Christ Presbyterian Academy and Hillsboro are both unbeaten, they’ve both dominated their postseason competition and both will be playing for a state championship on Friday at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
That’s pretty much all these two midstate squads have in common, though.
CPA, squaring off against East Tennessee power Alcoa in the Class 3A title game (3 p.m.) for the second straight year, has developed into somewhat of a powerhouse itself, rolling to a 53-4 (.929) record since 2011 — the year coach Ingle Martin took over the program.
“If you draw up a state championship game blueprint, you put Alcoa probably at the very top of the list of teams you would want to play,” Martin said. “For us it’s still go out and do your job. We don’t make targets of people. I think the biggest thing we do is learn from people.”
Hillsboro, on the other hand, which faces Knoxville West in the Class 5A championship (7 p.m.), hasn’t come close to that kind of success in recent seasons. The Burros’ record since 2011 is just 30-18 (.625), and, prior to this year they’d notched just one winning season since the school’s last state title in 2008.
“This is a whole new Hillsboro team and we feel really confident,” Burros senior Kyle Phillips said. “We feel like we cannot be beaten, the way we prepare and the way our coaches game-plan. We believe in our coaches, we believe in ourselves and we feel like we have the talent to win.”
CPA (14-0), which won its first four playoffs game by an average of 38.2 points, suffered a 25-7 setback to Alcoa (13-1) in last season’s state title game. It was painful at the time, but the Lions used that loss as a lesson.
“I think learning about what kind of physicality it takes to win and what kind of physicality is expected from you in a championship-game atmosphere against a quality opponent,” Martin said. “Anytime you can go do something and then learn from it, I think that helps you out.
“Our kids have had a year to think about it and our coaches have had a year to think about it.”
Stopping the run
Alcoa running back Jaquez Tyson has likely dominated those memories.
Tyson torched the Lions for 278 yards and all three Tornado touchdowns in last season’s matchup, and the 5-foot-9, 196-pound Mr. Football finalist ran for 261 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 28-19 semifinal victory over Notre Dame.
“We actually feel really good this year,” CPA linebacker Mac Keck said. “We think our defense is a lot better than last year and we’re ready to stop the run. We think that’s going to be key.”
Stopping the run will also be key for Hillsboro (14-0) on Friday.
Knoxville West (13-1), returning to the Class 5A title game for the second straight year, needed a 30-yard touchdown pass in the closing seconds to escape with a 35-28 semifinal win over Rhea County, but Rebels running back Nathan Cottrell has been the driving force this postseason.
“I think the key for us is that we play such good defense that if we can get ahead and force them to throw we kind of put them at a disadvantage,” Hillsboro coach Craig Clayton said. “That’ll be key for us Friday night, if we can get off to a fast start and force West to throw it. That’s not really their forte; they’ve got a really good running game.”
Cottrell, a 5-10, 185-pound Georgia Tech commitment, racked up 586 yards rushing and six touchdowns in playoff wins over Knoxville Central, Tennessee, South Doyle and Rhea County.
“They have the experience factor on our kids, but I think our guys are mature enough,” Clayton said. “If I had a young team I’d be a little more concerned, but with the leadership that we’ve got I think we’ll be focused. We know they’re going to be a great opponent, so we’re not taking them lightly at all.”
Reach Michael Murphy at 259-8018 and on Twitter @Murph_TNsports.
At Tennessee Tech
DII-A: BGA (10-2) vs. Knox Webb (9-3), 3 p.m.
DII-AA: MBA (10-2) vs. Ensworth (10-1), 7 p.m.
Class 1A: Coalfield (10-4) vs. Union City (13-0), 11 a.m.
Class 3A: Alcoa (13-1) vs. CPA (14-0), 3 p.m.
Class 5A: Knox West (13-1) vs. Hillsboro (14-0), 7 p.m.
Class 2A: Marion Co. (12-1) vs. Peabody (12-2), 11 a.m.
Class 4A: Fulton (14-0) vs. Trezevant (13-1), 3 p.m.
Class 6A: Maryville (14-0) vs. Ravenwood (14-0), 7 p.m.