The Red Zone Review

Since our local high school football teams have been settled into the same regions as last year, familiarity should play a role in creating new rivals and sustaining old ones in 2018. Local sports gurus Quake and Cowboy Joe share their picks and predictions for the upcoming season.


Tennessee II-AAA

COWBOY JOE: Championships are rare. So rare, that it can take generations before a school has a shot to win the championship. Brentwood Academy does not have this problem. The Eagles rolled through the regular season and rolled into December with their third consecutive state title. Will Baylor or McCallie challenge the mighty Eagles in 2018? Baylor is coming off a subpar season while trying to replace stud athletes Brendon Harris and Jaylon Baker. McCallie had a better 2017 than their cross-town rival, making it to the semi-final game. The Blue Tornado will also be replacing some major pieces on both sides of the ball. FYI, McCallie’s quarterback Deangelo Hardy is fun to watch! Winner: Brentwood / Contender: McCallie

Tennessee II-AA

Quake: Notre Dame finished last year with a heartbreaking loss in the state championship game, and they will return a ton of talent with one goal in mind: STATE. Cam Wynn (WR/DB) brings game-breaking speed to the Fighting Irish. Their biggest threat in this region is Chattanooga Christian, including Mondo Ellison – one of the top rushers in the city last year with well over 1,000 yards, averaging 160 yards per game. If the Chargers can find some offensive line depth, they should make a run toward the playoffs this year. Boyd Buchanan lost a lot from 2017, including their coach. The Bucs have a daunting schedule and will have to learn interim coach Kevin Rodriguez’s new system quickly. If the Bucs find playmakers, they could have some success. On the same page is Silverdale Baptist; the Seahawks need to find some help on the line and a couple speedy skill players to compete in this region. Prediction: It’s all Notre Dame’s to lose. The Irish are too skilled and well-coached to not make another state run.

Tennessee II-A

Quake: After starting 2017 with a 4-2 record, Grace Baptist Academy went winless the rest of the season, including losing their first playoff game. Coach Bob Ateca returns QB Cade Tinsley, OL Matt Lindon, and running backs Ross Adams and Ryan Merritt in 2018. He’ll lean heavily on these guys for leadership. Sheer numbers and a tough backend of the schedule will decide the Golden Eagles’ fate. Prediction: If Grace can get some early wins and find some depth, maybe they can win a playoff game this year.

Tennessee 2-AAAAAA

Cowboy Joe: Our local teams lost so much talent in 2017 that I’m not sure a game will be won. Maybe that was a bit too dramatic – but this region is loaded! Teams will have to replace some studs, like Cleveland’s Keegan Jones (RB) and Bradley Central’s Lameric Tucker (WR). I can list more, but let’s look forward to 2018. Defending champ Maryville will be the favorite every year, as they’ve played in every state championship game since 2004. Cleveland will depend on QB Jackson Moore to lead an incredible group of athletes. Bradley Central will also lean on their QB Dylan Standifer. He’ll need to find some new weapons to match their offensive numbers from last year. Ooltewah and McMinn Co. hope to get above .500 in 2018. Winner: Maryville / Contender: Cleveland

Tennessee 4-AAAAA

Quake: Gone are some tremendous players from last year in this region. Rhea Co. beat both their local region rivals (Soddy Daisy and Walker Valley), but a 5-6 season is not the goal for coach Mark Pemberton and the Eagles. Rhea Co. returns QB Zack Pemberton, who should have the Eagles flying high this season. Soddy Daisy returns a solid core of guys starting with QB Gavin Chambers. Seven offensive starters return for Trojan boss Justin Barnes, so they should be very competitive. Walker Valley’s coach Glen Ryan looks to clean the slate and put a 1-9 record behind them. The Mustangs could score points, but some Friday nights the defense was nonexistent. Prediction: Until anyone in this region can beat Knox-Catholic, the crown is theirs.

