High school football followers across Tennessee have reached a point that, four months ago, no one was sure would be attainable:
The state playoffs.
In the midst of a pandemic, a number of teams have managed to put themselves in position for a state championship, and the path to doing so begins Friday.
Locally, four teams are in the running for titles. Let’s see what Mostradamus sees for those and for others across the area as they open playoff action this weekend.
Spring Hill (3-5) at DeKalb Co. (6-3) – Making their first postseason appearance under third-year coach Ben Martin, the Raiders face the Region 3-4A titlist in a matchup that was unexpected a week ago. DeKalb County, dealing with COVID contact tracing issues, was thought to be done at the conclusion of the regular season but received a reprieve from its school board. The Tigers’ pass-heavy attack is spearheaded by senior QB Axel Aldino (2,567 offensive yards, 31 total TDs), a Class 4A Mr. Football semifinalist, while WRs Desmond Nokes (665 yards, 10 TDs), Isaac Knowles (603 yards, four TDs) and Travante Alexander (444 yards, four TDs) each have 25-plus receptions. DeKalb brings a five-game winning streak into the contest – the season finale against Cumberland County was declared a no-contest — with an average margin of 27.4 points. Those five wins, though, came against Grundy County, Cannon County, Livingston Academy, Smith County and Macon County – who combined for a 19-29 record.
Spring Hill, the fourth seed out of Region 4-4A, won two of its last three on-field contests before back-to-back open weeks. The Raiders’ game at Battle Ground Academy was canceled for inclement weather and the Lawrence County season finale was declared a COVID win when the Wildcats were unable to play. Winless through the midpoint of the regular season, Spring Hill downed Maplewood 35-0 and Richland 19-14 in consecutive outings before falling 21-14 in double overtime against Marshall County. Offensively, the Raiders took off once RB Mac Richie became the focal point of the rushing game. Richie gained 60-plus yards in each of those three contests. Defensively, the Spring Hill secondary with CBs Dante Prowell and Landen Secrest will be the key. Spring Hill 26, DeKalb Co. 22.
Columbia Central (5-5) at Gallatin (4-6) – Boosted by the postseason absence of Shelbyville (TSSAA sanctions), the Lions were rescued from a second straight trip to Beech as the No. 4 seed from Region 5-5A and instead face the host Green Wave – whose only on-field victory after Labor Day weekend was a 68-0 pasting of Region 6-5A foe Glencliff in the regular-season finale. Besides that, Gallatin lost six straight, including a pair of backyard rivalries as Hendersonville won 46-0 and Beech 36-8 in consecutive contests. QB Mason Stanley has thrown for 1,057 yards with eight TDs (and six interceptions) and leads the team with 504 rushing yards. LB Max Wingert anchors a defense that also features DL Zion Robb (6-3, 340) and DBs Dee Sullivan, Luke Cook and Damian Maturo.
Central, with a depleted roster because of injuries and COVID-related absences, will rely on an offense led by a couple of seniors – QB Brady McCanless (1,006 passing yards, eight TDs) and WR Steven Kinnard (433 receiving yards, four TDs) – and an opportunistic defense. DL Carter Szydlowski, LBs Shane Cobb and Demetrius McCoy and CB Roman Woodson give the Lions playmakers at each level, even in the absence of DE Antwan Moore and S Laith Naddy. After nearly earning the road win in the opening round last year against top-ranked undefeated Beech, Central may be set to pull off the upset this time. Columbia Central 17, Gallatin 13.
Hillwood (3-2) at Summit (9-1) – Because of the pandemic restrictions on Metro Nashville Public Schools athletics, Hillwood didn’t begin its football season until Oct. 1. Summit has played one game since Oct. 2, with three scheduled games canceled under COVID guidelines. So the Spartans will make their return to play against a Hillwood team that’s in rhythm and features junior QB Cam Davis, a Whites Creek transfer who threw for 3,642 yards and 26 TDs as a freshman and sophomore. After winning their first three games, the Hilltoppers fell to Hillsboro and Beech by a combined score of 89-24.
Summit, with just two games since Week 4, will likely ease back into action behind its junior signalcaller, Destin Wade (1,432 offensive yards, 18 total TDs). It’ll be intriguing to see whether the Spartans take a conservative approach to this contest offensively, considering the Class 5A Mr. Football semifinalist threw two early interceptions and finished with three in his team’s 33-9 Week 8 win at Franklin County. Meanwhile, Summit will continue to be without RB/LB Keaten Wade, as the foot injury that sidelined him for the first half of the season remains problematic for the junior. Summit 41, Hillwood 14.
Independence (6-2) at LaVergne (5-5) – Last week’s loss to Ravenwood cost Independence a Region 6-6A crown and stopped a six-game win streak. It also got the Eagles’ attention, which stands to be bad news for the homestanding Wolverines as they make their first playoff appearance since 2017. LaVergne is led by senior RB Ray Banner, Class 6A Mr. Football semifinalist who rushed for 1,727 yards and 24 touchdowns through the regular season.
Independence, though, boasts its own Mr. Football semifinalist. Senior QB Jaxson Campbell has ran and thrown for 2,172 offensive yards and 27 total TDs, leading an offense that also features RB Tre Hartwell (438 yards, four TDs) and TEs Ty Lockwood (394 receiving yards, two TDs) and Tyler Kondra (249 yards, two TDs) to complement WR Calvin Wilson (506 yards, seven TDs). LBs Josh Amor and Ethan Pickering key a defensive unit that allowed just over 14 points per game through its last seven outings. Independence 32, LaVergne 10.
Fayetteville over Hollow Rock-Bruceton
Huntland over Collinwood
Moore Co. over Wayne Co.
Huntingdon over Cornersville
Lewis Co. over Scotts Hill
Decatur Co.-Riverside over Eagleville
East Hickman over Forrest
Waverly over Loretto
Nolensville over Livingston Acad.
Marshall Co. over Macon Co.
Tullahoma over Stone Memorial
Beech at Lincoln County
Hillsboro over Page
Smyrna over Franklin
Brentwood over Cane Ridge
Last week: 4-2 (.667)
Season: 48-17 (.739)