While half of the four local teams have already secured their return trips to the TSSAA playoffs, the other two appear to be in pretty good position to join them.
Making its 12th straight trip to the postseason, coach Derrick Davis’ Polk County squad has already wrapped up its fourth consecutive District 5-AA championship, while coach Damon Floyd will be taking his Bradley Central Bears to their third playoffs in a row.
Both the Wildcats and Bears are 6-3 heading into Friday night’s regular season finale and are firmly entrenched in the respective Class 3A and 6A playoff picture. With the district title already in its pocket, Polk travels to Meigs County (1-8) this week, while Bradley (4-1 in district play) goes to Athens to face its longest rival McMinn County (8-1, 5-0) with the 5-AAA title on the line.
Meanwhile, although neither is in the district championship race, both Walker Valley and Cleveland High are 5-4 on the season and are currently in the bottom third of the 32 teams listed in the Class 5A playoff scenario.
Both would definitely secure a postseason spot with a victory Friday evening as the Mustangs host Ooltewah (6-3) and the Blue Raiders entertain Rhea County (1-8), but with a .500 record already guaranteed. a lot of things would have to happen for them not to continue be on the playoff list for Saturday’s TSSAA announcement.
They are currently sitting in the fifth and sixth place spots in Quadrant 2 of this week’s TSSAA playoff standings list. There are currently a half dozen other teams sitting with five wins, plus four of the 13 four-win squads would be in if the postseason began today.
While both seem to be shoe-ins, Cleveland fans know not to get their hopes up as the Raiders walked off the field after their final regular season game last year with a 5-5 mark and thought they were in the playoffs, only to find out the next morning that because of other results from across the state they were left on the outside for just the second time since the turn of the century.
“We only worry about what we can control,” commented first-year Raider coach Ron Crawford when asked about the possibility of making the playoffs last week. “If we take care of what we can control, then everything else will take care of itself.”
New Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan agreed. “We can’t get caught up in looking at the playoffs right now. We have to worry about our next game.”
After the Mustangs won just three games in the previous three years, Ryan’s Stallions galloped out of the gate with three straight victories to open the season, plus have won two of their last three games to put themselves in the playoff hunt for the first time since 2008.
The other six teams in Walker Valley and Cleveland’s playoff geographic quadrant are Lenoir City (8-1), Columbia (7-2), Ooltewah, Tullahoma (6-3), White County (3-6) and Knoxville Catholic (5-4). As the District 6-AAA runner-up, White county will be seeded higher than the Mustangs and Raiders when the brackets are drawn.
Bradley is currently listed in the third spot in the 6A quadrant 2, with Siegel (9-0) and Cane Ridge (7-2) ahead of the Bears, plus Blackman (6-3), Riverdale (6-3), Oakland (6-3), Franklin County (5-4) and Cookeville (4-5) below them.
If the Bears don’t claim the district title Friday, then Cookeville, the 6-AAA winner, would be seeded ahead of them, plus depending on the other game results, some other shifting could occur, forcing Bradley to open the playoffs on the road.
Siegel has already wrapped up the 7-AAA title, while Cane Ridge will win the 9-AAA crown with a victory Friday, but would slip to the runner-up spot with a loss to Antioch. Either Blackman, Riverdale or Oakland will be the 7-AAA runner-up.
If the Bears come up short Friday in Athens and Ooltewah defeats Walker Valley, the Owls will take second in 5-AAA, leaving Bradley as a wild card team for the TSSAA seedings and having to open the postseason on the road for the second straight year.
Barring some last minute quadrant shifting, Polk County will be competing against CAK (9-0), Alcoa (8-1), Kingston (6-3), Tyner (6-3), Sweetwater (6-3), Loudon (5-4) and McMinn Central (5-4). The Wildcats will be no worse than the No. 2 seed as CAK and Alcoa are battling Friday for the only other district championship in the quadrant.
If both Walker Valley and Cleveland make the playoffs, it will mark the first time all three Bradley County football teams will be in the postseason at the same time.