Week 10 is the penultimate week in the high school playoff race as some teams are playing for championships this weekend or will be next week. Others are fighting to make the postseason. A few already know they’ll be packing the gear in 10 days.
The fortunate few, like Lebanon, is locked in as a champion.
Watertown has successfully navigated the Region 4-2A stepping stones to reach next week’s finale at Trousdale County where the winner will take the title. The Purple Tigers, like their Wilson County Schools counterparts and many others across the state, are coming off a fall break bye. They’ll open Wilson County’s portion of Week 10 tonight at Tennessee Tech against Livingston Academy.
Station Camp at Green HillTrying to figure out playoff scenarios with as many moving parts in Region 5-5A is tricky. But Green Hill coach Josh Crouch thinks he has it figured out, admittedly with help from others.
“From my understanding, if we win Friday, we’re region champs,” said Crouch, whose Hawks host Station Camp in a battle of 4-0 region teams who are both 7-1 for the season. “If they win, they will be outright region champs.”
Station Camp, ranked seventh in this week’s Associated Press 5A poll, would be the outright champ because the Bison own a win over No.8 Mt. Juliet, which is lurking at 3-1. The Golden Bears host Green Hill (which broke into the poll for the first time ever last week and moved up a spot to No. 6 in the most recent ranking) next week and if MJ beats Hillsboro this week, Week 11 could really throw a monkey wrench into things, forcing the TSSAA to look deep into its tiebreaker procedure.
“All of the scenarios don’t matter if we win,” Crouch said. “The best way to take care of all the scenarios is to win the football game.”
In what may have been the state’s biggest upset last week, Station Camp lost to Portland 33-27. But even that score impressed Crouch.
“They had 48 snaps total in the entire game,” Crouch said. “They scored 27 points in 48 snaps.
“They’ll be really focused coming off a tough loss. Sometimes it’s a blessing coming of a tough loss. They see some things they can get better at and coached up on.”
When asked what impresses him about the Bison on film, Crouch had a long answer.
“They’re really good up front,” he said. “The quarterback (Luke Dickens) has got a great arm.They are very physical at the point of attack. Anytime you score 48 points on Wilson Central, you raise some eyebrows. What they did to Mt. Juliet was really impressive.”
Station Camp runs two running backs. One of them, 6-foot-2, 235-pound sophomore Ellis Sanders is a key at inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense.
“He’s probably the best in the region watching him on film,” Crouch said of Sanders. “He blitzes a lot, covers a lot, does a lot of things.”
Crouch also gave his endorsement to Station Camp’s Brent Alexander as region coach of the year. The Bison were 0-10 last year before winning a bowl game over Hunters Lane.
“It’s been remarkable to see the turnaround they’ve done,” Crouch said days before the biggest game in the Hawks’ 19-game history. “Coming out of last year, I don’t think that a lot of people had Station Camp and Green Hill playing for a region championship.
“We’re very excited to have the pressure to be in that game in Year 2. It’s pretty cool.”
Hillsboro at Mt. JulietThe Burros, a longtime Metro Nashville power, struggled out of the gate with an 0-6 start. But those who have watched them on video or in person have seen them improve right before their eyes to 2-6, with both wins coming in Region 5-5A for a 2-2 mark, making them a viable playoff contender at this late date.
“Hillsboro’s a much improved football team from the start of the year,” Mt. Juliet coach Trey Perry said. “They’ve won the last two games going away.
“They are back to being the football team people were predicting from the preseason.”
One of their early losses was a near-upset of Green Hill in which the Hawks had to score a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final minute to win. SEC recruit Mikeece Jones, a wide receiver/safety who occasionally takes snaps as the wildcat quarterback, is their main threat.
“Offensively, they’re actually pretty balanced,” Perry said. “They have a sophomore quarterback (Deshawn Trotter) who’s been a lot of the reason for their improvement because he’s improved.”
Senior Kantreze Vaughn gets a lot of carries at tailback while senior Michael Gordon is used on jet sweeps as a slot.
“They’ve gotten a lot more balanced the last few weeks,” Perry said.
Changes have also been made in Hillsboro’s defense since August.
“They’ve gone from an even front at the start of the year to a 50, and they’ll jump back into the even in passing situations.
“But they’ve clamped down on running teams in the 50. They’re an attacking-style 50.”
