Lenoir City and Loudon will play their first regional football games Friday.

The season has already been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the third week, Sweetwater forfeited a region game against Loudon, although the Redskins set up another contest against Daniel Boone. That same week, Lenoir City did not play its region matchup against Campbell County due to sickness.

Lenoir City and Loudon played non-region games in the fourth week.

Assuming there are no additional cancellations, Lenoir City (1-2) will host Oak Ridge (1-3, 1-0 Region 3-5A) Friday.

“For us, it’s a big one,” Jeff Cortez, Lenoir City High School football head coach, said.

Loudon (4-0, 1-0 Region 3-3A) will travel to Signal Mountain (3-1, 1-0 Region 3-3A) to play in its first region game. The Redskins have one region win because of the Sweetwater cancellation Sept. 3. Loudon beat Daniel Boone 34-21.

Meanwhile, Greenback (1-2, 1-0 Region 2-1A) will host Oliver Springs (0-2) on Friday in the second regional game for the Cherokees.

Kickoff for all three games is at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

‘Big-time game’ for Lenoir City

Cortez said the Panthers had to take a week off from practice after only two games this season because of COVID-19.

“That’s not necessarily a recipe for success,” he said.

No one was allowed to practice during that week off, Cortez said. As the Panthers prepared for Cumberland County, players were slowly able to return to practice.

Despite the process being “little rough,” Cortez found practice went well. “We got through that,” he said. “We got up there. We competed.”

After a two-week break from playing a game, Lenoir City lost 17-7 Friday at Cumberland County (2-2, 0-1 Region 4-4A) in Crossville.

Cortez said the loss was tough, noting the offense appeared a little disjointed. Passing routes were “not there” and the running game was not consistent, he said.

“We just didn’t have the rhythm,” Cortez said. “You could see the aftermath of COVID during that game.”

Lenoir City scored in the third quarter of the game during a “great-looking drive,” throwing the football and running a bit.

“That’s when our offense was clicking,” he said. “Looked normal, so to speak.”

The touchdown pass came on a post route with sophomore quarterback Brett Cortez throwing to senior receiver Zane Ward.

Jeff said the Panthers’ defense played quite well Friday, giving up only two big plays that resulted in touchdowns. After a 43-yard field goal, Cumberland County scored on a long run in the second quarter and a long pass in the fourth quarter.

Full involvement in practice will be big this week. “Just need to be back to work,” he said.

As of Monday, only one player waited for his seven days to be up to return to practice.

“For us, this is a big-time game against a big-time opponent, and we have a week of work,” Jeff said.

Oak Ridge finished as state runner-up in Class 5A last year, losing to Summit in the state championship game in December.

“Oak Ridge is a traditional power,” Jeff said. “They made it to the 5A title game last year. ... They have some high-profile players on their team in terms of college recruiting. For us, it’s going to be a big challenge. We’ve got to be all hands on deck.”

The Panthers will need to know the game plan and go out and execute it, Jeff said. They have to attack, put Oak Ridge on its heels and not flinch.

Oak Ridge senior running back Kendall Jackson and the Wildcats’ passing game will be factors, Jeff said.

Jeff said the Panthers have to “keep it simple” Friday, pile up completions and keep the offense moving.

Can’t make mistakes

In the Rivalry Thursday game at Loudon, the Redskins defeated Gatlinburg-Pittman (1-3, 1-1 Region 2-3A) 43-22.

“We did what we had to do on offense after a slow start,” Jeff Harig, head football coach, said. “We were able to get six touchdown passes and get control of the game. ... They just couldn’t keep (scoring) pace with us.”

He said the Highlanders’ power running game exposed Loudon.

“They really made us work on defense,” Harig said. “We’re going to be a little more versatile in our defensive calls.”

But the Redskins didn’t give up big plays.

Six touchdown passes Friday were thrown by Loudon senior quarterback Keaton Harig, just one shy of the school record.

During the game, Loudon senior wide receiver Kaden Dockins hauled in seven catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns, and junior defensive lineman Kwynton Chenault had three sacks and was “very dominant up front,” Jeff Harig said.

Looking to Friday, Loudon and Signal Mountain have had a common opponent in Soddy Daisy. Loudon beat Soddy Daisy 31-6 the first week and Signal Mountain defeated them by a smaller margin, 21-14, the second week.

Jeff said Signal Mountain has undersized players that are athletic.

Loudon can’t make mistakes, has to take care of the football and deny plays on defense. “Control the controllables,” Jeff said.

He said Signal Mountain played with their backup quarterback the entire game last week, although it’s not clear why, which resulted in a different team. The Eagles are a more diverse team with their starter, and they relied more on the run game Friday.

Signal Mountain has a good kicker, which Jeff believes will pose a challenge.

He gave credit to his team’s kicker, senior Erik Espinoza, who has only kicked for two weeks after the previous player moved to Chicago, Ill. Espinoza knocked four kickoffs into the end zone Thursday, which ultimately helped the Redskins with field position.

Expecting good team

Greenback was scheduled to host Knoxville Webb on Friday, but the non-region game was canceled for unknown reasons.

Jessica Spafford, Greenback School athletic director, could not be reached for comment by News-Herald presstime.

The Cherokees will now shift focus to this week’s home game Friday against regional opponent Oliver Springs.

In the first region game Sept. 3, Greenback won 57-0 at Sunbright.

Ethan Edmiston, Greenback football head coach, believes this week should be unique. Oliver Springs has not played in two weeks, and key players might have been missing in the game films the coaching staff has reviewed.

The Cherokees are preparing for a better team with all players on the roster.

“We think they’ll have all their starters back,” Edmiston said. “We know they’re going to come in and be ready to play and be motivated.”

Oliver Springs has big players on the offensive and defensive lines, Edmiston said, which should prove a challenge.

Greenback matches up well, but Oliver Springs has a size advantage. Edmiston said his team will need to be ready to go.

He said the Bobcats are more of a run team, although they also use short, quick throws and lots of jet sweeps.

“They’re definitely a run-heavy team,” he said.

Although Oliver Springs is 0-2, the two teams they lost to are good teams at bigger schools. The Bobcats finished second in the region in 2020, Edmiston said, and they made it to a Class 1A quarterfinal game.

“We’re expecting a good game from them,” Edmiston said.

Greenback senior quarterback Micah Franklin will have to be able to take advantage of the short passing game, run the ball and take control of the offense.

Junior Isiah Flowers will move to center from left tackle this week because starting sophomore center Cody Hearon is injured.