Top-ranked high school football teams remain alive in the hunt for 2013 state championships in classifications 1A-6A.
Once-beaten Silverdale Baptist plays No. 1-ranked Grace Christian of Knoxville on Friday in the Class 2A quarterfinals. The two teams, which met in the second round of the 2012 playoffs, have a combined 21-1 record and that lone loss was the Seahawks’ 22-21overtime setback against rival Boyd-Buchanan in the next to last regular-season game.
Hixson’s District 6-AA champion Wildcats (9-3) will host 10th-ranked Knoxville Catholic High (9-3) in a Class 4A matchup, and the winner advances to the semifinals where it is likely to take on No. 1 Knox Fulton, the state’s highest-scoring team with a 60.6-point per-game average.
Other No. 1-ranked teams are South Pittsburg in Class A, Christ Presbyterian Academy in Class 3A, Henry County in Class 4A and powerful Maryville in Class 6A.
“Grace is No. 1 in the state for a reason,” Silverdale coach Al Rogers said, probably echoing the sentiments of every other coach will either play a top-ranked team this week or somewhere down the line. “They have no weaknesses. They run the wing-T and we have to be patient and do our jobs individually so the team looks good as a whole.”
The Rams, who defeated Silverdale, 28-20, last season, have the state’s fourth-highest scoring offense, putting up 45.8 points per game. The Seahawks’ strong-willed defense gives up only 10.8 points a game, the eighth-best unit in Tennessee regardless of classification.
“Grace is better this season,” said Rogers, whose team opened with nine straight wins by outscoring its opponents 323-60. “But I think we are, too.”
Just like a year ago, the Seahawks opened the playoffs with a victory at Hampton, but last Friday’s took two overtimes though. Silverdale (11-1) sacked Hampton’s quarterback on back-to-back plays and then Matt Millard scored the game-winning touchdown on a 10-yard run for a 28-21 triumph.
That pushed Silverdale’s ninth-year program into the quarterfinals for the first time in five playoff appearances, with a chance to improve on a 3-4 postseason record – the Seahawks opened this year’s playoffs with a 34-18 win over Rockwood.
Silverdale has made huge strides since losing to Gordonsville, 35-19, in their inaugural playoff game in 2007 and then dropping back-to-back, one-sided decisions to Trousdale County and Signal Mountain by a combined score of 112-29 the following two years.
Several seniors leaders on this year’s team also played for the Seahawks’ baseball team that reached the Class A state championship this past spring, where it lost to Friendship Academy, 4-0, at Middle Tennessee State University.
“Baseball’s success had a lot to do with our football success last year as well,” Rogers said. “That’s a positive thing for SBA and our community. Baseball had some great leaders and so does the football team. Many of those leaders are the same kids.”
Silverdale’s trip to Upper East Tennessee on Friday was a 3 ½-hour ride in the rain. The late-night journey home was more pleasant after the victory.
“We were wet and tired and got home around 3 in the morning,” Rogers said. “The boys were happy and celebrated the win, but they were spent. We’re in a new place – the quarterfinals – and I’m not sure it has sunk in yet.”
Quarterback Nathan Keylon hooked up with Josh Rogers on a 28-yard scoring play in the first quarter. Tanner Webb, who rotates with Keylon, hit Colton Rogers for a 27-yard touchdown strike to tie the game at 14-14, and that’s the way regulation play ended.
In the first overtime, Josh Rogers scored for the Seahawks and then Millard iced the win in the second overtime.
“We’re playing great right now,” Rogers said. “They’re worn just like everybody else at this time of the season. The kids are playing hard and we were without our starting (offensive) tackle and nose guard, but we’re two games away from the state title game.”
That injured played that missed Friday’s game is senior Aubrey Shamblin, Rogers’ sister’s son.
Rogers and Shamblin had a rough relationship a few years ago, but it’s all settled now.
“I was coaching youth ball and Aubrey was about 10 years old,” the coach said. “We were having a family get-together on Labor Day and were going to make homemade ice cream. In youth ball, the season starts two weeks after the draft and we needed to practice. So, Aubrey and I took off to practice and he wasn’t happy about that.
“We practiced for about 90 minutes and when we got back home all the ice cream was gone. It was about two years before he would talk to me. Aubrey has never been a light kid. He’s not fat, just well built. And he likes his homemade ice cream.”
Hixson vs. Knox Catholic: The Irish, who have a rich tradition of postseason play, have a strong link to the University of Tennessee.
Coach Steve Matthews played collegiately at Tennessee before transferring to Memphis.
Two current Vol coaches – defensive coordinator John Jancek and secondary coach Willie Martinez – have sons playing for the Irish.
Quarterback Zac Jancek is a 1,000-plus yard passer with double-digit touchdowns. Martinez, a receiver/defensive back, has four of Catholic’s 20 interceptions – five of which were returned for touchdowns – and 800-plus all-purpose yards with 19 rushing touchdowns.
Current Catholic assistant coach, J.J. Surlas played at Tennessee from 1989-92.
