Top high school football playoff games: Round 1

Top high school football playoff games: Round 1

News

Top high school football playoff games: Round 1

By

Here is a look at The Tennessean’s top picks for this week’s high school football playoff games, along with predictions from staff writer Michael Murphy.

Hillsboro's defense is allowing just 8.2 points per game in its last four games.

Hillsboro’s defense is allowing just 8.2 points per game in its last four games.

Last week’s record: 9-1 (.900)

Regular-season record: 84-26 (.763)

Hillsboro's defense is allowing just 8.2 points per game in its last four games.

Hillsboro’s defense is allowing just 8.2 points per game in its last four games.

GAME OF THE WEEK

CLASS 5A

LA VERGNE (6-4) AT HILLSBORO (7-3)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

A pair of two-way standouts will be on display in this Class 5A opening-round matchup between Region 6-5A champion Hillsboro and La Vergne, which finished fourth in 5-5A. Mercer commitment and 2014 All-Midstate first-team safety Malique Fleming (65 tackles, 4 forced fumbles) leads a solid Burros defense, which has allowed an average of just 8.2 points in its last four outings, and the 6-foot, 190-pound senior has also made his presence felt on offense, accounting for 580 yards and five total touchdowns. Wolverines junior linebacker Maleik Gray (52 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 defensive TDs) has been equally impressive defensively, and like Fleming, the four-star 2017 prospect has also had to fill a role on offense, hauling in 18 receptions for 440 yards and seven touchdowns in just seven games at wide receiver. Hillsboro 31, La Vergne 28.

Blackman quarterback Miller Armstrong (12).

Blackman quarterback Miller Armstrong (12).

CLASS 6A

DOBYNS-BENNETT (4-6) AT BLACKMAN (8-2)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Blackman took a back seat to Oakland during the regular season, but the Region 2-6A runner-up Blaze captured double-digit wins in their other six league contests. Blackman’s offense, led by quarterback Miller Armstrong (1,516 total yards, 14 TDs) and running back Taeler Dowdy (1,439 yards rushing, 18 TDs), is averaging 35.3 points, and it has eclipsed the 40-point mark on five occasions. Dobyns-Bennett, on the other hand, which struggled to a seventh-place finish in a powerful Region 6-1A, enters Friday’s opening-round game having lost five in row.  Indians are allowing close to 40 points per game during that stretch, too. Blackman 42, Dobyns-Bennett 21.

McGavock running back Kendall Johnson (middle).

McGavock running back Kendall Johnson (middle).

ARLINGTON (6-4) AT MCGAVOCK (6-4)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

McGavock has endured an up-and-down year, but the Raiders wrapped up the regular season on a high by capturing consecutive Region 3-6A wins. Quarterback Demontez Carlton (1,848 total yards, 17 TDs) and running back Kendall Johnson (1,665 all-purpose yards, 19 total TDs) headline a McGavock offense that has put up a combined 97 points in wins over Antioch and Mt. Juliet. The Raiders’ opening-round opponent, Arlington, has been pretty good in that department, too. The Tigers, led by sophomore quarterback Tate Kolwyck (2,359 yards passing, 26 TDs), have scored at least 28 points in all but one game, including their Sept. 4 upset of third-ranked Whitehaven, and they’ve eclipsed the 40-point mark on four occasions. McGavock 28, Arlington 27.

The Hendersonville High School cheerleading squad

The Hendersonville High School cheerleading squad

CLASS 5A

SHELBYVILLE (7-3) AT HENDERSONVILLE (9-1)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Despite coasting to nine wins an average of 21.7 points, Hendersonville, ranked second in Class 5A and ninth in this week’s Tennessean Midstate Top 10, still missed out on a region title. The 49-21 Week 5 defeat at eventual 6-5A champion Hillsboro is to thank for that. However, the Commandos bounced back from that loss to win five in a row, and the top offensive option — senior Terrell Carter (965 yards rushing, 10 TDs) — has been relatively quiet during that stretch. Carter should see his fair share of carries against Shelbyville, though. The Golden Eagles, led by senior quarterback Mason Cunningham (2,064 total yards, 19 TDs), dropped three straight games to begin October, but they’ve since strung together wins over Columbia and Franklin County, eclipsing the 42-point mark in both. Hendersonville 42, Shelbyville 27.

Independence wide receiver Nate Johnson (right).

Independence wide receiver Nate Johnson (right).

CANE RIDGE (8-2) AT INDEPENDENCE (10-0)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Cane Ridge squared off with one of the Midstate’s top rushers in its regular-season finale, and while Gallatin’s Jordan Mason racked up 289 yards and three rushing touchdowns, the Ravens ultimately held on for a 40-34 victory to secure a fourth-place finish in Region 6-5A. Cane Ridge now has to slow one of the area’s most prolific passers in Independence’s Andrew Bunch, along with his top receiver, Purdue commitment Nate Johnson (914 yards receiving, 14 TDs). In an injury-shortened senior season, Bunch has torched opposing defenses for 1,867 yards and 25 touchdowns in just 5-1/2 games. The Eagles, ranked first in Class 5A and fourth in this week’s Tennessean Midstate Top 10, are averaging 42 points, outscoring their opponents 421-108. Independence 45, Cane Ridge 17.

