The prelude is over.
It’s nitty-gritty time.
Win or go home.
In other words, Tennessee high school football teams are about to enter the world of ecstasy and agony where a play here or miscue there can end a season short of the ultimate goal for every school still alive in the hunt for a state championship.
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association announced the brackets on Saturday, although the website crashed after revealing the Class A bracket and stayed down for more than 30 minutes. Apparently the same IT folks set up the TSSAA site that handled the Affordable Care Act website.
When the TSSAA site came back online, this area’s Class 5A teams were well represented with Ooltewah (8-2) hosting Stone Memorial (6-4), East Hamilton (8-2) staying home to play Oak Ridge (7-3), Cleveland (7-3) busing to White County (8-2) and Rhea County (9-1) playing Lenoir City (5-5) in Evensville.
All games start at 7 p.m. local time and admission is a TSSAA-mandated $8.
Like many other coaches who now take advantage of the Internet to secure game film of opponents, Ooltewah’s Mac Bryan was already studying Stone Memorial, a relative new school in Cumberland County that will be making its third playoff appearance, having lost first-round Class 4A games in 2009 and 2011 by a combined score of 74-0.
The Owls survived a wild pass-happy shootout Friday against McMinn County, 36-35, by forcing a high throw on a potential game-winning two-point play with 44 seconds left.
“We had some tape on them 10 minutes after the brackets were announced,” Bryan said. “The Internet is an amazing thing. I’ve just started watching them and they’ve got some strong running backs that can break tackles and a quarterback with a good arm. Defensively, they’re going to keep things in front of them and try not to give up big plays.”
Bryan directed the Owls to a share of the District 5-AAA championship and playoff berth in his first season after replacing Shannon Williams, who resigned after taking Ooltewah to the 5A quarterfinals in 2012.
“This means a lot,” Bryan said. “This program and the people in our community expect to have a solid football team every year. We want to bring that to them and it’s nice to have gone through the run we did during the season and get to the playoffs. I hope we can stay healthy and play well.”
Including this season the Owls have reached the postseason in 12 of the past 14 years, reaching the semifinals in 2001, 2006, 2008 and the quarterfinal round in last year when they lost to Columbia Central, 31-13, after leading 13-0 early.
By halftime of that game, however, Columbia was ahead 17-13 and then added 14 fourth-quarter points to put Ooltewah away. Columbia went on to beat Powell, 32-27, in the semifinals and lost to Beech, 56-35, in the championship game at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.
A win by Ooltewah over Stone Memorial and an East Hamilton victory against Oak Ridge would set up a second-round rematch with the Hurricanes. Since Ooltewah is a No. 2 seed in the quadrant and East Hamilton is a No. 3 and Oak Ridge a No. 6, the Owls would host the second-round contest.
In Class 6A, Bradley Central (7-3) hits the road to play powerful Maryville (10-0).
The Bears saw this one coming.
“We stayed at the field house (Friday) night and saw all the results,” said Bears coach Damon Floyd, who has guided Bradley to four straight playoff appearances. “Even if we had won or lost and got to the playoffs, we were pretty certain we’d be going to Maryville.”
A win over Cascade, a No. 6 seed, would send the Irish into the second around against the Sequatchie County-Polk County winner. Notre Dame defeated the Indians, 34-0, and lost to the Wildcats, 12-10, during the regular season.
“It would be neat to play one of those teams again in the second round,” Fant said.
Maryville has won 13 state titles dating to 1970 and since 2000 has captured nine championships, finished second three times and lost in the semifinals once.
It would be hard to find a tougher first-round matchup than what Bradley faces.
“Heck,” Floyd said, “this is just like a bye for us. Seriously, it’s definitely going to be tough. Everybody’s goal is to make the postseason and we get to go play Maryville, the best there is. We’ll give our all and see what happens.”
The Bears will be without starting T-back and safety Baylor Terrell, who suffered a non-contact knee injury in the Bears’ 41-11 loss to East Hamilton on Friday. Brian Adams will replace Terrell at the T-back position and Chandler Duggan will see more action at safety.
In Class 4A, Signal Mountain (7-3) hosts Marshall County (4-6), Central (5-5) goes to Sequoyah (8-2) and in a quirk of the draw not uncommon to the TSSAA Hixson (7-3) will entertain District 6-AA rival East Ridge (5-5).
Hixson, the district champion, played and defeated runner-up East Ridge, 19-14, on Oct. 4. Another scenario that involved Giles County, could have pitted the Wildcats and Central’s Purple Pounders.
“I don’t think there is an advantage to either team,” Wildcats coach Jason Fitzgerald said of the rematch. “Our kids know we beat East Ridge and the East Ridge kids know it was a close game that could have gone either way. We all know it’s going to be a good, tight ballgame.”
