Cleveland High, Bradley Central and Polk County join the field of 176 teams from across the state vying for one of a half dozen Division I state titles.
The Blue Raiders, ranked fifth in the final Class 5A poll of the season, will carry a 7-3 mark into Sparta this evening to take on the District 6-AAA runner-up White County squad. The Warriors are 8-2 with their only two losses this season coming to sixth-ranked and No. 1 seeded Rhea County and Class 4A playoff third seed Sequoyah.
Returning to the postseason for the first time since 2010, Cleveland is looking for its first playoff win in 11 years, and while White County is making its third playoff appearance in the last four seasons, and fifth overall in school history, it has yet to claim an opening round victory.
The remainder of the Class 5A Quadrant 2 bracket has Stone Memorial (7-3) visiting District 5-AAA champion and seventh-ranked Ooltewah (8-2); 10th-ranked Oak Ridge (7-3) paying a first-time visit to No. 8 East Hamilton (8-2); plus Rhea County (9-1) entertaining Lenoir City (5-5).
A victory tonight in Sparta could give Cleveland a shot at some payback to Rhea County in Evensville next week. The Eagles kept the Raiders out of last year’s postseason with a stunning upset in the regular season finale.
Bradley has its fourth straight postseason berth for the first time in the school’s 97-year history, but faces the daunting task of traveling to 14-time state champion Maryville this evening. The Red Rebels are the top-ranked 6A team in the state and listed 22nd on a national poll of high school football teams.
The Bears are one of a few teams that actually have a winning record (6-3-2) against Maryville, but all of the previous games were played in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.
The rest of the Class 6A Quadrant 1 opening round has Cookeville (6-4) traveling to fifth-ranked Sevier County (9-1); Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett (6-4) at 10th-ranked Morristown East (9-1); and Farragut (6-4) at Science Hill (8-2).
Making its 13th straight playoff appearance, five-time District 5-AA champion Polk County (8-2) will entertain Sequatchie County (5-5) at the Larry Davis Football Complex.
While the Wildcats were ranked seventh in the final Class 3A AP poll of the season, the Indians are under the first-year direction of legendary coach Ken Colquette. Polk County has never beaten a Colquette-coached team. Colquette coached led Marion County for 17 years, including four state championships in the 1990s, plus coached at Grundy County for eight years before retiring two years ago.
The Benton Big Red Train is seeded second in the Class 3A Quadrant 2 bracket, with third-ranked and undefeated Upperman (10-0) claiming the No. 1 seed. The Bees from Baxter will entertain Grundy County (4-6) this evening, while Tyner (4-6) will visit Smith County (6-4).
Rounding out the quadrant is Cascade and Notre Dame, which are both 7-3 and tied for 10th in the final poll. The winner will face the Polk-Sequatchie victor in the second round.
All playoff games will kick off at 7 p.m. local time.