rest of the bracket.
In one of only two first-round matchups – in any classification – pitting 9-1 teams, Silverdale goes to Hampton. The winner advances to the second round to play – you guessed it – 9-1 Knoxville Grace, the state’s top-ranked team in the latest murphyfair.com poll. The other two one-loss teams in the bracket are Oneida and, of course, Boyd-Buchanan.
“Go figure,” Silverdale coach Al Rogers said.
Rogers isn’t whining, but added that his Seahawks and four other once-beaten teams in the bracket have to deal with a sometimes hard to explain TSSAA playoff format, one that has been widely derided across the state in recent days for lapses of logic.
The Quad 1 Class 2A bracket is burdened with highly successful teams, at least on paper. The first two rounds will eliminate solid teams beaten by even stronger opponents.
“I’m going out on a limb and saying that the state champion will come from our bracket,” Rogers said. “I really believe that.”
The 6A bracket has the only other 9-1 showdown in the first round, that pitting Oak Ridge and Johnson City Science Hill.
“I can’t explain it,” said Rogers, who led the Seahawks to their second winning season and fourth playoff appearance in the program’s eight-year history. “That's something for the TSSAA. We’ve been telling our kids to enjoy being 9-1, but it’s a zero-zero season right now. They’re very positive and upbeat and excited to do what they get to do – play more football games.”
The Seahawks, 0-3 in postseason play, are riding a seven-game winning streak going into the game against Hampton, which is making its ninth straight trip to the playoffs.
During the regular season, Silverdale faced only two teams with winning records, but despite the competition level increasing dramatically Rogers believes the Seahawks are up to the challenge.
“I think we’re ready for it,” he said. “Grace had a lot of injuries and I don’t think that’s a 2-8 team. Lookout Valley and Community are good teams. Hampton is not really similar to teams we’ve played, but if I had to compare them it would be to Copper Basin, which also is in the playoffs.
“We have to execute and not make mistakes. That’s how you win games.”
The Seahawks are dealing with several players with injuries, but, hey, it’s November. Most teams find themselves in that same situation.
Junior wide receiver Stone Hood won’t play on Friday due to a concussion.
Junior tight end/linebacker Colton Rogers, the coach’s son, has been in a walking boot for most of three weeks with a sprained ankle, but is expected to again toss it aside and play against the Bulldogs.
Junior defensive end Lincoln Phillips, the area’s sack leader, also is limping around in a boot and it’s hoped he can play in the opener, as well. Phillips was hurt in the regular-season finale against Grace.
“It’s just that time of year,” coach Rogers said.
In the lower portion of the Quad 1 Class 2A bracket, Boyd-Buchanan has been matched with Rockwood, at 6-4 the only non 9-1 squad in the quad.
The Bucs, making their 15th playoff appearance and 14th straight, recorded eight consecutive wins opening season before losing to Class 4A Maplewood, and then wrapping up a one-loss regular season with a District 5-A championship winning performance against Copper Basin.
Playing up during the season is something Bucs coach Grant Reynolds doesn’t mind.
“We don’t have much choice,” he said. “TSSAA has handcuffed us in this four-team district (which includes Silverdale, Copper Basin and Grace). Putting a few of the teams on our schedule was done purposely to make us stay on our toes. Some lower-tier teams won’t play us. I’d like to play 1A and 2A teams because that’s our enrollment, but we can’t find many teams at that level.”
In addition to Maplewood, which finished second in 2011 and 2007, reached the quarterfinals in 2009 and semifinals in 2010, the Bucs played Howard and East Ridge (both 3A playoff schools) and perennial 1A title contender South Pittsburg, a program with 22 straight playoff appearances, four state championships and five runner-up finishes.
“We’ve got a good relationship with Howard and we’ve always played South Pittsburg,” Reynolds said, “but Chattanooga Christian and East Ridge won’t play us next year. We have to find some other teams and that’s difficult.”
To the task at hand, the Bucs are preparing for a hard-nosed opponent in Rockwood’s Tigers.
“Rockwood has a pretty good-sized team,” Reynolds said. “Those big kids are physical and well-coached.”
The Bucs are led offensively by quarterback Jim Cardwell, who had 1,449 yards of total offense and 20 touchdowns, including a season-high 211 rushing yards against Howard, through nine games. Running back Rance Harden rushed for more than 1,000 yards with 13 touchdowns.
Defensively, Harden, Steven Ingram and Austin Bailey turned in strong season-long performances.
A Boyd-Buchanan victory would move the Bucs into a second-round matchup against Oneida (9-1), which received a first-round bye.
