The 2019 high school football regular season has come to a close and for a third consecutive year all three Loudon County high school teams will play in the first round of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association playoffs.

The Loudon High School Redskins (10-0, 5-0 Region 3-3A) are coming off the biggest win in head coach Jeff Harig’s tenure with a 24-7 victory over the Class 3A No. 3 Red Bank High School Lions.

The win secured the Redskins’ first region title and No. 1 seed in five years.

“It’s the highest-ranked opponent in my head coaching career that we have beaten,” Harig said. “Relative to belief, not many people thought we could win. Our kids had confidence. With all that was at stake, 9-0, region championship, two top-five teams in the state, it was definitely a big win and maybe someday we’ll sit and ponder where it ranks amongst those. It’s all relative to me to the type of season we’re having and what everybody believed about those opponents.”

Senior lineman Emerson Tripp patiently waited four years for the chance to be crowned region champion.

“It was an amazing experience just to wrap up the season perfect,” he said. “We’ve been talking about doing this for a long time with all these guys and just being able to be perfect, to come off an undefeated season and win the region like that, it was an amazing experience.”

Although the Redskins have much to celebrate, Harig believes there are areas that can be improved.

“I still think we’re our own worst enemy,” he said. “If you look at the stats from the game, we had nine penalties for 70 yards. The opportunities for self-infliction were there, but we’ve overcome them. I guess where I am as a coach is I realize our weaknesses, but I know my kids give their best effort Friday nights, even though it’s not as efficient as it should be, and it’s not always as disciplined as it should be. We’ve got talent in good spots relative to our opponent, and, right now, our lack of discipline has not cost us a game. ... I’m constantly warning them about the level of execution it takes, but we have yet to play a perfect game for sure.”

Loudon will welcome the Alvin C. York Institute Dragons (3-7, 2-3 Region 4-3A) Friday night for the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.

“York is very versatile on offense,” Harig said. “They’re a Wing-T team that likes to run the normal Wing-T plays, and then they run veer option. We’re going to have to be fundamental, play assignment football, where as last week I felt like we could be way more aggressive and really get after Red Bank, getting up field and those kind of things ... this team will take advantage of those things with their traps, their gaps and stuff with the veer option. We’ve got to pull back a little bit and pull out a few game plans from earlier in the year.”

The Redskins’ defense has become one of the best in Class 3A this season, especially against the run.

“They are a Wing-T, so we’ll have to go back to a four-man front,” Tripp said. “That also means we’re going to have to use Jayse (Lorenz) a lot, we’re going to have to use both of us a lot. We’re going to stay pretty basic, but we’re going to add some minor details here and there, so we’ve got to execute and be perfect in that way in order to come home with the win.”

The Dragons will try to throw off the Redskins’ explosive offense with multiple looks, but Harig feels confident in his team’s ability to create mismatches against a defense that has given up an average of 27 points per game.

“They’re a very multiple, three-man, front blitzing-type team,” Harig said. “Assignment football, fundamental football on offense, getting the ball in space is going to benefit us because I do think we have the athletic advantage. To me, it kind of goes back to what we’ve talked about all year — don’t give up the big play for a touchdown and then find ways to create it, which I know Coach (Candics) Jones will do.”

Even with the season on the line in a single-game elimination bracket, the Redskins will remain focused.

“There is a lot of pressure, and we’ve just to got to keep a level head,” Tripp said. “Like everything, we can’t come in thinking first week, first round is going to be a win. It’s the playoffs so if you lose, you go home. You really have to play to the best of your ability with all of your ability to really do well.”

Battle of Panthers

The Lenoir City High School Panthers (1-9, 0-3 Region 4-5A) suffered a 42-0 rout by William Blount High School on Friday, but head coach Jeff Cortez remains positive heading into the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.

Several seniors were able to return and are expected to contribute this week against the Class 5A No. 2 Powell High School Panthers (10-0, 6-0 Region 3-5A).

“Physically, we got a couple of more guys back, so that’s good,” Cortez said. “Colby Clark got to play last week, Issac Hodge got to play last week, Kaleb McKee got to play last week, so that was really good. Again, we’re as physically fit, physically able as we’re going to be. In terms of this playoff game, this is a bonus for us. We’re getting to practice and we’re getting to go outside and prepare, and there’s a lot that aren’t. A third of 5A football teams are sitting at home, and we get to continue to work our craft, work our fundamentals, work our techniques. We’ve got another week here to improve and compete, so that’s great for us. We look forward to the opportunity to play Friday night.”

Senior lineman Kaleb McKee was expected to have a breakout season, but injuries limited him throughout the year. He returned against the Governors as the starting center, but suffered a rolled ankle and will likely miss this week’s game.

“Of course, it’s been a rough season,” McKee said. “But I feel like the connections we’ve made has still been good, and it’s always going to be good. It’s not about winning for us, I guess, it’s about being brothers. I feel like we’ll go into the game with a good heart and no matter what people say about us, we’ll still go play our heart out. Coach always says, ‘We don’t have to beat them 10 times, we just have to beat them once’.”

Both teams met last year in the regular season, but Powell was forced to forfeit all but their final three games due to the use of an ineligible player.

Cortez is familiar with Powell head coach Matt Lowe and the style of play he implements.

“I think this is the fifth year in a row that we’ll play a Coach Lowe-led team,” Cortez said. “We played Powell last year and Coach Lowe was in charge. And then we played them when he was at (The King’s Academy) three times, so this will be our fifth time. Coach Lowe teams are all pretty much the same — they’re well-coached, they play aggressive on offense and defense. Watching in preparation this weekend, it was seeing a Coach Lowe team. They do a lot of things well, they’re very gifted, athletically, this year at Powell. We have a big challenge, but it’s an opportunity and we look forward to it. It’s an honor to be in the playoffs.”

Cherokees prep

The Greenback School Cherokees (8-2, 6-0 Region 2-1A) clinched their fifth consecutive Region 2-1A championship Friday with a 66-0 blowout win over the Oakdale School Eagles.

Senior quarterback Braden Carnes put on his best performance of the season in the win, throwing eight touchdowns and eclipsing 3,000 passing yards in 10 games.

“Carnes needed 328 yards versus Oakdale to finish with over 3,000 yards in 10 games,” Greg Ryan, Greenback head football coach, said. “That wasn’t our goal going into the Oakdale game, but if he got close then as coaches, we were going to try to make that happen. It’s not turned in yet, but he’d be ranked somewhere in the 20s in the nation right now. Here’s the thing — I think he would be ranked either one or two in the nation when you’re talking about yards per completion. The guy that’s leading the nation right now, through 10 games, has thrown for 3,800-something yards, but he’s thrown it like 420 times. Carnes has thrown exactly 210 attempts.”

The Cherokees will have all the momentum heading into Friday’s home game against the Unaka High School Rangers in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs.

Unaka finished last in Region 1-1A with just two wins on the season, but Ryan wants his team to remain focused and not overlook any opponent.

“Unaka reminds us a lot of Midway, and what I mean by that is, offensively, they’ve got some good skill position kids,” he said. “The running back runs hard like the Midway kid. The quarterback is a pretty good athlete. They’ve got a go-to receiver like Midway did that can be very effective. The problem with Midway, just like Unaka, is their offensive line play has been suspect at best.”