Here’s a look at this week’s 2015 BlueCross Bowl matchups, along with predictions from Michael Murphy and Sam Brown:
Murphy’s record last week: 5-3 (.625)
Murphy’s season record: 116-32 (.783)
ST. GEORGE’S (12-1) VS. NORTHPOINT CHRISTIAN (13-0)
When: 3 p.m. Thursday.
A pair of teams from out West will get the BlueCross Bowl action under way Thursday as two-time Division II-A champion St. George’s squares off against unbeaten Northpoint Christian. The Gryphons, making their second BlueCross Bowl appearance in three seasons, captured a 28-6 semifinal win over Harding Academy thanks to Mr. Football Back of the Year Chase Hayden’s three-touchdown performance. Northpoint Christian, meanwhile, formerly known as Southern Baptist Education Center, is coming off a 38-7 triumph over University School of Jackson.
Murphy’s pick: St. George’s 27, Northpoint Christian 20.
Brown’s pick: St. George’s 26, Northpoint Christian 21.
BRENTWOOD ACADEMY (11-1) VS. MBA (11-1)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday.
Two of the state’s most storied programs square off in this highly-anticipated rematch between one-loss private school powerhouses Montgomery Bell Academy and Brentwood Academy, which have combined to win 20 state championships. If the Oct. 9 regular-season meeting was any indication, the top-ranked Eagles should have no trouble capturing championship No. 11 on Thursday. The reigning champion Big Red, however, also lost last season’s regular-season matchup with Ensworth before bouncing back to capture a 10-7 BlueCross Bowl win over the four-time defending champion Tigers. A lethal Brentwood Academy offense, led by a trio of Southeastern Conference commitments in offensive linemen Bryce Mathews (Ole Miss), Ryan Johnson (Tennessee) and Brandon Adams (Vanderbilt), has racked up a Division II-AA leading 5,245 yards and 532 points this season, while MBA’s Ty Chandler has churned out 2,311 yards and 31 rushing scores.
Murphy’s pick: Brentwood Academy 31, MBA 21.
Brown’s pick: Brentwood Academy 28, MBA 21.
GREENBACK (12-2) VS. NASHVILLE CHRISTIAN (13-1)
When: 11 a.m. Friday.
After suffering semifinal losses in each of the past three seasons, sixth-year coach Jeff Brothers and Nashville Christian have finally broken through, securing the first state championship appearance in program history. The Eagles, led by Mr. Football winner and Tennessee commitment Daniel Bituli (71 tackles, 3½ sacks), are allowing just over 10 points per game — good enough for sixth in the state — and they’ve allowed just two opponents (Pope John Paul II and Wayne County) to eclipse the 20-point mark. Greenback hasn’t been quite as dominant defensively (14.0 points per game), but its semifinal win over Columbia Academy says just about all you need to know. After eclipsing the 40-point mark in each of its first 11 games, Columbia Academy was limited to a season-low 277 yards in a 21-14 defeat. Points could be at a premium in this one.
Murphy’s pick: Nashville Christian 34, Greenback 17.
Brown’s pick: Nashville Christian 35, Greenback 21.
CPA (13-1) VS. ALCOA (13-1)
When: 3 p.m. Friday.
Christ Presbyterian Academy and Alcoa meet on the state’s biggest stage for the third season in a row. CPA, on a nine-game postseason winning streak, suffered a 25-7 loss to Alcoa in 2013 before bouncing back to capture a 7-0 victory last season. The 13-time state champion Tornadoes, coming off a 42-2 semifinal rout of Notre Dame, have strung together 10 straight wins since suffering a 20-14 Week 4 loss to Maryville — the unbeaten Rebels’ smallest margin of victory all season — and they throttled their first four postseason opponents by a combined score of 139-23. CPA, which captured an impressive 21-0 semifinal win over previously unbeaten Liberty Magnet, has also been getting it done defensively, allowing just 33 points through its first four playoff wins.