“We’re playing pretty good football,” Reynolds said. “We won the district title against Copper Basin and that was a big win for us. I think we’re hitting our stride.”
Four other 9-1 teams would probably say the same thing.
Over at East Hamilton, ranked No. 3 by murphyfair.com, the Hurricanes steam into the playoffs with an eight-game winning streak.
“Thank goodness it’s the ‘second season’ because that’s what you play for, an opportunity to keep going,” Hurricanes coach Ted Gatewood said.
Since losing to Ooltewah on Aug. 24 the Hurricanes have averaged 41.4 points while holding opponents to 5.0, including two shutouts. Only Brainerd scored in double digits (12) against East Hamilton’s stout-hearted defense.
A four-game streak ending the regular season didn’t help the Hurricanes in 2011. East Hamilton beat Brainerd, 22-13, during the season only to lose to the Panthers, 21-14, in the playoff opener.
“We talked about that Sunday,” Hurricanes coach Ted Gatewood said. “A year ago in the first round, our kids didn’t know how to handle it. (Coaches) didn’t do a good job preparing them. This year our kids have been flying around, having a good time and are really enthusiastic.
“This is what we’ve worked for. Let’s have fun, soak up the moment, make the most of it and have a good time doing it. I’ve been pleased with their approach, study and development.”
As anyone knows, East Hamilton relies heavily on tailback Logan Jackson, who has rushed for 1,519 yards and 23 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 205-pound Jackson averaged 8.8 yards on 173 carries.
However, some may not realize that the Hurricanes’ offense is not one dimensional. Quarterback Hunter Moore has completed 70 of 108 passes for 1,065 yards and 13 scores.
“That’s pretty decent balance,” Gatewood said. “We don’t go into a game saying we’re going to throw this many times or run this many times. The game dictates a lot of that. When it comes together we’re a pretty good offense.”
The Hurricanes’ defense, led by Austin Gatewood, Ben Hall, Francisco Rodriguez, Dallas Hammonds, Hunter Parker and Tre Herndon, has held 2012 opponents to 8.7 points.
“Marshall County is a good football team,” Ted Gatewood said. “Everybody at this stage is dialed in on what they want to do. They have an idea what their bread and butter is and what they want to accomplish. You know pretty much what you’re going to get.”
One more thing on 9-1 theme. The Ooltewah Owls (7-3) host Anderson County (5-5) in a Class 5A game.
What’s the 9-1 connection there?
Of Anderson County’s five losses, four were to Christian Academy of Knoxville, Knoxville Grace, Powell and Oak Ridge, teams with 9-1 regular-season records and a 34-5 combined mark.
“You don’t have to watch very much film on them to figure out that they are a whole lot better than their record,” Owls coach Shannon Williams said of the Mavericks. “They have played an extraordinarily tough schedule.
“What concerns you most about them is that they are averaging over 34 points a game and scored 40 on two of their toughest opponents. This is going to be a tremendous challenge for our defense, but also for our defense to stay on the field and limit their opportunities to do damage on offense.”
At the other end of the win-loss scale, 17 teams made the playoff field – it’s hard to argue they earned their way – with losing records, including a combined eight in the Division II-A and Division II-AA 12-team brackets and three in the 32-team Class 4A bracket.
So, with all the data in place there is but one thing to do.
Let's play some football.
NOTE: The first-round game between Cloudland and Midway has been postponed due to inclement weather and will be played on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Cloudland High.
Area First-Round Pairings
All games start at 7 p.m. Local Time
Lookout Valley (5-5) at Copper Basin (7-3)
Columbia Academy (5-5) at South Pittsburg (7-3)
Rockwood (6-4) at Boyd-Buchanan (9-1)
Silverdale (9-1) at Hampton (9-1)
Marion County (8-2) drew a bye
Tyner (8-2) at Sweetwater (7-3)
Polk County (7-3) at Kingston (6-4)
Grundy County at Cheatham County (10-0)
McMinn Central (5-5) at Alcoa (9-1)
Hixson (7-3) at Notre Dame (8-2)
Page (6-4) at Signal Mountain (7-3)
Marshall County (5-5) at East Hamilton (9-1)
Anderson County (5-5) at Ooltewah (7-3)
Sullivan South (5-5) at Columbia (8-2)
Walker Valley (5-5) at Lenoir City (8-2)
Bradley Central (6-4) at McMinn County (9-1)
Battle Ground Academy (4-6) at Baylor (7-3), 7 p.m.
St. Benedict (4-5) at McCallie (4-5), 7 p.m.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)