Tennessee 2-AAAA

Cowboy Joe: Chattanooga Central and East Ridge lost to eventual state champion Greenville in the playoffs. What will 2018 hold for these two? Former Central coach Cortney Braswell moved over to Ridgeland, and it’s a blast from the past as Curt Jones (Central coach from 2001-2004) was named as Braswell’s replacement. Jones had modest success during his last tenure, but now he has more athletes. That is always a good thing. Coach Tim James keeps East Ridge competitive year to year. Will East Ridge have the depth needed to make a serious playoff run? That will be the question for one of the smallest schools in 4A. East Hamilton and Howard hope to make a playoff appearance in 2018. Hixson looks to get in the win column. Unfortunately, the out-of-town delegation will win this region. Winner: Anderson Co. / Contender: Chattanooga Central

Tennessee 3-AAA

Quake: Last year the Red Bank Lions powered their way to the state semifinals, ultimately falling to Knoxville dynasty Alcoa. In 2018, the Lions return “Mr. Excitement” Calvin Jackson. Jackson is a two-time All-State player and a Mr. Football finalist in 2017. They also return speed, especially in the secondary. Chris Brown, a former assistant coach at Cleveland, has been named Red Bank’s new coach for the season. Trying to derail the Lions will be Signal Mountain, Brainerd, and McMinn Central. The Eagles from Signal return most of their O-Line and skill players like LB Jake Woodlief, RB/LB Will Bennett, and WR/DB Travion Williams that make a nice core for coach Josh Roberts to build around. Brainerd will always place team before individuals and could make some noise this season. Prediction: Can the Eagles contain Jackson enough to get a win at home August 31st? The winner on that night should be the favorite for the region championship.

Tennessee 4-AAA

Quake: The Sequatchie Co. Indians have hired a new coach in Mark Wattenbarger to replace the departed Adam Caine, as Caine took the head coaching job at region foe Upperman. Wattenbarger comes to Sequatchie from Stone Memorial, where he had two undefeated regular seasons in the past three years and looks to build on a playoff team from 2017. The Indians will have to replace a lot of experience from last year to be successful – and that October 26th game at Upperman just got very interesting.
Prediction: Sequatchie Co. has made the playoffs for the last three years, and I expect them to do the same in 2018. That last regular season game (Upperman) will have all the marbles on the line.

Tennessee 3-AA

Cowboy Joe: After a 4-7 record in 2016, who predicted a run to the state championship for the Tyner Rams in 2017? Anyone? The Ram Train sputtered off to an 0-2 start but quickly gained speed on its way to Cookeville. Tyner came up short, but put everyone on notice that the Ram Train is still a force in Tennessee high school football. With a number of upperclassmen out the door, QB Martavius Ryals and explosive WR Jeremiah Batiste hope to continue the momentum. Marion Co. looks to recover from their worst season since 2011. They lost Jacob Saylors (RB/DB), but with a stable group of athletes to choose from, Marion should be back in the mix. Bledsoe, Tellico Plains, and Polk Co. will battle for third place in this region. Tyner’s athletes are fantastic, but will it be enough? Depth is my only worry. For that reason, Marion Co. gets the nod.
Winner: Marion Co. / Contender: Tyner

Tennessee 3-A

Quake: South Pittsburg has been so good for so long, the word reload comes to mind this time every year. But the Pirates graduated so many great players last year, the reload might not be as easy in 2018. South Pitt will rely heavily on experienced seniors Garrett Raulston (FB/LB) and Cooper Stewart (OL/DT) to lead the way for this squad. Whitwell will play South Pitt at home this season and returns a nice core including LB Thundur Roberts, RB/DB Hudson Petty, and Warner Ashworth (who could play multiple positions). Lookout Valley was another great story from last year, as the Jackets made the playoffs for the first time since 2012. “The Valley” returns big-time experience and playmakers RB/LB Tanner Hoge, OL/LB Gavin Slaven, and QB/DB Zane Howard … but how will they compete with South Pitt and Whitwell? Copper Basin gets new coach Chad Grabowski from Red Bank, so how will that change the Cougars’ culture? And what kind of numbers will Sale Creek have? Coach Ron Cox’s Panthers will always play with great effort and heart, but sometimes depth gets them. Prediction: Who will be the victor on October 12th between South Pittsburg and Whitwell? That winner will have a huge advantage for the region championship crown.