When the Golden Bears were last seen, they were falling to 6-2 for the season and 3-1 in the region with their first loss to Lebanon since 2008 and second straight setback overall, Their defeat to the Blue Devils broke a 25-game winning streak against Wilson County competition.
“Missed 31 tackles in that game,” Perry said of the Lebanon game in which the Bears were driving for a touchdown to get back in the game when a pick-six by Anthony Crowell just before halftime put the Blue Devils ahead by halftime in a game won by LHS 35-0.
But Perry noted before that game that even though it is a rivalry contest, it doesn’t count in the region and that the coaches might well use it to try out younger players.
“We did make a pretty conscious decision at halftime (that) we’re going to play some people and we played some young people in the second half — and we found some guys,” Perry said. “I’m proud of some of those young guys who got in there and played.”
But coming on the heels of a one-point loss at Station Camp the week before, perhaps no team needed the bye week more than the Bears.
“We needed it,” Perry said. “If you don’t feel you’re fundamentally sound, the only way to work on it is time and reps.
“We had a good week. We’ve had a good week and a half.”
Another new player who’s been working his way back is sophomore outside linebacker Noah Ilias, who has become eligible a calendar year after his last game at Green Hill before transferring. Perry said he’ll start immediately.
Watertown vs. Livingston Academy at Tennessee Tech (Thursday)Livingston has played its home games at Tucker Stadium in Cookeville this season. But with Tennessee Tech playing at home this Saturday, the Wildcats have to play Thursday.
LA, also coming off a bye, is 0-8. The Wildcats led Cumberland County in their most recent game 20-14 at halftime before succumbing 42-30.
“They primarily run a spread formation, like to throw the ball around,” Watertown coach Gavin Webster said of the Wildcats. “They’ll mix some run in, but they’ll throw the ball all around.”
Livingston runs a 50 defense.
“They have good size,” said Webster, noting the 5-3 Tigers are looking at this as a final tuneup before Trousdale.
While the Blue Devils were dispersed for fall break, they won their first outright region championship since the format was introduced in 1993. This is their first No. 1 seeding in the playoffs since winning the District 7-AAA title in 1990.
“Last year at this time we were thinking about sitting at home,” said Lebanon coach Chuck Gentry, whose Blue Devils did indeed miss the playoffs. “…And didn’t like it.”
After next week’s trip to Warren County, which no longer has any playoff pressure after the Pioneers lost to Shelbyville 41-26 last Friday, the Blue Devils will be at Clifton Tribble Field/Danny Watkins Field for the first three rounds before going east for the semifinals as the postseason visits LHS for the first time since the move to the current campus in 2012.
“It’s good to know we’re in and control our own destiny,” said Gentry, whose 7-1 Blue Devils broke into the Associated Press 6A poll at No. 10 this week.
By comparison, Gallatin is 3-4 and, though this game won’t play a factor, seeking to solidify its playoff positioning.
But while this game has little or no bearing on the playoffs, Gallatin is probably Lebanon’s oldest existing rivalry. A win over the Green Wave anytime means something.
“It’s one when I talk to the older former players, it’s important for sure,” Gentry said.
Gallatin runs an old-school offense of wing-T with lots of option thrown in.
“A lot of different formations they get into,” Gentry said. “They’re a running offense. They do throw the ball some, but mainly they’re a ground-’n-pound football team.
“They got some size and definitely got some speed. Several different running backs that are big and several that are fast.”
Gallatin runs a 4-2 defense.
“Very pressure oriented, lots of moving up front with their ends and their tackles,” Gentry said. “Their linebackers are runners and hitters. A lot of blitzing from those two also. Cover 3 team in the back.”
Gentry said the Blue Devils came back mostly healthy from the bye week.
Receiver Isaiah Douglas is ticketed for a Round 1 return while lineman Hayden Rigsby remains out indefinitely and Mason Tisdale was ruled out for the season long ago.
Stewarts Creek at Wilson CentralThe Red Hawks are Lebanon’s likely first-round playoff opponent and will make an early trip to Wilson County to take on Wilson Central.
Stewarts Creek is 4-2 overall with a COVID no-decision to Oakland.
“They’re physical and fast,” Wildcats coach Brad Dedman said of the Red Hawks. “They have some speed and playmakers who can make plays on both sides of the ball.”
