Greenback Cherokees coach Justin Ridge had a simple prediction Monday for how Friday's game will turn out.
"It's going to come down to who runs the ball better," he said.
Coalfield's sophomore running back, Addison Bible, provides a clear threat. He rushed for 187 yards and four touchdowns in his team's round two win over Cloudland.
"They're big and physical," Ridge said. "Their running back's fast. They're well coached and I don't see very many weaknesses on their team."
Of course, Ridge's description of Coalfield could easily be turned around to describe his own team. The Cherokees rushed for 368 yards in their win over Copper Basin. Leading the way with 241 yards was senior Richard Seymour.
That's why it's easy for Ridge to see this game as a matchup of two running games. Neither defense is accustomed to give up much to opposing offenses. Greenback's 7.3 points allowed per game ranks second in the state. Coalfield's 8.1 ranks fourth. Greenback's 42.1 points per game on offense is only slightly higher, too, than Coalfield's 39.2.
Greenback has a little more separation, statistically, in regular season games with Cloudland, Tellico Plains, Oliver Springs, Wartburg and Oneida.
The Cherokees scored 43.6 points and allowed 4.2 in those games, while Coalfield averaged 38.6 while giving up nine.
It's that defensive number that says the most about Greenback. While Coalfield's is strong, the Cherokees hold the edge, and that edge showed in round two.
Trailing 7-0 after giving up an interception return, it was the defense that set the tone against Copper Basin.
"I think the big thing that stood out is that we had five straight three and outs defensively in the first half," Ridge said. "Five straight three and outs really almost closed the door on them. They moved the chains on one series in the first half."
Of course, that does not diminish the performance of the Greenback offense. Despite two turnovers, the Cherokees scored 62 in the game, their highest point total of the season.
"If you're scoring about every time you touch the ball, it's hard to lose, especially if you're forcing three and outs," Ridge said.
Against Cloudland, though, they will have to eliminate the kind of turnovers they were able to overcome in round two.
"We cannot give Coalfield a touchdown because they're good enough to just sit on a lead and milk it away," Ridge said. "We've got to get the lead early and stay ahead I think. We don't want to give them any kind of field position or turnovers to make it easy for them."
Greenback feels if they can force Coalfield into passing situations, then it works in favor of the defense.
"I feel good about our secondary," Ridge said. "I feel good about the guys we have up front that are going to get to the quarterback. Their passing game is solid, but I think their running game is way better than their passing game. Their personnel dictates that. If we can put them in a situation where they have to throw the ball, that plays into our hands."
For Seymour, the key to winning is just stay with what got them this far.
"Coach has been telling us take one day at a time," he said. "Work your best, do your best and worry about that day, then continue on. Lately we've been working more as a team, working hard, focusing more, knowing that we're in the playoffs and these teams are going to be better."