Seven Williamson County football teams survived a grueling 11-week schedule to put themselves in position for their ultimate goal – a shot at a state championship.
High school football’s second season begins Friday with six area teams in action, battling to advance one step closer to Cookeville and the TSSAA state championship game. Brentwood Academy is the only playoff team not playing Friday, earning a first-round bye in the Division II-AA bracket.
Of the six county teams, Centennial and Brentwood are the only ones playing in the comfort of their own stadium.
The Cougars, a No. 3 seed in Class 5A, host No. 6 Portland. It marks only the second time Centennial has reached the playoffs in back-to-back years.
While happy about making the postseason, coach Brian Rector is focusing on what is ahead and not looking at what’s in the past.
“The standards around here – with this coaching staff – are going to be to make the playoffs every year,” he said. “I don’t think we’re celebrating that too much as much as the fact that we are in and it’s a new season.”
Portland does pose a unique threat with their single-wing offense – something Rector says he has never coached against.
Defensively, the Panthers (5-5) strength is their linebackers who do a good job of being active in the middle stopping runs. Centennial (6-4) will counter with their passing game to playmakers on the perimeter.
Quarterback J.J. Tomlin leads the county with 1,868 passing yards and 21 touchdowns while Bailey Wisniowski, Emanuel Hall, and Cord Collier each are top 10 receivers.
Friday’s game marks Portland’s first playoff appearance since 2005. Prior to this season, the Panthers had posted a 6-54 record since their last trip to the postseason.
“No question they’re jacked up,” Rector said of Portland’s excitement to be in the postseason. “I think what you’ll see is a lot of excitement on Friday. You’ll see a different brand of football with the offense they run and I think you’ll see one heck of an atmosphere.”
Brentwood, a No. 2 seed in Class 6A, hosts No. 7 seed Wilson Central. The Wildcats are not an average No. 7 seed though as they are one of only two teams in that position across the state with eight wins. Bearden is the other.
The Bruins (9-1) have relied on their running game and a solid defense throughout the season, but a sudden outburst of turnovers the last two weeks has the Brentwood faithful worried.
“We went eight games and hardly had any turnovers and now we turned it over several times the last two games,” Bruin coach Mark Pemberton said. “Hopefully they’re out of our system for the playoffs. That’s something we work on everyday.”
Wilson Central has a strong offense that averages 31.2 points per game while Brentwood’s defense has only allowed 100 points the entire season.
Area schools not hosting first round games have significant road trips ahead of them.
Independence (6-4) has the shortest of these trips. The No. 5 seed Eagles travel to No. 4 seed Mt. Juliet (9-1), a 45-mile trek.
Both finishing second in their districts, defense will be key in this match up. The Golden Bears are on a five-game winning streak and give up only 13.2 points per game while Indy has scored 14 points or less in each of their four losses.
Mt. Juliet’s lone loss came at the hands of undefeated Beech, 27-20.
Battle Ground Academy (4-6) has the longest trip, traveling 137 miles to Chattanooga to face Baylor (7-3). Featuring the No. 6 and No. 4 seeds from Division II-AA East/Middle, this is a rematch from one week prior when the Red Raiders beat the Wildcats 27-12.
Two third-quarter touchdowns by George Potter and a 52-yard Baylor punt return proved to be the difference in the contest.
Baylor should be on upset alert here as it is difficult to beat the same team in back to back weeks.
Page (6-4) also travels to the Chattanooga area, facing Signal Mountain (7-3).
A No. 3 vs. No. 6 game in Class 4A, the Patriots meet an Eagles team riding a six-game winning streak. Seemingly an offensive machine, Signal Mountain averages more than 45 points in victories – scoring 61 each of their last two weeks.
The health of quarterback Zak Mizell will be key for Page. Mizell was injured against Marshall County in Week 9 and was limited in Week 10 against Giles County.
Fairview (7-3) travels 90 miles to Carthage for a Class 3A showdown with Smith County (8-2).
High scoring should be expected as the No. 4 seed Owls have averaged 42 points during their current five-game winning streak while the No. 5 Yellow Jackets have a season-long average of 36.6.