Four Sumner County high school football teams have goals of playing four weeks from now, but in order to do that, they’ll need to survive this Friday’s opening round first.
Postseason play opens this week around Tennessee, with Pope John Paul II, Beech, Gallatin and Westmoreland as participants.
The Knights are the only one of that quartet to host a first-round game on Friday, while the other three hit the road for their opening-round contests.
Baylor (6-4) at Pope John Paul II (6-4)
Kickoff at 7 p.m.
Last week: Baylor defeated visiting Father Ryan 34-7, while Pope John Paul II defeated visiting South Warren (Ky.) 56-42.
Last meeting: The Knights collected a 21-19 victory at Baylor on Oct. 14, PJP II’s first-ever victory in the series.
At stake: The Knights are seeking history on Friday, hoping to earn the school’s first-ever playoff victory in the program’s first home playoff game since 2006. PJP II can reach seven victories for the fourth time in school history – a victory would match the win totals of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 teams.
Point of emphasis: Get off the field, defense
The Knights’ defense did not allow a third-down conversion in 10 attempts in the first meeting, but Baylor converted 3-of-4 fourth-down tries. Although PJP II did not record a sack or a turnover in the October clash, they held Baylor to 11 first downs and 87 passing yards.
Baylor player(s) to watch: Baylor used seven different rushers and three different passers in the first game, but the duo of Kalvin Watson (10 carries, 89 yards) and Brendon Harris (eight carries, 77 yards, one touchdown) each collected nearly nine yards per carry. Charlie Glascoc registered 3.5 sacks in the first meeting.
Next for the winner: A trip to West No. 1 seed Memphis University School awaits the winner of Friday’s game.
Gallatin (6-4) at Independence (10-0)
Kickoff at 7 p.m.
Last week: Gallatin suffered a 54-28 loss to visiting Cane Ridge, while Independence defeated visiting La Vergne 56-19.
Last meeting: Independence defeated the Green Wave 42-7 in the second round of the 2007 Class 5A playoffs.
At stake: Gallatin has lost its last two games, sending the Green Wave on the road to face an Independence squad that has won its last 25 contests. The Green Wave committed seven turnovers last week, with two of those returned for Cane Ridge touchdowns.
Point of emphasis: Get the ground game going again
Gallatin has struggled to run between the tackles in each of the last two games against arguably the two best defenses the Green Wave have faced this season. Two weeks ago at Hillsboro, senior Jordan Mason scored twice – once on a sweep to the right side and another where he was bottled up in the middle and cut outside to find a running lane. The Green Wave had little success last week before Mason left with an ankle injury. Mason is expected to play on Friday, but Gallatin will have to run effectively in order to keep the high-powered Eagle offense on the sidelines. Independence has scored at least 41 points six times this season, including each of the last five games.
Independence player(s) to watch: Mississippi State University commitment Landon Guidry is a force in the Eagles’ secondary and has been productive on offense as well (710 total yards, six total touchdowns). Senior quarterback Brandon Hines has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Eagles this season.
Next for the winner: The winner faces either Hillsboro or Stewarts Creek. Gallatin would travel in any scenario, while Independence would host a second-round game.
Beech (7-3) at Shelbyville (8-2)
Kickoff at 7 p.m.
Last week: Beech suffered a 35-12 loss at Hillsboro, while Shelbyville defeated visiting Franklin County 42-35.
Last meeting: Shelbyville defeated visiting Beech 42-41 in double overtime in the second round of the 2014 Class 5A playoffs.
At stake: The Buccaneers would like nothing more than to get a measure of revenge for that 2014 loss, in which Beech was stopped on a two-point conversion attempt in the second overtime session. To do so, the Buccaneers need to slow down the Golden Eagles, who have scored at least 41 points in seven of their 10 games this season. Shelbyville has been in several shootouts against La Vergne (a 43-40 victory), Stewarts Creek (49-47 victory) and Franklin County (42-35), so a high-scoring affair could certainly be in the cards once again.
Point of emphasis: Ball control
Beech fumbled three times last week, with one of them returned for a Hillsboro touchdown. The Buccaneers have had success in limiting opponents’ time of possession by running the play clock down to two or three seconds before snapping the ball, and that could be a way to keep Shelbyville’s offense in check.
Shelbyville player(s) to watch: Senior Jamal Harden rushed for 283 yards and five touchdowns last week as the Golden Eagles racked up 322 yards on the ground.
Next for the winner: The second-round game pits the winner against either Cane Ridge or Summit. Cane Ridge would host, while Summit would travel in either scenario.
Westmoreland (4-6) at Marion County (9-1)
Kickoff at 7 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Westmoreland suffered a 49-30 loss to visiting Watertown, while Marion County collected a 42-6 victory at Polk County.
Last meeting: Marion County shut out Westmoreland 42-0 in the first round of last year’s Class 2A playoffs.
At stake: Westmoreland faces a Warrior squad that has rolled through the regular season with the exception of an upset loss to South Pittsburg. Marion County – last year’s Class 2A runner-up – has allowed more than 12 points just twice this season. The Warriors have posted one shutout and held seven opponents to six points or less.
Point of emphasis: Make the Warriors snap it again
It seems simple, but teams with big-play ability thrive on quick strikes. Getting Marion County ball carriers on the ground and forcing longer drives could help keep the Eagles in range. Westmoreland’s offense matched a season-high with 30 points against Watertown, but all of those came in the first half. Recapturing that magic is key to the Eagles’ chances.
Marion County player(s) to watch: Senior Hunter McClain leads a backfield contingent that gives plenty of rushers an opportunity to carry the load.
Next for the winner: The Boyd Buchanan-Watertown winner would be the second-round opponent. Marion County would host, while Westmoreland would travel to either site.
Reach Chris Brooks at email@example.com or at 615-575-7118. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @CBrooksTN, and on Snapchat @cbrooksgne.