Postseason hopes for the Greenback School Cherokees and Loudon High School Redskins remain intact after both teams cruised through their second-round matchups to advance to the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
The Redskins (12-0) are coming off a big 41-7 second-round win over the Smith County High School Owls.
“We’ve accomplished a lot, and one thing we’ll do is we’ll sit back and reflect, but for now, I think our guys are confident that there are things we’re doing really well,” Jeff Harig, LHS head football coach, said. “There’s certain things that we’re doing that are putting pressure on other teams.
“If you look at the last two weeks, we gave up a lot of rushing yards in the first round of the playoffs,” he added. “Friday, we gave up 51 total yards. The first week, Keaton (Harig) set the school passing record for seven touchdowns thrown in a game ... this next week, he struggled and threw four interceptions. I think the confidence comes from that we’re a complete team, and there’s not any one aspect of our execution that is going to cause us to lose. To be able to win as an offense with 41 points, 388 yards and have five turnovers truly shows how complete of a team we truly are.”
Penalties have been an issue Harig wants to correct if the team expects to advance deeper in the playoffs.
“Some of those penalties were aggression penalties, which you don’t mind seeing,” he said. “Some of them, we had pre-snap alignment issues, we had pre-snap movement issues — those are the ones that drive me nuts as a coach. We got caught twice in our RPO game with Keaton reading to throw the RPO and then not liking it the way it was open and had to hold it, and by the time he had to throw it, we already had linemen down field ... so those are aggression penalties, you overcome those. As coaches, it does show our players’ lack of discipline in some phases. Our guys understand it’s a new week, and those kinds of things will get us beat this week.”
The Red Bank High School Lions (10-1) come to town Friday for a rematch between two of the top teams in Class 3A.
Loudon defeated Red Bank 24-7 on Nov. 1 to clinch the Region 3-3A championship and hand the Lions their only loss of the season. Harig believes the first quarter will be pivotal.
“It’s tough as a coach because there’s obviously those unknowns,” he said. “The game will not go the way it did the first time. They say in sports it’s tough to beat the same team twice in a season, no matter what sport it is, especially in tournament time, playoff time. I think the early part of the game will really dictate how the game goes. We felt like Red Bank came out with a lot of confidence the first time, but as the game wore on, our guys and their confidence increased by the second half to the point where we had control of the game. Any strong start by either team is going to mess with the psyche.”
Senior defensive end Noah Burnette was a key factor in the previous meeting, creating pressure up front and forcing quarterback Madox Wilkey into questionable decisions.
With Red Bank’s overall speed and athleticism, Burnette and the rest of the defensive line must step up again and create havoc in the backfield.
“It was really tough going into it,” Burnette said. “It was the region championship. We were really nervous in the first half. Now that we’ve seen them a lot more, I think we’re more ready. I have to be quicker than the guy in front of me and just try to cover the pass a lot better.”
Harig thinks being at home will give the Redskins a big advantage.
“For me as a coach, routine gives me confidence, it gives me peace of mind and it gives our kids peace as well,” he said. “When we went to Red Bank, we had to stay down at the baseball field, stayed out in the cold. Being able to stay in the locker room, having a place to sit ... those are big things that you don’t always get when you’re on the road, so I think that routine will benefit us as a whole team.”
The Greenback School Cherokees (10-2) are also coming off a big second-round win with a 56-16 rout of Region 2-1A rival Coalfield School.
“When you win nine in a row, you’ve got a lot of confidence,” Greg Ryan, Greenback head football coach, said. “Going into the Coalfield week of practice, it was just us really focusing on us just like we have been the entire season. We had a fantastic week of practice, so nothing that happened against Coalfield really surprised me after seeing how locked in we were in practice the week of Coalfield. Coming out of that game, obviously, it gave us more confidence, and the guys all understand you’re one game away from whatever — you’re one game from moving on, you’re one game away from going home.”
Ryan is pleased with the team’s overall health this far into the season.
However, the Cherokees are missing starting inside linebacker Josiah Millsaps after injuring his hand in a car wreck. Sophomore Braden Matoy stepped up and has performed well in his place.
“We had zero injuries against Coalfield,” he said. “We’re still missing Josiah Millsaps. He started for us every football game up until the last two. He had a car wreck and has been out the last two games. We don’t know if he’s going to get an opportunity to come back or not. Obviously, he’s a big loss. He’s a great kid, really good football player. As a football coach, it’s just got to be the next man up, step up and that’s kind of what we’re doing. We hope Josiah gets the opportunity to play again this season.”
Since the first two losses of the season, Greenback’s defense has allowed just 8 points per game, including three shutouts.
Senior lineman Derrell Bailey Jr. is one of the leaders on defense and has had a breakout season with 28.5 tackles and eight tackles for loss.
“I get double-teamed a lot, and that just opens up everything else for my teammates,” Bailey Jr. said. “Coach (Ryan) tries to put me weak side a lot to keep me from being double-teamed a lot, too. I just feel like taking on double-teams, going one-on-one and making tackles and letting linebackers fill in the gaps has helped.”
Greenback will take on a familiar opponent Friday when the Oliver Springs High School Bobcats (10-2) return to Cooper Field, looking to avenge a 50-0 loss to the Cherokees earlier in the season.
The Bobcats finished second in Region 2-1A and are coming off 42-6 and 29-0 wins against Jellico and Cloudland, respectively.
“They’re kind of like us — they just do what they do and try to get better at it,” Ryan said. “We know Oliver Springs is going to be a shotgun, two-by-one flex open team, and they’re going to run a power run game with a lot of jet action. Defensively, they’ve been a 3-4, two-high team, and you very rarely see them get out of it. I don’t think that we’re going to do anything different.”
The Bobcats will key on senior wide receiver Holden Willis, which could leave players like Duke Stinnett, Blake Fields and Wyatt Rutgerson open to cause damage.
“They like to run a two-high ... they run a hard corner, but they’re reading two,” Willis said. “So if two goes vertical, then the safety will pick him up, and the corner will drop, but they don’t do a good job of bailing like a lot of teams. They’ll sit and eat up a lot cushion, so I think the sideline ball will be good for us.”
Willis was named a semifinalist for the Tennessee Titans Mr. Football Award on Tuesday.
Through 12 games, he has 53 catches for 1,336 yards and 24 touchdowns.
“I mean, nothing alone that I’ve done,” he said. “You’ve got to give Braden (Carnes) ... I mean, whatever I get, Braden should get just as well because he’s the quarterback and sees everything just the way that I do. My yards are his yards, too. He’s the one that gives me the ball. Coach (Ryan) sees the field and makes the calls, so he puts me in position.”