Tennessee has played one of the nation’s toughest schedules this year, facing seven nationally ranked opponents – Oregon, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Missouri and Auburn.
Eight Catholic opponents reached this year’s TSSAA playoffs, including four top seeds – Coalfield, Anderson County, Knox Webb and Alcoa – and those teams have a combined 38-8 record.
There is a Chattanooga connection as well.
Catholic’s principal, Dickie Sompayrac, is the younger brother of Notre Dame athletic director Howie Sompayrac.
Catholic is coming off a 38-37, double-overtime upset of top-seed Signal Mountain.
“Those were two pretty good teams playing,” Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald said. “Catholic found a way to win and that’s the name of the game. They hung in there and came up with a victory.”
The Wildcats eked out a 15-12 win over Sequoyah in the second round.
“I thought we played really well,” Fitzgerald said. “We knew it would be a close, hard-fought game. Our defense was outstanding and the offense got the points we needed to win.”
Quarterback Gill Brown’s 1-yard run and a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter sealed the win for Hixson, its seventh in the last eight games.
Fitzgerald, who is 16-7 in two seasons at Hixson, has turned the Wildcats’ fortunes around. They last had a winning season (6-4) in 2006 and hadn’t reached the playoffs since 2005 before last season’s appearance – Notre Dame beat Hixson, 31-6, in the first round.
This season the Wildcats dominated the All-District 6-AA regular-season honors with 11 player selections, including Offensive Player of the Year Kedrick Bradley and four first-team picks – running back Isaiah Robinson, offensive lineman Charles Franklin, linebacker K.C. Shelton and Brown, chosen as a punter.
Austin Gilkey, James Cole, Darion Nicholson, Ryan Turner, Marshall Cooper, Jordan Johnson and Quinton Russell also represented the Wildcats.
Fitzgerald was named Coach of the Year while Walt Cameron was the top offensive assistant and Charles Weems took top honor for defensive assistants.
(A complete list of the team is printed below)
Fitzgerald’s main concern about facing Catholic is the game tempo the Irish utilize.
“Like Oregon, they want to get a snap off every three or four seconds after the ball is spotted,” Fitzgerald said. “They don’t huddle, everything comes in from the sideline and we have not faced a team that operates this fast this season. They’re going so fast in an attempt to make you line up wrong and get a big play on you.”
“We’ve got to get lined up on defense, be in the right position and be ready to go.”
From 2009-12, the Irish went 21-23 with just one winning season. That wasn’t good enough for Catholic after going 71-6 from 2003-08, including a 15-0 record and state championship in 2008.
So, school officials lured Matthews from Siegel, where he was the offensive coordinator, to become the new head coach. This year marks Catholic’s 21st playoff appearance, but first since 2010.
That plan has worked out splendidly thus far, although the Irish lost their final two regular-season games before opening the playoffs with a 55-13 blowout of DeKalb County and following that up with a gutty victory at Signal Mountain.
TSSAA Third-Round Playoff Schedule
All Games Start At 7 p.m. Local Time
Cleveland (9-3) at East Hamilton (10-2)
Knox Catholic (9-3) at Hixson (9-3)
Notre Dame (9-3) at Upperman (12-0)
Silverdale Baptist (11-1) at Knox Grace (11-0)
Marion County (10-2) at Trousdale County (11-0)
Fayetteville (6-6) at South Pittsburg (10-1)
2013 All-District 6-AA Football Team
Player of the Year – Kedrick Bradley, Hixson
Offensive Player of the Year – Jo Jo Tillery, East Ridge
Quarterback – Terrance Brooks, Howard
Running Back – Isaiah Robinson, Hixson
Wide Receiver – Rodney Watson, Tyner
Offensive Lineman – Charles Franklin, Hixson
Tight End – Mike Knox, East Ridge
Defensive Player of the Year – Sedrick Jordan, Brainerd
Defensive Lineman – Courtney Stamper, Red Bank
Linebacker – K.C. Shelton, Hixson
Defensive Back – Willie Stewart, Tyner
Special Teams Player of the Year – Tad Whitaker, East Ridge
Punter – Gill Brown, Hixson
Newcomer – Jeremiah McKibbon, East Ridge
Coach of the Year – Jason Fitzgerald, Hixson
Offensive Assistant – Walt Cameron, Hixson
Defensive Assistant – Charles Weems, Hixson; Mark Teague, East Ridge
Hixson – Austin Gilkey, James Cole, Darion Nicholson, Ryan Turner, Marshall Cooper, Jordan Johnson, Quinton Russell
Tyner – Jarrett Watson, Hassan Miller Sadik Spence, Arthur Cofield
East Ridge – Pete Sexton, Darius Moore, C.J. Baker
Red Bank – Shawn Caldwell, Josey Janow, Myles Smith
Brainerd – Kaylen Stewart, Sam Caffey
Central – Isayah Funk, Sean Montgomery
Howard – Tadarius Covington, Lorenzo McCauley
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)