Exciting matchups, promising players, and some new faces in the head coaching position will make for a memorable 2019 football season. Here, local sports gurus Quake and Cowboy Joe share their region picks and predictions.
Cowboy Joe: It was more of the same in Division II-AAA last season. Brentwood Academy started off as the favorite and ended the year as state champion. What can we expect in 2019? Baylor now has consecutive four-win seasons in a brutal region. I think we will see that win total rise due to an easier out-of-region schedule. And, I don’t think we should hand over the state championship to Brentwood just yet. McCallie defeated the B.A. Eagles on their turf last year and came so close to facing them for the title. With stud defensive lineman Jay Hardy and QB DeAngelo Hardy, the Blue Tornado will make some noise in 2019. I predict the Brentwood run will end this year.
Winner: McCallie / Contender: Brentwood
Quake: Notre Dame, who has dominated this region in recent years, will have a lot of new faces to replace Florida Atlantic signee Cameron Wynn. This is the life of high school football. Coach Charles Fant is used to that and will rely heavily on Jeffery Watkins Jr. (RB/DB) and Dallas Brown (QB/LB) to lead with experience and savvy. Chattanooga Christian head coach Mark Mariakis recently told us that their offensive line will be a strength headed into 2019. The ever-improving Chargers will have to get production from speedy Damarcus Hinton (RB/LB) and Roderick Young (RB/FS). After a 0-10 season, Boyd Buchanan hired new coach Jeremy Bosken in December; the former Knox-Halls coach is notorious for taking programs and transforming them into winners. Silverdale Baptist head coach Al Rogers returns for his ninth year at the helm. The Seahawks will also return a core group that can compete in this region led by Jordan Sanders (TE/DE) and Wade Jewell (QB/DB).
Prediction: The winner of CCS at Notre Dame on October 18 will probably be the champs.
Quake: Grace Baptist head coach Bob Ateca had one of the best seasons in school history last year, ultimately losing in the second round of the playoffs. The Golden Eagles had a ton of experience in 2018 led by Cade Tinsley and 13 other seniors. Question is, how will they replace all that game experience? Coach Ateca has always liked his players’ great attitudes and strong work ethic; now he hopes last year’s seniors inspired underclassmen to carry on the tradition.
Prediction: A week four matchup at home with region/state powerhouse Friendship Christian will be a nice measuring stick to see if they can repeat the 2018 feat this season.
Cowboy Joe: Maryville did not make it to the state championship game in 2018. This is not a test. Seriously, Oakland handed the Rebels a serious beat-down in last year’s semifinals. You can bet Maryville will have a chip on their shoulder headed into this season. Locally, it might be tough sledding when it comes to taking down the Giant of 6A. Ooltewah and Bradley Central are coming off good years, but they both lose proven QBs in addition to Ooltewah’s speedster Sincere Quinn. Will McMinn Co. take a step forward and improve on their four-win season? Can Cleveland put it together and challenge Maryville? I believe that Bradley Central will have the best shot to take down the Rebels. Can it happen? Doubtful.
Winner: Maryville / Contender: Bradley Central
Quake: Every team in this region is happy to see Knox Catholic go to D-II and open up a race for the region in 2019. Rhea Co. comes off a very disappointing (for them) 4-6 in 2018, but the Eagles always have a roster full of underclassmen ready for their time to shine. Soddy Daisy coach Justin Barnes graduated experienced QB Gavin Chambers and looks to the future in QB Isaac Barnes, his nephew. The Trojans must also get experience and leadership from Hayden Maynor (RB/LB) and Mason Chambers (OL/DL). Brand-new Walker Valley coach Drew Akins has finally gotten his shot at head coach. The good news for the Mustang faithful is that they return a lot of talent; the bad news is they were 0-10, hence the coaching change. ‘Stangs will expect success from skill players Fletcher Hicks (WR), Jack Anderson (WR), and some experienced juniors if they want to contend in this region.
Prediction: With Knox Catholic gone, this region is wide open. Lenoir City has both Soddy Daisy and Walker Valley at home for region play, then they’re on the road at Rhea Co. on September 20. This matchup could determine the champs.
Cowboy Joe: Last year, it was all about Anderson Co. in this region. They ran through the competition like a hot knife through butter. However, all that ended when they met up with powerhouse Greenville. Our local teams struggled to gain any momentum in 2018. East Ridge loses talented WR Alonzo Russell, and Central loses RB Michael McGhee. Many coaches knew that last year would be a rebuilding year, so what about 2019? New East Hamilton coach Grant Reynolds will be tasked with improving the Hurricanes’ four-win season from last year. Will the youth of East Ridge take the much-needed step forward? Can Howard make a playoff run? Will Hixson end their 21-game losing streak? So many questions, so few answers.
Winner: Anderson Co. / Contender: East Hamilton
Quake: Red Bank has been the talk of this region for many years now. Last year, the Lions lost on the road in the quarterfinal of the state playoffs and now return experienced players such as QB Madox Wilkey. With former standout Calvin Jackson now playing for the Wofford Terriers on Saturdays, the Lions will have to reload. But let’s face it – that has never been much of an issue for Red Bank. The Brainerd Panthers made the playoffs in 2018 under head coach Tyrus Ward. Coach Ward can dial up some offense this season with QB Xiyeer Lattimore and playmakers Allen Ware and Byron Sanders. For the Eagles of Signal Mountain to get back to the playoffs, they will need to protect senior QB Jack Wilson and find some skill players to get the ball in their hands. Head coach Josh Roberts is now in his third year at the helm of the Eagle’s nest, and the players should realize their potential under his system.
