Blount County will once again be a Mecca of high school football on Friday as three area teams begin the arduous trek towards Murfreesboro and a state championship.
All three of Blount County’s remaining teams — Alcoa, Maryville and William Blount — have the advantage of beginning the playoff journey on their own field, before their home crowd. Another advantage will be an air of familiarity. All three have a unique connection with their opponent.
The three-time defending Class 2A champion Tornadoes (9-1) will host Sweetwater (5-5) on Friday at Goddard Field. The three-time defending 4A champion Rebels (10-0) welcome Rhea County (6-4) to Shields Stadium. The Class 5A front-running Governors (8-2) are host to Campbell County (4-6) at Mike White Field.
All kickoffs are 7 p.m.
For Region 2-2A champion Alcoa, the familiarity is as close as league play. The Tornadoes will face off with the same Wildcats they trounced, 42-15, just last month.
“I don’t think they’ll change anything as far as scheme and the way they approach the game,” Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said. “It’s hard to change much when it’s this late in the season.
“We’re pretty familiar after playing them. They know us well, too. It’s like that sometimes in the playoffs, and if we’re fortunate enough to win, we’ll have another region opponent in round two.”
Sweetwater, which enters the playoffs as one of five wildcard teams in Class 2A and one of two from Region 2, is coming off its own dominant performance. The Wildcats dismantled Oliver Springs, 41-6, in the regular season finale.
Leading the way for the Wildcats is Craig Latham. If Latham is able to replicate his performance from last week, Alcoa could be in some trouble. The Wildcat back rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns, completed a 52-yard touchdown pass, returned a kickoff 95 yards for another scores and added an interception on the defense.
Alcoa counters with the quick-strike scoring punch of quarterback Randall Cobb, running back Troy Hodge and receiver Sam Thompson. Cobb, a University of Kentucky commitment accounted for four touchdowns — three passing, one rushing — in Alcoa’s 42-6 thrashing of Loudon for the region title last week.
Hodge is averaging better than 10 yards per carry, Thompson 37 yard per catch.
In Campbell County’s Philip Young, William Blount (8-2) also has to contend with a player who had a huge game during the final regular season contest. Last week, Young had two rushing touchdowns and also returned a fumble for a score as Campbell County clinched their playoff berth with a 21-7 win against Karns.
Governor coach Scott Meadows knows a thing or two about Campbell County after having played them while he was a coach at Jefferson County prior to arriving at William Blount.
“They traditionally have been big and physical, usually with a strong defense,” Meadows said. “This year they have a strong defense once again.”
William Blount, however, has a high-caliber offense, and, if games against common opponents are any indication, Campbell County is going to have its hands full.
Both teams squared off against Heritage, Sevier County and Dobyns-Bennett, with William Blount, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 5A in a pair of computer polls entering postseason, going 3-0 against those teams by a combined score of 93-16.
The Cougars lost twice to the trio, slipping by Heritage, 27-19, with a late-game rally. Campbell County gave up 93 points in the three contests.
In William Blount’s 42-2 win at Heritage last week, quarterback Tyler Burstrom became the Governors all-time single-season passing leader, running back Darrin Garner the school’s single-season rushing champion.
“We’ve had good practices all week and the kids are excited to be in the playoffs,” Meadows said. “We’re working towards our ultimate goal of winning a state championship.”
As for Maryville, the Rebels will line up against an opponent they’ve played four of the last five seasons in the playoffs.
“They know what we do,” Maryville coach George Quarles said. “I think that gives them some confidence. I think we have some confidence, as well, having played and beat them.”
The Rebels will have to contend with Rhea County’s rampant rushing attack. Senior Julian Sharp leads the way for the Eagles on the ground. He has run for over 1600 yards this season, including 156 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win over White County.
Which brings us to Maryville quarterback Brent Burnette.
The senior and Division I prospect is nearing a Maryville record seemingly out of reach only a few years ago. Former Rebel Cade Thompson passed for a school record 2,480 yards in leading Maryville to an unbeaten, 15-0 championship season in 2004.
Burnette enters Friday needing 276 yards to eclipse Thompson’s mark. With a receiving corps that features seniors Tyler Clendenen, Stephen Shiver and tight end Aaron Douglas, a University of Tennessee commitment, the targets are all over the place.
Burnette, with 23 touchdown passes this season, needs 10 more to equal Thompson in that category as well. Burnette has been intercepted only five times.
“They are going to do what they do, and that’s run the football,” Quarles said. “It’s going to be a tough first round match up … and I don’t think Rhea County is going to be scared of Maryville.”