Three teams avoided shocking upsets while five others took impressive steps into the second round. And two teams came up on the cruel end of tough home losses.
It wasn’t a typical first round for the TSSAA playoffs in Northeast Tennessee.
A STEP FURTHER
Science Hill — It has been a season riddled with last-second decisions. With a few different breaks, the Hilltoppers could be 10-1. With some bounces in other directions, the Hilltoppers could be 2-9. Crazy. Instead they are right in the middle at 6-5.
Friday’s last-second field goal by Connor Rutledge lifted Science Hill to a 24-21 win over Bradley Central, and assured the Hilltoppers they would finish with no worse than a .500 record. It was a testament to the perseverance of a team that had every reason to give up on the season when it trailed 20-0 to Knox Farragut late in the first half of Week 7. Since that point, the Hilltoppers have been a different team. Head coach Stacy Carter kept saying he liked this team, and continued to push it through the valley.
Chris Thomas’ workhorse performance against Bradley — 33 carries for 195 yards — will help this program grow toward the 2019 season. But of course there’s second-round work to be done now, even if winning at top-ranked Maryville would be the biggest upset in school history — for both teams.
Unicoi County — The Blue Devils hadn’t won a playoff game since beating a school that doesn’t exist anymore, a 10-7 decision over Knoxville Rule in 1985.
And Unicoi hadn’t come close to a win in its previous seven playoff contests, being outscored by a combined margin of 300-20.
But two long touchdown runs by Kody Lewis — 83 yards late in the third quarter and 46 yards in the fourth quarter — turned a six-point deficit into a 27-20 win over Kingston.
Like Science Hill, the Blue Devils didn’t earn a bargain with the win as they will meet top-ranked Alcoa. But Unicoi was the only Region 1-3A team to advance, and the Blue Devils guaranteed a nine-win season that will go down as one of the best in school history.
Sullivan South — With last year’s tough loss serving as motivation, the Rebels made a long trip worthwhile by whipping Chattanooga Central, 39-12.
The win was a small surprise, but the margin of victory was impressive. And it was the eighth win for South, which has maintained program pride despite a dwindling future that may only include two more seasons.
Unfortunately, the Rebels are in the same boat as Unicoi and Science Hill as they have top-ranked Greeneville up next.
Daniel Boone and Tennessee High — The Trailblazers picked up an expected home win in business-like fashion, pounding Gibbs by a score of 32-14.
It was the Trailblazers’ ninth win in a superb season, but the next step (Knox Central) is a treacherous one.
As for the Vikings, they went on the road and earned a tough 24-17 win over South-Doyle, setting up a rematch with David Crockett.
AVOIDING THE UPSET
Elizabethton — Make no mistake about it, the Cyclones were in jeopardy of a loss.
Howard’s offense was strong and efficient and the Cyclones’ passing attack wasn’t up to its usual standards. Without the 90-yard touchdown pass from Carter Everett to Corey Russell, the fourth-down battle for a fresh set of downs by Evan Perkins in the third quarter, and the nice touchdown catch by Parker Hughes in the third quarter, Elizabethton might have finished its season on a disappointing note.
Instead the 28-14 win allows the Cyclones a chance to avenge last year’s season-ending loss to Anderson County.
David Crockett — When a game goes into overtime, the 10-yard-four-to-score procedure means it’s anybody’s game.
Undefeated Crockett not only was dragged into overtime by Knox Halls, the Pioneers trailed by three points in the extra period. And yet, Crockett won its second overtime contest of the season with Cade Larkins finding Micah Robinson in the back of the end zone for the game-winner in a 20-17 decision.
The reward? A rematch with the team that took Crockett to overtime just three weeks ago.
Cloudland — With the game tied entering the fourth quarter, it was evident the Highlanders were having more trouble than anticipated with Midway.
Instead of panicking, the Highlanders kept feeding their workhorse, Jordan Coffey, and he drove through the mud for two fourth-quarter scores and a 36-22 win.
The reward? A rematch with a team, Coalfield, that has eliminated Cloudland from the playoffs in each of the last four seasons.
Rivals Johnson County and Hampton both suffered the same fate, losing heartbreakers on their home fields.
The Longhorns struck for numerous big plays, but came out on the short end of a 36-33 decision against Gatlinburg-Pittman. Meanwhile, neither Hampton nor Rockwood could find the end zone more than once and the Tigers advanced on the strength of a converted extra point.
And in Class 2A, Sullivan North met its expected season ending. The Raiders were no match on the road for top-ranked Meigs County in a 48-7 decision.