Before last Thursday’s season-opening battle at Bear Stadium, all three local high school football teams came together for a good cause, and now for the first time they are gathered in another place they haven’t been seen together before.
For the first time since Walker Valley opened in 2001, all three Bradley County squads are ranked in The Associated Press football poll. The poll was released Monday afternoon.
While the Bears and Blue Raiders have been ranked several times over the years, last week’s preseason poll marked the first time the Mustangs have been listed in the Top 10 in their 15-year history.
While Bradley and Walker Valley were both ranked in the preseason poll, Cleveland didn’t join them until this week, after putting a 51-20 whipping on 2015 state runner-up Sevier County on Friday evening in Sevierville.
The Bears maintained the preseason No. 5 ranking in the Class 6A poll, while the Raiders debuted at No. 8 in the 5A ranking this week. The Mustangs, who were eighth in the preseason, slipped into a tie for 10th this week.
In a battle of state-ranked squads, Bradley defeated Walker Valley 40-28 in Thursday’s “County Conflict” at Bear Stadium.
Garnering 72 total points from the 13 sports writers from across the state who participated in this week’s voting, Bradley is behind top-ranked Maryville (129 total, 12 first place votes), Oakland (115), Whitehaven (109, 1 first place) and Blackman (90).
Along with Bradley and Maryville, two other Region 1-6A teams are ranked in the Top 10. Science Hill, which is yet to play, stayed in eighth place, while Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett made its first appearance in the poll this year at No. 10, after defeating Tennessee High (of Bristol) 47-0 in its opener.
Cleveland, which received a total of 28 points, and Walker Valley, with 15, are two of a trio of Region 4 teams in the Class 5A poll, with Rhea County (43) plummeting from second place to seventh after a 36-0 thrashing by Baylor, which is No. 2 in the Division II rankings.
Defending state champion Independence sits atop the 5A ranking with 129 points, including a dozen first place votes, while Oak Ridge garnered the other top vote in its 113 points, putting the Wildcats in second place.
For the second straight week, Coach Scott Cummings’ Raiders will face a state-ranked opponent as East Hamilton, No. 6 in 3A, will visit Benny Monroe Stadium on Friday evening. The Hurricanes opened the new season with a 24-13 win over Signal Mountain.
The Mustangs will hold their home opener as well this week as Hixson, which fell to state runner-up (2A) Marion County 39-3, last week will come to “The Corral.”
Bradley will entertain McMinn County, a 41-6 victor over McMinn Central, Friday evening in the second-longest continuous rivalry in the state.
While this week marks the first time all three current county teams are in the state poll, it is believed that back in 2000, the Bears, Raiders and Charleston Panthers were all ranked at the same time.
Bradley and Charleston, in its final season before becoming Walker Valley, advanced to the state quarterfinals, while the Raiders also made the playoffs, but lost in the opening round.
Coach Bill Price’s Bears went 7-3 in the regular season before finishing up 9-4, while Coach Jon Lovingood led the Panthers to a 9-1 regular season campaign and the program’s only double-digit win total (11-2) since the school reinstated football in 1967.
Coach Leon Brown’s Raiders were 8-2 in the 2000 regular season, but fell to Knoxville Halls 21-16 in the playoff opener.