Georgia 6-AAAAAA

Cowboy Joe: What’s that noise? That’s every team in this region (not named Harrison) celebrating. Why? Harrison QB Justin Fields is now playing football at the University of Georgia. With Fields behind center, the 2017 Harrison Hoyas scored 137 more points than its region foes did. In 2018, Dalton coach Matt Land is looking to see what combinations work best together. Dalton RB Jahmyr Gibbs ran for almost 1,000 yards last year, but you might see him more on the perimeter. RB Jeric Montgomery and WR Jamal Macon will also be major pieces to the offensive puzzle. If Coach Land finds the right combinations, the region title comes back to Dalton. Allatoona will have plenty of offensive weapons, but they lost their leading tackler on defense. This region is a toss-up. Winner: Harrison / Contender: Allatoona

Georgia 6-AAAA

Quake: This region is the North Georgia equivalent to the SEC. If you can win this region, you can compete with anyone in the state. Let’s start with last year’s region champs: Ridgeland. The Panthers hired new coach Cortney Braswell, which is a homecoming of sorts for Braswell; he grew up in Rossville and knows the lay of the land. Ridgeland has always had a strong running game, and this year returns QB Tanner Hill and WR Stephon Walker, who should be 100% healthy for his senior year. These guys will get protection from mammoth OT Fred Norman. The Heritage Generals have had four straight solid years and look to make the playoffs again led by Jeffrey Curtis (RB/LB). Finding a quarterback early for the Generals is paramount for success. NW Whitfield returns Dominique Sistrunk (RB), who averaged 110 yards per game, and Jamarey Hull (LB), who led the area with 12.5 tackles per game last year. The Bruins also must replace a QB early to find success. Coach Sean Gray’s SE Whitfield Raiders will have to find a QB to replace Porter Johnson, because their best returning player is RB Christian Gillespie. Gillespie averaged right at 100 yards receiving per game last year. The LaFayette Ramblers’ biggest loss was linemen, and coming off a 3-7 season, it’s a tough region to get a quick turnaround. Prediction: There will be some fantastic finishes, but when the dust settles, I think Ridgeland will make the deepest playoff run.

Georgia 6-AAA

Cowboy Joe: Let’s start with Region 6 North. North Murray, Ringgold, and LFO battled it out in 2017. Two excellent quarterbacks, North Murray’s Preston Poag Jr. and Ringgold’s Cole Kibler, return for their respective teams. Kibler will keep Ringgold in the win column. North Murray’s Dante Tidwell (RB) hopes to improve on his freshman campaign of more than 1,300 total yards. LFO loses over 20 players to graduation. That will be tough to overcome. Coahulla Creek is looking to find some wins in 2018. North Murray wins the North. In Region 6 South, the reigning AAA state champs – the Calhoun Yellow Jackets – continue to be the cream of the crop in North Georgia. Can Bremen upset the Yellow Jackets? What about Adairsville? Sonoraville? Calhoun is king of this region! Winner: Calhoun / Contender: Calhoun’s Second String

Georgia 6-A

Quake: Coach Greg Ellis’ Gordon Lee Trojans are in a tough spot with the teams in this region. The Trojans have some of the best facilities around, but finding size and speed to compete is rough in region 6-A. The Trojans will be led by Hunter Hodson (QB/DB) and Cordell Langford (RB/LB). Coming off a 2-8 season, this team has to find playmakers – and fast. Prediction: Finding a game changer early will dictate the Trojans’ success this year.

Georgia 7-AA

Quake: Dade Co. plays in a brutal region with a ton of speed. The Wolverines have to match that speed with their size and strength. Junior running back Malaki Webb will be relied on heavily to make plays every Friday night. Prediction: If the Wolverines defend their home turf and find a way to get a couple road wins, Dade Co. can be a playoff team.