The Wildcats have to shake the effects of losing their only district game to 3-7 Brainerd in the regular-season finale. That loss snapped Hixson’s five-game winning streak.
“We were playing really good until (Friday),” Fitzgerald said. “We went in with the mindset that we were already champs and Brainerd would lay down for us and that didn’t happen. I told the guys leaving the bus to forget it in a hurry. We’re still champions, but it just so happens we didn’t play well. The playoffs are here and we have to play like we’re capable. It’s do-or-die now.”
In Class 3A, Notre Dame (7-3) will be at home against Cascade (7-3), Tyner (4-6) overcame some forfeits during the season and will play at Smith County (6-4), Grundy County (4-6) plays at Upperman (10-0) and Polk County (8-2) stays home to take on Sequatchie County (5-5).
“We’re really excited,” said Fant of his third-seeded Irish. “Last year we were an eight-seed and had to go play Giles County (the Irish lost, 47-7). We couldn’t be happier about where they placed us this year.”
Fant said the Irish are playing perhaps their best football of the season heading into the playoffs, but Cascade provides them with a stiff challenge. “Our practices have gotten better each week, our intensity has improved and we’re going into the playoffs on a really high note.”
In Class 2A, Silverdale (9-1), which saw its undefeated season end Friday night against rival Boyd-Buchanan, will be at home against Rockwood (7-3) and the Bucs (4-6) drew a bye and will play the winner of Marion County (8-2) and Middle Tennessee Christian (6-4) in the second round.
Silverdale Baptist’s Seahawks, some of whom helped the school’s baseball team reach the Class A state baseball championship game last spring where it lost to Friendship Christian, 4-0, earned their fifth postseason berth but has only one first-round victory to show for their efforts.
Silverdale beat Hampton, 41-8, last season before dropping a 28-20 decision at Grace Christian in Knoxville in the second round of the 2A playoffs.
This year the Seahawks are going into the playoffs having won nine of 10 games and knowing they were within two points of being undefeated. They lost to rival Boyd-Buchanan, 22-21, in overtime in a game that decided the District 5-A title – the Bucs’ fifth consecutive championship.
“It still looks good to see our name on the bracket,” Seahawks coach Al Rogers said. “We’ve never played Rockwood before so this is another first for us.”
Rogers believes his squad is better prepared for the playoffs than ever before. The Seahawks played a tougher schedule because their success last season scared some would-be opponents away. Rogers simply went out and scheduled Bledsoe County, Grundy County and Sweetwater.
“Playing those teams made us better,” Rogers said, “but it’s a fine line. You want to play teams that make you better, but also have to remember not to get above your ability and get beat up so you can’t function in district games.”
Friday’s heartbreaking loss won’t affect the Seahawks’ mental state of mind heading into the first-round matchup with the Tigers, who are making their sixth playoff appearance in seven years and fifth in a row.
“These kids are resilient and will be all right,” Rogers said. “It was a loss but we’ve never played Boyd that close before – ever. That was about as even a game as you can get.”
In four previous meetings, Boyd-Buchanan won them all by a combined score of 171-13.
“People may not realize that Boyd’s record doesn’t reflect their talent,” Rogers said, “and they’ve played a very tough schedule. We’re excited about our first game because we’ve never hosted a playoff game and we’re going to do that next week.”
A victory would send the third-seeded Seahawks into a second-round road matchup against No. 2 seed Hampton (7-3), which drew a first-round bye.
In Class A, perennial title contender South Pittsburg (9-1) drew a first-round bye and will play the Moore County (5-5)-Harriman (4-6) winner on Nov. 15.
In Division II-AA, Baylor (6-4) will host Pope John Paul (4-6) while McCallie (3-7) will travel to play Father Ryan (6-4).
TSSAA First-Round Games
All Games Start at 7 p.m. Local Time
Bradley Central (5-5) at Maryville (10-0)
Lenoir City (5-5) at Rhea County (9-1)
Cleveland (7-3) at White County (8-2)
Oak Ridge (7-3) at East Hamilton (8-2)
Stone Memorial (6-4) at Ooltewah (8-2)
Marshall County (4-6) at Signal Mountain (7-3)
Central (5-5) at Sequoyah (8-2)
East Ridge (5-5) at Hixson (7-3)
Grundy County (4-6) at Upperman (10-0)
Tyner (4-6) at Smith County (6-4)
Cascade (7-3) at Notre Dame (7-3)
Sequatchie County (5-5) at Polk County (8-2)
Rockwood (7-3) at Silverdale Baptist (9-1)
Middle Tenn. Christian (6-4) at Marion County (8-2)
Boyd-Buchanan (4-6) drew a bye
South Pittsburg (9-1) drew a bye
Pope John Paul (4-6) at Baylor (6-4)
McCallie (3-7) at Father Ryan (6-4)
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)