Springfield's Dewayne Buckner (left) hands the ball off to teammate Isiah Bigbee.

Springfield’s Dewayne Buckner (left) hands the ball off to teammate Isiah Bigbee.

CLASS 4A

HILLWOOD (5-5) AT SPRINGFIELD (7-3)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Hillwood hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2005. In fact, the struggling program had won just one game in the two seasons prior to coach Kurt Page’s arrival. The Hilltoppers, led by senior Jamal Kirklen (535 yards receiving, 8 TDs, 29 tackles, 2 Int.), dropped three of their first six games, including a demoralizing 36-7 defeat at Region 6-4A foe Whites Creek, before rebounding to win three of their final four. Springfield, runners-up in 5-4A, is coming off its worst defeat of the season — a 39-point throttling at Pearl-Cohn in which the Yellow Jackets surrendered 531 yards and a season-high 47 points. Prior to that, Springfield, which is averaging close to 30 points, had won six of its last seven. Springfield 31, Hillwood 27.

Stratford junior quarterback Josh Trueheart (9)

Stratford junior quarterback Josh Trueheart (9)

CLASS 3A

STRATFORD (7-3) AT FAIRVIEW (7-3)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Veteran coach Maurice Fitzgerald has done an exceptional job in his first season at Stratford, inheriting a struggling program and transforming the Spartans into a legitimate playoff contender. Now it’s time to take the next step as Stratford prepares for its first postseason appearance in nearly a decade. Junior quarterback Jordan Trueheart (1,516 yards passing, 15 TDs) and senior Corey Simmons (1,739 all-purpose yards, 16 total TDs) lead a solid Spartans offense, while senior defensive tackle Khalil Jones (112 tackles) anchors a defense that has allowed just 10.6 points in its last three outings. Fairview, preseason favorites in 6-3A, probably hasn’t had the season it had hoped for, but the Yellow Jackets, led by junior running back Blake Beathard, won’t be an easy out. Stratford 27, Fairview 24.

Jo Byrns fullback Mikey Chennault (22).

Jo Byrns fullback Mikey Chennault (22).

CLASS 1A

HOUSTON CO. (8-2) AT JO BYRNS (8-2)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Senior running back Nolan Seay has been the go-to-guy in Houston County’s offense, averaging 8.3 yards per carry while rushing for 1,130 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Irish, whose two losses came against unbeaten Wayne County and one-loss Huntingdon. Senior fullback Mikey Chennault has been equally effective, racking up 1,038 yards and 11 rushing scores for the Region 5-1A runner-up Red Devils. Whichever team’s defense does a better job containing the other’s rushing attack should have the upper hand. Jo Byrns 28, Houston Co. 24.

Ensworth quarterback Coleman Goodwin (left) hands the ball off to teammate Darius Morehead.

Ensworth quarterback Coleman Goodwin (left) hands the ball off to teammate Darius Morehead.

DII-AA

FATHER RYAN (4-6) AT ENSWORTH (4-6)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

It has come close in recent seasons, but Father Ryan, which has suffered three-straight opening-round defeats by 10 points or less, hasn’t reached the Division II-AA quarterfinals since 2011. For that to happen this year, the Irish need to capture a win over Ensworth — something they haven’t done since 2007. The Tigers, led by senior running back Darius Morehead (1,077 yards rushing, 14 TDs), might not be the favorites this year, but they appear headed in the right direction after giving second-ranked MBA a major scare in their narrow 23-21 Week 11 defeat. A trip to Christian Brothers awaits the winner. Ensworth 27, Father Ryan 20.

Battle Ground Academy quarterback Clayton Beathard

Battle Ground Academy quarterback Clayton Beathard

DII-A

BGA (6-3) AT HARDING ACADEMY (8-2)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Battle Ground Academy probably didn’t enjoy the regular season it envisioned, and as a result, the Wildcats must go on the road if they hope to make a second straight title game appearance. Quarterback Clayton Beathard (2,343 yards passing, 25 TDs) and wide receiver Marcus Cawthorne (921 yards receiving, 15 TDs) have been virtually unstoppable, but the Wildcat defense, which surrendered a combined 70 points in losses to Knoxville Webb and Franklin Road Academy, has left something to be desired. That unit will be tested when they square off against a balanced Lions attack that features both a 1,500-yard passer (sophomore Zac Montgomery) as well as a 1,500-yard rusher (junior Marquavious Moore). BGA 35, Harding Academy 28.

Reach Michael Murphy at 615-259-8262 and on Twitter @Murph_TNsports

Interactive graphic The Tennessean Midstate Top 10

Latest

More USA TODAY High School Sports