Murphy’s pick: Alcoa 14, CPA 10.
Brown’s pick: Alcoa 34, CPA 14.
INDEPENDENCE (14-0) VS. SEVIER COUNTY (12-2)
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Two of the state’s top quarterbacks will be on the field as Andrew Bunch leads a high-flying Independence offense against standout Vanderbilt commitment Deuce Wallace and Sevier County. Bunch (3,082 yards passing, 36 touchdowns) and company are coming off arguably their best offensive showing of the season, a 56-15 throttling of rival Centennial in which Bunch connected with Mr. Football finalist Nate Johnson nine times for 230 yards and five touchdowns. Wallace, meanwhile, torched Rhea County for 219 yards and six scores in last week’s 42-28 semifinal triumph. Defensive stops should be at a premium, and whichever team takes better care of the football should hold the upper hand.
Murphy’s pick: Independence 42, Sevier County 28.
Brown’s pick: Independence 42, Sevier County 18.
MARION COUNTY (13-1) VS. TREZEVANT (11-3)
When: 11 a.m. Saturday.
There is no shortage of championship experience here. Defending 2A runner-up Marion County, which suffered a 34-7 BlueCross Bowl defeat to Peabody a season ago, has eight straight wins since its 21-14 loss to Chattanooga-area rival Boyd-Buchanan on Sept. 25, and the Warriors’ defense has allowed an average of just 8.1 points in its previous seven outings. Trezevant, which suffered a 29-20 loss to Fulton in last year’s Class 4A championship before dropping down to 2A in the offseason, got back to Cookeville despite returning just three starters from the 2014 runner-up squad.
Murphy’s pick: Trezevant 38, Marion County 20.
Brown’s pick: Trezevant 45, Marion County 35.
KNOXVILLE CATHOLIC (10-4) VS. PEARL-COHN (10-4)
When: 3 p.m. Saturday.
Both teams were ranked near the top of Class 4A to begin the season. By the end of September, however, both had dropped out of the rankings entirely, the result of difficult early-season scheduling. After suffering a 49-20 Week 6 setback at Muscle Shoals (Ala.), Pearl-Cohn proceeded to win its next eight, including last week’s 27-14 semifinal win over Memphis East. The Firebirds are making their first state championship appearance in nearly two decades. Knoxville Catholic, also riding an eight-game winning streak, had an eerily similar 2015 campaign. After dropping four of their first six, the Fighting Irish, led by Class 4A Mr. Football Back of the Year and Southern California commitment Amari Rodgers, had four straight wins to wrap up the regular season before securing upsets of Fulton and Greeneville en route to the program’s third state championship appearance.
Murphy’s pick: Pearl-Cohn 28, Knoxville Catholic 27.
Brown’s pick: Pearl-Cohn 21, Knoxville Catholic 13.
RAVENWOOD (13-1) VS. MARYVILLE (14-0)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
A pair of Mr. Football winners meet in this rematch of last year’s Class 6A title game, and both Maryville’s T.D. Blackmon and Ravenwood’s Crews Holt played integral roles in that thrilling 35-34 overtime win for the 15-time state champion Rebels. A year ago, Holt, the 2015 Mr. Football Kicker of the Year, had his potential game-winning 32-yard field goal blocked by Blackmon, the Class 6A Lineman of the Year, and the 6-foot, 210-pound junior also made the game-sealing interception on a 2-point try in overtime. The senior-laden Raptors, coming off a 20-13 semifinal win over Whitehaven despite managing just 116 yards of offense, don’t have quite the same firepower they had a season ago, but a solid defense (12.8 points per game), coupled with exceptional special teams play from Holt and senior returner Chris Rowland (five returns for TDs), has landed Ravenwood in Cookeville for the second year in a row.
Murphy’s pick: Maryville 28, Ravenwood 14.
Brown’s pick: Maryville 21, Ravenwood 20.