Playoff Picture Still Cloudy
Bradley Central junior Tray Curry (12) and Walker Valley's Skyy Craig (31) will lead their teams into the TSSAA Playoffs in just a couple of weeks. (Photo: Greg Conway - Legendary Images)
With just two games left in the prep football regular season, everyone's eyes are looking at possible TSSAA playoff matchups.
A pair of local teams have already secured postseason spots, but are still trying to nail down opening round games on their home field, while a third is scratching and clawing to get in on the extra November action.
Walker Valley (4-4, 1-1) knew before the season's first snap it was in the playoffs, thanks to the departure of Knox Catholic to play in Division II this season, leaving just four teams in Region 4-5A.
The Region 4-5A possibilities are much simpler.
"If we beat Soddy, we're second; if we lose, we're third," related Walker Valley head coach Drew Akin. "If we beat Soddy, then it will be a three-way tie with Rhea County (6-2, 2-1) and if they beat Karns (2-6) and Marion County (2-6) these last two weeks, Rhea would get first because of overall record."
After facing unbeaten and fourth-ranked (4A) Loudon this week, the Mustangs will wrap up the regular season with a trip to Soddy-Daisy (5-3, 2-0) in search of a home playoff game.
"Part of our goal coming into the season was to get a home playoff game," Akin explained. "We were already in the playoffs because of only having four teams in our region, but we want to play the opening round of the playoffs at home.
"I think playing East Hamilton last week and Loudon this week will prepare us for the excitement and intensity of the Soddy game. There is definitely a lot of carry over from those two games going it Soddy next week."
"We can take some of the things from this week and apply them to that game. That is going to be a really big game for our program," the Herd coach said in reference to Walker Valley not having hosted a playoff game since 2004, when Trousdale County came to "The Corral" for a 3A postseason contest.
"I'm not surprised Soddy beat Rhea. Rhea has had some injuries and Soddy has gotten some players back that had been injured and is getting healthy," he added. "I was surprised they held Rhea to just seven points. That kind of put us on notice that their defense is pretty good."
Bradley Central (6-2, 4-1), ranked ninth in this week's Associated Press Class 6A state poll, secured its 10th straight trip to the playoffs with last week's 49-21 victory over William Blount.
Cleveland High (3-5, 1-3) controls its own destiny in a four-team race for the final postseason spot available in Region 2-6A.
Second-ranked Maryville and McMinn County, which leap-frogged over the Bears into eighth in the AP poll this week, are both undefeated (8-0, 4-0) and have locked up their playoff berths as they prepare to square off Friday evening for the region title.
While Bradley and Walker Valley are stepping out of region play this week with a trip to Soddy-Daisy and hosting No. 4 (4A) Loudon respectively, Cleveland will travel to Maryville to go head-to-head with William Blount (2-6, 1-4).
A Blue Raider victory would eliminate the Governors and set up a winner-take-all tangle in Ooltewah Nov. 1, provided the Owls (2-5, 1-3) take care of business at winless Heritage (0-8, 0-4) Friday evening.
If the Mountaineers can pull off the upset and Cleveland wins Friday, then the Raiders will have the fourth playoff spot, regardless of what Heritage does in the final week against Maryville. Cleveland blasted the Mountaineers 45-7 in Week 5 to earn a tie-breaker over them.
If William Blount is able to knock off the Raiders this week, then a three-way tie for the final spot could be set up with a Cleveland victory at Ooltewah.
In that scenerio, the first tie-breaker is overall record, of which the Raiders and Governors would be 4-6, while the Owls would be just 3-6, due to their season-opening game at ninth-ranked (5A) David Crockett (6-1) being suspended due to lightning.
At the time it was stated the game would not be finished, unless it would effect either team making the playoffs. Should Ooltewah find itself in need of that win, they would have to work out a way to finish the contest that the Pioneers were leading 19-16 with 1:17 left in the third quarter.
With no break between the regular season and the playoffs, finding a time to finish that contest would be difficult.
As for Bradley, its only question is whether they will finish in second or third place in the region race.
"We can't win it, even if McMinn somehow finds a way to beat Maryville this week," Coach Damon Floyd explained. "If McMinn beats Maryville, then we're third no matter what we do against them in Athens."
However, if the Rebels push their region winning streak to 123 this week, then the Bears date at the "Reservation" on Nov. 1 will be for the runner-up spot and an opening round playoff home game.
Matching up with Region 1 in the playoffs, fourth-ranked Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett (8-0, 4-0) are a heavy favorite to claim the top spot as long as they can get by archrival Science Hill (3-5, 3-1) this week.
Even a Hilltopper upset doesn't automatically cost the Indians the crown as they would have the tie-breaker if it ends up in a three-way knot with Farragut (4-4, 3-1) in the mix.
Chances are D-B will take the title and host either Cleveland, Ooltewah or William Blount in the opening round.
If Farragut wins out over Hardin Valley (2-6, 1-3) and Jefferson County (3-6, 1-4), then the Admirals will be the No. 2 seed and host a rematch with Bradley (Farragut won the season-opener 37-30 at Bear Stadium) or face McMinn, depending on which one comes out on the short end in their battle.
Whichever, the Bears or Cherokees end up in second place in Region 1, they will entertain either Science Hill or Bearden (2-6, 2-2) in the Nov. 8 opener. Morristown-West (1-7, 0-4) has an outside chance to knock the Bulldogs out of the picture with a victory this week, plus another over Hardin Valley in the regular season finale.
Whichever way it shakes out, there will be playoff football for at the two county teams, while the city squad must take care of business to extend their season.
The good news for Cleveland is it won't have to face Farragut for a third straight playoff opener.
The bad news is a long trip to Kingsport would be an extremely tough challenge to face Dobyns-Bennett, the second-winningest program in Tennessee history.