Prediction: With Red Bank getting early experience against big boys Soddy Daisy and Ooltewah, and with their toughest region games being at home in 2019, until someone comes in and shuts the Lions down, they will be the favorites to win this region.
Quake: Last year, Sequatchie Co. came so close to upsetting Red Bank in the second round of the playoffs that it should fuel their inspiration for 2019. Head coach Mark Wattenbarger, now in his second year, has set the bar for what is expected. The returning core of QB Zach Morgan, Elijah Phillips (OL/DL), and Logan Johnson (RB/DB) should be enough leadership to get back to the playoffs. Upperman has been the beast of the region in recent years, so the monster matchup at home verses the Bees on November 2 will be huge!
Prediction: Upperman lost in the state championship game last year to powerhouse Alcoa, so the Bees will be the favorite until one team shows up and shows out.
Cowboy Joe: Tyner’s Ram Train didn’t operate at full capacity in the 2018 opener against Ooltewah – but it was full steam ahead from that point forward. Tyner didn’t lose a game until the second round of the playoffs in a surprising 35-0 loss to Trousdale. The Ram Train will have QB Martavius Ryals back under center and uber-talented WR Jeremiah Batiste making life difficult for opposing defenses. I do wonder if Marion Co. can get back to being MARION! Three wins is not something the Warrior fans will take lightly. Polk Co. is another team to watch in this region. In the end, Tyner wins this region.
Winner: Tyner / Contender: Polk Co.
Quake: The Whitwell Tigers were the darlings of the valley last year with their first state title in school history. But, they’ve lost a ton of experienced seniors and their head coach. In steps defensive assistant Travis Olinger as head coach to build on the foundation that is there; he’ll have to rely on returners like Jace Kilgore (fb/de) and QB Thomas Ridge to get things done. South Pittsburg did not like what they saw in Whitwell last year, losing to them twice, and will have revenge on their minds in 2019. Look out for the athletic Ronto Tipton – this guy puts up video game-like numbers on Friday nights. Lookout Valley found a new coach in Signal Mountain defensive coordinator Joshua Payne. His first task will be to find some guys to replace a pretty successful senior class from last year. For Sale Creek and coach Ron Cox, finding numbers and speed to compete is the number one priority.
Prediction: There are going to be a lot of upset people in South Pittsburg after what Whitwell did last year. Motivation will not be a problem for Vic Grider’s bunch of athletes … So Pitt to win this region in 2019.
Cowboy Joe: I knew Allatoona would be in the mix for region supremacy, but I never thought the top four teams would be that good. Dalton finished out the year with a respectable 6-4 record. What will coach Matt Land do to get his squad back to among the elite in the Peach State? It’s not going to be easy, but I think Dalton has the resources to make a run in 2019. They’ll have to do it without some major pieces like Tyis Love, Jamal Macon, and Jeric Montgomery. Dalton doesn’t rebuild; they reload.
Winner: Creekview / Contender: Allatoona
Quake: This region is always so competitive, and I don’t expect anything different this year. Ridgeland called on long-time assistant coach and constant on the Ridgeland campus, Kip Klein, for the head coaching position. The Panthers have to replace a lot, but they always have an athletic roster to work out those issues. NW Whitfield coach Josh Robinson will return Matt Redmond (QB/DB) and Chase Humble (RB/DL) to build an offense around. The Bruins will be tested week two in their intense rivalry with Dalton; good news is it’s not a region game. In 2018, the Heritage Generals got dealt a tough hand with injuries to start the season, but they hit their stride toward the end of the schedule, winning four of their last five regular season games. The Generals will be anchored by one of the best OL prospects in our area, Kobe McAllister (6’6”, 275). Coach Sean Gray and SE Whitfield could be the noisemaker in the region. The Raiders return a quality core including Sammy Soto (LB) and Adam Sowder (QB). The LaFayette Ramblers, always with a tough region schedule, are looking for depth and speed to compete. Chase Keith (DB) will be relied on heavily to be the playmaker, as well as Xavier Priddy (DL) to use his athleticism to anchor the line play.
Prediction: I like Ridgeland and Heritage to give Pickens the biggest run for their money.
Cowboy Joe: Last year offered a little bit of everything in this region. You had some really good football with Calhoun, Haralson Co., and LFO. You had some average/above average football play with North Murray, Ringgold, Adairsville, and Sonoraville. Finally, you had not-so-good football with Murray Co. The favorite is no surprise; Calhoun will once again be the top dog when all is said and done.
Winner: Calhoun / Contender: Calhoun’s Second String
Quake: We all know Gordon Lee is fresh off back-to-back state baseball titles. The question for brand-new head coach Josh Groce is, how can the Trojans bottle that success up and let it fuel Friday nights on the gridiron? Only graduating nine seniors, the Trojans have a ton of experience returning for 2019. Bolstering Gordon Lee should be Brody Cobb (RB/DB), Jackson Moore (OL/DL), and Cody Thomas (RB/LB). If the Trojans can find some line play, they could make some noise in the region.
Prediction: Finding some chemistry and cohesiveness early in the year could make a huge difference for the Trojans.
Quake: Wolverine nation hired long-time football coach Dale Pruitt – you may have heard of his son, Jeremy Pruitt, head coach of the Vols. Now Dale Pruitt has a system, but will it work when it comes to success in region 7-AA? Dade Co. has always had a speed issue, so identifying playmakers that can run early will be key. Keeping senior Malaki Webb (RB/DB) healthy will also be key.