Regardless of Friday’s outcome, Polk County has already secured the District 5-AA championship and will be making its 13th straight postseason appearance, while Cleveland High will return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Bradley Central’s seniors will more than likely become the school’s first class to make the playoffs in all four years, but their spot in not 100 percent secure.
The TSSAA will announce the 32-team brackets for each of the six classifications Saturday morning on a statewide radio and Internet broadcast.
The state’s governing body for high school athletics has listed for several weeks each classification’s standings, based on a 16-point criteria, on its website. The latest version updated earlier this week has all three local schools in their respective playoffs, but who and where they will play can’t be determined until Friday’s finales are in the books.
Cleveland, which has been just on the outside looking in the past two years, has played under the slogan “Leave No Doubt” this season, and coach Ron Crawford’s Raiders put the exclamation point on their campaign by handing Ooltewah its first district loss in a 26-21 battle to the final buzzer last Friday.
With a Week 10 bye, the victory capped the Blue Raiders’ overall record at 7-3 but they are still waiting to see if their 5-1 league mark will give them the District 5-AAA championship.
The win moved Cleveland up from seventh to fifth place in this week’s Associated Press Class 5A poll, leapfrogging both Ooltewah and East Hamilton, who slipped from third and fourth to sixth and eighth place respectively.
The Blue Raiders are currently listed as the No. 2 team in the second 5A quadrant, but the final seedings will take into account district titles and runners-up, which the weekly list does not account for.
Depending on Friday’s results, Cleveland could be seeded as high as second in the eight-team quadrant, giving them opening and second round home games, or as low as sixth, meaning they would have to travel for all of their playoff battles.
Raider fans, coaches and players find themselves in the strange position of rooting for archrival Bradley (5-4, 2-3) to upset East Hamilton (7-2, 5-1) in Collegedale this week. A Bear win would not only give Cleveland the district title, but secure Bradley’s fourth straight playoff berth.
A Hurricane victory gives the 5-AAA newcomer the league crown, while coupled with an Ooltewah (7-2, 5-1) win over McMinn County (4-5, 3-2), would push the Raiders out of one of the top two spots, thus putting them in the postseason as a wildcard team. Should the Cherokees hand the Owls their second straight loss, then Cleveland would be the district runner-up if East Hamilton wins.
According to the current list, along with Cleveland, Ooltewah and East Hamilton in the 5A field, the remainder of the quadrant would include District 6-AAA champion and seventh-ranked Rhea County (8-1, including a win over the Hurricanes last Friday), ninth-ranked Oak Ridge (7-2), White County (7-2), Stone Memorial (7-2) and Lenoir City (5-4).
Depending on the results from East Tennessee Friday, Oak Ridge could be shifted to Quadrant 1 or second-ranked Knox West (9-0), third-ranked Anderson County (9-0) or fourth-ranked Campbell County (9-0) could be shifted to Quadrant 2.
Bradley is currently listed as the No. 8 seed in Class 6A, Quadrant 1, but they have wavered back and forth between their current spot and a similar spot in Quadrant 2 the last several weeks.
It’s sort of a “pick your poison” situation as far as the quadrants go. Quad 1 has top-ranked Maryville (9-0), fifth-ranked Sevier County (8-1) and No. 10 Morristown-East (8-1). Quad 2 is headed by second-ranked Oakland (9-0), No. 4 Blackman (8-1), seventh-ranked Ravenwood (8-1) and No. 9 Siegel (6-3).
The hard fact is coach Damon Floyd’s Bears need a win over East Hamilton to secure a spot in the postseason.
A loss throws them into the mix with several other teams at 5-5, some of which might make the playoffs, but the majority of which won’t. There is even a scenario where a couple of 6-4 teams may not make the postseason.
Polk County, ranked eighth in this week’s 3A poll, is pretty well locked into the No. 2 seed in the second quadrant, with unbeaten and third-ranked Upperman (9-0) the only team ahead of them.
However, the Big Red Train could have to turn north should Quad 1 find itself in need of another team. That quad features second-ranked Alcoa (8-1), which would also be listed head of coach Derrick Davis’ Wildcats.
While looking ahead and speculating at possible matchups can be entertaining, the fact of the matter is until the final whistle is blown Friday evening, no one knows for sure who will be where when the playoffs open Nov. 8.
There’s a reason the NCAA basketball tournament draw is called “March Madness.” When it comes to high school football in Tennessee, the playoff brackets could easily be described as “November Nightmare.”
One thing we know for sure — we won’t know anything for certain until Saturday morning. Even that’s not a guarantee. Remember last year’s “you’re in, you’re out” fiasco for Cleveland High?