Stewarts Creek runs a spread offense behind junior quarterback Gage Hoover and senior running back Gabriel Walker, who will also take snaps in the Wildcat.
“They like to run different type formations,” Dedman said. “They’re a running football team for the most part.
“Offensive line does a good job blocking.”
Stewarts Creek runs a 3-4 defense, similar to Wilson Central’s.
“They got some secondary guys who can run,” Dedman said. “Their two safeties run as well as anybody we’ve seen. Their cornerbacks do a good job of covering receivers.
“Their linebackers (led by junior Trey White) do a good job of tackling.”
While Stewarts Creek is pretty much in as at least a No. 4, Wilson Central, 5-3 overall, is locked in a tight race with Hillsboro for the final spot in Region 5-5A. The Burros, who will be at Mt. Juliet tomorrow already in survival mode, will visit Gladeville next Friday for the finale with the winner likely to advance on.
“Next week is going to be our playoff,” Dedman said. “We got to use this game to get better for next week.”
Dedman said the bye week helped the Wildcats, who will be at full strength.
Stewarts Creek has one Wilson County connection. Former Wildcat defensive line coach Maurice Grooms, who played in the D-line for Lebanon some 30 years ago and spent several seasons on Dedman’s Wilson Central staff, is listed on the Red Hawks’ coaching roster.
Lakeway Christian at Friendship ChristianThe Commanders have spent the last few weeks trying to climb out of the East Region hole of their loss to King’s Academy. They face their final runs the next two weeks, starting with the homecoming visit from Lakeway Christian.
Friendship is 5-3 overall and 1-1 in the region. The Commanders will close the season next week at Middle Tennessee Christian. If FCS and King’s win out, there will be a three-way tie for first place, in which case the Lions would be the champions. But King’s travels to Notre Dame next week and a loss and a Friendship win over MTCS would put FCS into first with a first-round playoff bye.
In either case, Friendship will host its first playoff game — first or second round — at Pirtle Field.
Lakeway is 2-5, 0-2 and, even with a loss tomorrow, will face Bell Buckle Webb next week for the fourth and final playoff spot.
The Lions, based in the Jefferson County community of White Pine and a TSSAA newcomer, appear to be an athletic program on the rise.
“They’re making a commitment to the program,” said Commander coach John McNeal, noting Lakeway coach Steve Haywood is a former Christ Presbyterian assistant who was long linked to other head coaching jobs but remained with CPA until Lakeway came calling. “Facilities are unbelievable.
“They’re going after the facilities and the coaches.”
Lakeway has a couple of Wilson County connections on its staff. Athletic director Nathan Hoffmeister is a former Lebanon point guard under current Wilson County mayor Randall Hutto. Fishing coach Jeramy Ezell played baseball for McNeal’s Commanders.
As for the football team, the Lions runs a multiple offense and a mix of 4-2 and 4-3 defense.
“They’ve got some good athletes,” McNeal said. “They try to get you in situations where you make mistakes lining up.”
Mt. Juliet Christian at Nashville ChristianThe Saints will be watching the playoffs from afar. But they’ll get a first-hand look at Division II-A’s top-ranked team in Nashville Christian a week before the Eagles battle No. 2 Donelson Christian for the Middle Region championship.
“Sounds good. I’m all for it,” Mt. Juliet Christian coach Dan Davis said of the game in Bellevue. “Isn’t it what we signed up for?”
Davis said the crosstown Davidson County rivals are similar.
“They’re a traditional I team,” Davis said of the Eagles, who run a 40 defense. “They do some spread these days just to keep everybody happy. They have speed. They have size. They’re good at what they do.
“They and DCA are similar animals. I think Nashville Christian’s faster.”
Mt. Juliet Christian is still trying to break into the Middle Region win column and is 2-6 overall.
The Saints face fellow 0-3 team Clarksville Academy in the season closer next week. They were blanked at DCA 53-0 last week.
“We did not do a very good job of doing the little things,” Davis said of last week. “We would move the ball and then we would shoot ourselves in the foot.
“We’re very productive when we do the right things and we’re not a very productive team when we don’t. When we’re on the same page, we’re very productive. We have to do our thing and move the sticks. When we do our thing, we’re productive. When we don’t, we get blown out.”