PATTON: BIG LOSSES, BIG WINS
Invariably this time of year, you look up and realize there’s a team unexpectedly still playing.
Having seen Northeast drop a 35-13 decision at Smyrna on Sept. 13 — and not look especially impressive in doing so — the Eagles would get that nod from this corner.
After losing their all-everything in quarterback/linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, along with underrated fullback Jerome Jones, advancing to a second straight quarterfinal was hardly a cinch coming into the year. Nine weeks ago, it seemed even less likely, when they committed 11 penalties and four turnovers in slipping to 2-2.
As the schedule indicates, Northeast never got on much of a roll during the regular season. The Eagles won consecutive games just once and answered with back-to-back losses to finish 5-5.
But after qualifying for the Class 5A playoffs as a No. 7 seed, a funny thing happened on the way to the Eagles storing their equipment.
Northeast went to No. 2 seed Lincoln County and won 21-13, then put together another winning effort at Hillsboro 31-21.
Quarterback Montrell Pardue, who was expected to be the key cog for the Eagles this season, has responded with 296 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs.
With a quarterfinal trip to Gallatin, Northeast may be poised to extend its unexpected postseason success yet another week.
CIRILLO: FIRST-YEAR SUCCESS
Fayetteville probably is the biggest surprise of the playoffs in the Midstate.
No one honestly could expect a first-year varsity program to make it to the postseason, but the Tigers did just that.
After two years as a junior-varsity program, Fayetteville is in the Class 1A quarterfinals at tradition-rich South Pittsburg.
The sixth-seeded Tigers limped into the postseason with a 4-6 record, but two postseason wins evened their record at 6-6.
Fayetteville opened with a 49-33 win over defending state champion Gordonsville before knocking off second-seeded Monterey 41-22 in the second round last week. The Tigers are averaging 45 points in the playoffs.
Fayetteville was a junior high from 1968 until 2011, and coach Alvin Palmer said the kids had to realize quickly they’re high school players and not junior high players anymore.
The Tigers got off to a great start by winning their first three games, but their playoff hopes started to diminish after they lost their next four.
Fayetteville rebounded with a 37-0 win over Huntland. The Tigers closed the regular season with one-sided losses to Friendship and Monterey.
The Tigers will need an inspired effort to keep their unlikely run going against South Pittsburg.