Both local high school football districts got a lot tougher Thursday, trading one of their weaker teams for a strong new competitor as the TSSAA reclassified district lineups at its Board of Control meeting in Murfreesboro.
Gone from District 5-AAA is Rhea County, which finished 2-8 this fall with an upset of Cleveland High in the season finale as its lone league win.
Enter East Hamilton, which was ranked fourth in the final Associated Press Class 4A poll and is taking its 11-1 record to Giles County tonight for the TSSAA state quarterfinal playoff round.
“We’ve got a ‘woolly-booger’ of a district now,” declared Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan. “There are a lot of good teams. We’re going to have to step up our game to play with the big boys.”
Five of the new District 5-AAA teams made the playoffs this season, with two of them — East Hamilton and Ooltewah — still in the hunt for state championships. Two-time district champ McMinn County (10-2) fell to Riverdale in the second round last week, while Bradley Central and Ryan’s Mustangs both made the postseason, but dropped opening round games.
In District 5-AA, Meigs County’s drop in enrollment allowed the 1-9 Tigers (winless in district play) to shift to Class A. Instead of the four-team district which was proposed last week, the Board of Control granted Loudon’s request to move to 5-AA to play against Polk County, Sweetwater, McMinn Central and Sequoyah.
“Loudon is as tough as anybody in our district, proclaimed Polk head coach Derrick Davis. “Of their 17 losses the last four years, 11 of them have been to either Alcoa or CAK. I really didn’t want to have a four-team district and they (Loudon) are a good addition.”
With the new districts set, the challenge now for the local coaches is to fill the rest of their schedules for the next two seasons.
The District 5-AAA coaches were in Murfreesboro Thursday and met after the Board of Control session to redraw their league schedule, so they could get a jump on filling in their open slots. District 5-AA met this morning to do the same.
In the 5-AAA reshuffle, Cleveland drew the short straw and got stuck with the extremely difficult Week 10 bye.
“That’s the way our luck’s been running the last few weeks,” remarked coach Ron Crawford, who’s team was at the center of a TSSAA playoff controversy that had his Raiders in the orignal postseason bracket for a few hours, but then removed due to a clerical error.
“Not only did we draw week 10 (as their bye), all four of our nondistrict opponents (Red Bank, Chattanooga Central, Knox Catholic, Maryville) from the season have said they won’t play us,” he related. “The Blount County Classic (the season-opening doubleheader CHS has played in the last two years) wants new teams for their event, which I understand. We were 5-5 this year and I’ve been on the phone all day and can’t find anybody willing to play.”
Crawford did draw some interest from upper East Tennessee powerhouses Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill, should either end up with a Week 10 bye.
“I may have to schedule Alcoa or one of my coaching friends from Murfreesboro if I can’t get anybody else to play,” Crawford added.
The Blue Raider’s district schedule for the next two seasons find them playing their two local rivals, Bradley and Walker Valley back-to-back in weeks 7 and 8, right after having played newcomer East Hamilton in Week 6. Cleveland will open 5-AAA play against two-time reigning champ McMinn County in Week 2, play Soddy-Daisy Week 4 and finish with Ooltewah Week 9.
Bradley and Polk County will continue to play each other but the game that has opened the last four seasons, may shift to Week 2, depending on which bye week the Wildcats draw today.
“For us a whole lot isn’t going to change,” Bear head coach Damon Floyd stated. “We had already been playing East Hamilton. We are hoping to be able to keep Rhea County as a Week 1 game. The Rhea-Bradley matchup has always been a good game that we don’t want to lose.”
Bradley has added a familiar face to the lineup the next two seasons as former head coach Bill Price’s Signal Mountain squad has been moved into the Week 5 slot. “We didn’t want to keep playing a Murfreesboro team if we could avoid it. Signal Mountain will be just as tough, but not as far to travel,” Floyd explained.
The Bears are still looking to confirm the Rhea County game, plus need another opponent as they prefer not to keep Chattanooga private school powerhouse Baylor on the slate. “There’s a meeting Monday at East Ridge for all the area coaches to come try to fill their schedules, so we hope to have something by then,” related Floyd.
Bradley drew Week 2 as its district bye and will open 5-AAA play on Week 4 against in-county rival Walker Valley.
After playing the much-improved Mustangs, the Bears face a murderer’s row of Ooltewah, Signal Mountain, Cleveland and McMinn County, before wrapping up the campaign with Soddy-Daisy and East Hamilton.
“We had to play four straight rivalry games the last two years with Ooltewah, Walker Valley, Cleveland and McMinn back-to-back, so this is practically the same,” Floyd said. “Every week is going to be a battle.”
Walker Valley, which improved from 3-17 the three previous years to 5-6, plus returned to the playoffs this season, is keeping Rhea County, Polk County and East Ridge as nondistrict opponents and is awaiting final word from Hixson.
In district play, the Mustangs will open with East Hamilton in Week 2 before playing the Bears in Week 4. With Week 6 as its district bye week, Walker Valley will battle Ooltewah, Cleveland, McMinn County and Soddy-Daisy in the final four games.
Rhea County is shifting west to play in District 6-AAA along with Cumberland County, Cookeville, White County, Warren County and Stone Memorial, which just stepped up from Class AA.
District 6-AAA, which competes against 5-AAA in region play in all other sports besides football, lost Coffee County, which moved to 8-AAA.
While its 5-AA slate wasn’t set until this morning, Polk County’s nondistrict schedule will include Bradley (either Week 0 or Week 2), Walker Valley (Week 5) and South Pittsburg, with Chattanooga Central and East Ridge as probable opponents as well.
“We’re still trying to get everything worked out with Central and East Ridge,” coach Davis related. “We’d like to keep playing Meigs County, plus start playing Tellico again, like we used to. There’s less than a 100-student difference between our enrollment and both those schools, plus we play them in every other sport, so I like to play them in football as well.”
Davis has also been contacted by Tyner Academy in Chattanooga with interest in playing a nondistrict game.
As for Loudon, the Redskins used to be in Polk’s district back in the 1980s, plus the teams played each other in the 2004 and 2005 regular season as well as the 2009 playoffs.
“We scrimmage them every year, plus they’re just a 10 minute drive from Sweetwater, so it won’t be that much farther to go play them,” Davis said.
When it comes to the playoffs, Loudon and Sequoyah are Class 4A teams, while Polk, McMinn Central and Sweetwater are 3A. All five current 5-AA squads made the playoffs this season, but each have been eliminated in the first two rounds.