The wait is over. A trio of local teams have made the TSSAA football playoffs, with two having to hit the road, while the third gets to stay home for the fifth straight year.
Both Cleveland High and Bradley Central earned wildcard berths and will open the postseason on the road. The fifth-ranked Blue Raiders will travel over the mountains and through the woods to White County, while the Bears will need their meanest growl as they take on 14-time state champion Maryville.
As the District 5-AA champions once again, Polk County will open the Class 3A playoffs at its Larry Davis Football Complex Friday with a visit from a coaching legend and his new team.
Forty-year coaching veteran Ken Colquette will bring his first Sequatchie County team to Benton to face the eighth-ranked Wildcats, which are seeded second in the Class 3A Quadrant 2 brackets.
The three local squads are part of 176 Division I teams across the state vying for one of a half dozen BlueCross Bowl state championship trophies. A total of 23 private schools will also battle for a pair of Division II titles.
After a two-year absence, Cleveland returns to the playoffs and will be looking for its first postseason victory since 2002 when it invades Sparta Friday evening.
Having a team not make the TSSAA for the first time in 17 years, Coach Ron Crawford is excited to have his second Blue Raider squad back “where they belong. These guys have worked very hard and kept focused all season and now they have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done here in 11 years (win a playoff game).”
“We’ve had a good week of practice and gotten some rest (due to having a bye week). Now we’re ready to go compete and see if we can win a ball game,” he added. “They (White County) have been in a long playoff dry spell as well, so they’ll be looking for break their drought.”
Earning the runner-up spot in District 6-AAA with a 13-0 shutout of Cookeville Friday evening, the Warriors are the quadrant’s No. 4 seed and have earned its third postseason berth in the last four years, but have never won a TSSAA playoff game.
White County is 8-2 overall this season, with a 4-1 district mark, losing only to seventh-ranked Rhea County (9-1) in 6-AAA play. The Warriors other loss came to Sequoyah (8-2), which is No. 3 seed in the Class 4A playoffs.
Despite being ranked higher in the latest Associated Press poll, fifth-seeded Cleveland (7-3) missed out on the District 5-AAA crown to sixth-ranked Ooltewah (8-2) and the runner up spot to eighth-ranked East Hamilton (8-2) due to the three-way tie breaker rules. All three teams finished 5-1 in league play, having each lost to one of the other two.
The second-seeded Owls and Hurricanes, the No. 3 seed, will open the 5A race with home games against Stone Memorial (6-4) and Oak Ridge (7-3) respectively. Top-seeded Rhea County will host the other quadrant’s contest as Lenoir City (5-5) will visit Evensville Friday.
With opening round victories, the Raiders would travel to Rhea County for the second round, with a chance to pay back the Eagles for knocking them out of last year’s postseason brackets.
“We can’t afford to look at that,” warned Coach Crawford. “I hope we’re mature enough not to look past a very good White County team. Our seniors are the only ones to have been on a playoff team and they should be able to stress to the younger players the importance of taking it one game at a time.”
Bradley’s seniors became the first class in school history to make the TSSAA playoffs all four years but have a tall order ahead of them at Maryville.
“It will be a great atmosphere and a great opportunity to see the type of program we want to become,” proclaimed Bear head coach Damon Floyd. “This is about respect and looking ourselves in the mirror. We’ve struggled the last few games, but we can’t look for excuses. We need to pull it together, play our best game of the year and see what happens.”
After starting the season with four wins in its first five games, Bradley saw the opposite down the stretch. After dropping very close games to district rivals Ooltewah and Cleveland (by a total of three points), the Bears got blown out by McMinn County, beat up on a weak Soddy-Daisy team and then got drummed at East Hamilton Friday evening to finish 5-5 on the year and 2-4 in 5-AAA play.
“We can either go up their with our tails between our legs or we can go with our heads held high and show some ‘Bear Pride,’” Coach Floyd declared. “They are without a doubt the premier program in the state, but we just played our 1000th game and have faced top teams before.”
Ranked No. 1 in every AP state Class 6A poll this season, unbeaten Maryville (10-0) has played in 14 of the last 16 state title games, winning 10 while posting a 231-16 record since 1997.
The Rebels are the No. 1 seed in Quadrant 1, which also includes Cookeville (6-4) playing at second-seeded and fifth-ranked Sevier County (9-1); Science Hill (8-2), the third seed, playing host to Farragut (6-4); and 10th-ranked Morristown-East (9-1), the fourth seed, entertaining Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett (6-4).
Polk County’s Big Red Train rolls into its 13th straight TSSAA playoffs with an 8-2 record as the 5-5 Sequatchie County Indians come on an unexpected the war path to Benton.
“We actually thought we were going to be in Quadrant 1 and playing CAK (Christian Academy of Knoxville),” expressed Polk head coach Derrick Davis Saturday. “We’d already been looking at film of CAK, so now we’re trying to get film of Sequatchie.”
“According to my dad (longtime Polk coach Larry Davis), we’ve never beat a Ken Colquette-coached team,” he added. “We know they’ll (Sequatchie) be well prepared.”
Sporting a 254-86 overall head coaching record, Colquette directed Marion County for 17 years, winning four state championships in the 1990s, plus spent eight seasons as principal and head coach at Grundy County.
All five of the Indians’ loss this year have come to playoff teams, four of which have been ranked in AP polls the majority of the season.
“It came somewhat as a shock to us to be moved back to Quadrant 2, but we’re just happy to still be practicing instead of putting away equipment,” Coach Davis stated.
The rest of Quadrant 2 features unbeaten and third-ranked Upperman (10-0) as the top seed, which will host Grundy County (4-6); in a match-up of 7-3 teams, Notre Dame will entertain ninth-ranked Cascade; plus Tyner (4-6) will travel to Smith County (6-4).
The only other District 5-AA squad to earn a spot in the postseason was Sequoyah (8-2), which will welcome Chattanooga Central (5-5) to Madisonville Friday evening. The rest of the Class 4A Quadrant 2 schedule has top-seeded Signal Mountain (7-3) playing host to Marshall County (4-6); DeKalb County (6-4) going to Knoxville Catholic (7-3); and Hixson (7-3) playing fellow 6-AA member East Ridge (5-5).
The TSSAA playoffs will continue weekly throughout November with the BlueCross Bowl championship games set for Dec. 5-7 at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville.