The TSSAA football playoffs open Friday, and 10 Williamson County teams have made it that far. Here’s a look at what lies ahead for each.
The sentimental favorites
Brentwood’s brutally-tough regular season, which included the death of offensive lineman Lucas Davis and the late-season transfer of receiver Chayce Bishop to Independence, had a happy ending. The Bruins came from behind to beat Centennial last week, clinching the 6-6A title and the top playoff seed.
The Bruins (8-2, 308 points scored/219 points allowed) are formidable on both sides of the ball. Steady dual-threat quarterback Cade Granzow throws to quality receivers Avery Williams and Walker Merrill. Steady running back Jordan Nicholas is behind him. On defense, lineman Tank Starr is a force up front, and linebacker Xiere Howard has made big plays for a defense that can excel in forcing mistakes.
Coach Ron Crawford has consistently led the Bruins to success. Brentwood should be able to handle McGavock (3-7, 172/249) at home on Friday, setting up a potential rematch with Independence, the last team to beat the Bruins.
If Brentwood can get past the first two weeks, they’ll likely face either Cane Ridge or Ravenwood, the two teams to beat them. Cane Ridge also ousted BHS from last year’s playoffs in Round Two.
Five primed for deep runs
Yes, Brentwood Academy (8-2, 357/99) didn’t finish well, going on a two-game losing streak that it snapped against Ensworth in the regular-season finale.
But the Eagles aren’t far removed from wining 24 in a row, a stretch that included two state games. Quarterback Wade Wilson and running back Tomario Pleasant can put points on opponents in a hurry, and a terrific front seven led by linebacker Devyn Curtis (last year’s state title game MVP) is likely as good as anyone’s they’ll play.
The road won’t be easy. BA travels to Christian Brothers (8-2, 305/127) in the quarterfinals, then, may get MBA, which handed the Eagles their second defeat, may await in the semifinals. That would be a rematch of last year’s state title game.
Fairview (8-2, 372/184) , the winner in 3-A Region 6, draws White’s Creek (2-8, 51/379) on Friday. The Yellowjackets got a tremendous year from quarterback-turned-receiver Kam Harris-Lusk, while quarterback Brock Harris and running back Logan Nardozzi helped a strong ground attack. Fairview’s only two losses to teams classified above them (Page, Ravenwood).
Its draw also isn’t easy. East Nashville (9-1, 328/152) is a potential second round opponent. Fairview could draw Covington (10-0, 430/144) in the quarterfinals, and perennial power Alcoa (10-0, 474/67) in the final.
Page (9-1, 299/170) rode the arm of quarterback Cade Walker to the 5A Region 5 title, losing only at Ravenwood. Walker effectively found receiver Miles Bonn and two-way star Michael Burdick (11 touchdowns, four interceptions) for big plays all season, and the Patriots finished plus-11 in turnovers.
Page should be able to win a shootout with Hillwood (3-7, 312/367) in its first game, setting up a potential re-match with Summit in the second round. Not that Page’s half of the bracket is easy—a potential semifinal game against either 9-1 Henry County or Kirby would be a challenge—but the Patriots have the luxury of staying away from all the Knoxville-area powers until the title game.
Battle Ground Academy
Battle Ground Academy (8-2, 349/102) is tough to figure. The Wildcats beat only one team with a winning record (6-4 FRA) and the teams it beat went a combined 22-58. On the other hand, it’s two losses came to 11-0 Christ Presbyterian Academy (31-20 and 8-2 Evangel Christian (20-7).
The key faces were sometimes, new, but BGA coach Roc Batten simply re-loaded again this year. Quarterback Nick Semptimfelter was efficient and capable targets in receivers Briston Bennett, Chico Bennett and Garnett Hollis and versatile running backs Tiy Reed and Antonio Stevens behind him. Many of those players are key on defense. That especially includes Stevens and Hollis, who are major-college defensive back prospects, and Chico Bennett, who’s committed to Georgia Tech as a linebacker.
BGA should get by Silverdale Baptist (5-5, 218/202) in Round One, setting up a possible quarterfinal game with Knoxville Webb (5-5, 272/161), a team much tougher than its record indicates. The winner of that would probably draw 8-1 Notre Dame.
Ravenwood (8-2, 291/169) is tough to handicap, not because the Ravens aren’t plenty good, but because of its path ahead. The Raptors will probably handle Nashville Overton (4-6, 150/225) Friday, and could face unbeaten Cane Ridge in the second round. Then, RHS might have a rematch with Brentwood, which beat Ravenwood in Week Five.
The Raptors, led by quarterback Brian Garcia, play an exciting brand of football. You never know who’ll star from week to week for the Raptors. It’s often running back Tony Rice, or receiver Anthony Holmes, but running back Jordan Smith and receiver Andrew Mason have made their fair share of plays, too. The Raptors offensive line makes them a tough out, as does a defense that has shown a knack for making a big play just when needed.
The wild cards
Independence (5-5, 323/290) may the the toughest Williamson County team to predict. The Eagles switched to quarterback Ethan Cash early in the season. When he’s playing well—which is more often than not—Independence has a trio of super-athletic receivers in Bishop, T.J. Sheffield and Isaiah Collier who are a headache to cover.
But Independence shows no consistency on defense. Six times, the Eagles gave up 31 or more points, including 62 to Centennial in Week Three. Yes, Independence posted back-to-back shutouts in Weeks Nine and 10, but they came against Dickson County and Memphis East, teams that averaged 12 and 1.2 points per game.
The Eagles are capable of out-scoring about anyone. If they get past Smyrna (7-3, 284/145) on the road, they’ll get a re-match with a Brentwood team they defeated 42-31 in Week Seven.
Nolensville (6-4, 287/191) makes another a playoff trip in its second year of football. The Knights, led by linebacker/tight end Tim Stayskal, wide receiver/defensive back Tim Coutras and quarterback Ryder Gallardi, generated one big play after another on both sides of the ball. Their four losses came by 10 points or fewer, one coming to Maplewood (9-1, 384/111), a potential second-round opponent.
But first, Nolensville will have to get past Macon County (5-5, 147/223) on the road.
Summit (6-4, 219/183) packs its wing-T offense on the bus and heads for Beech (7-3, 334/170), where it will be a slight underdog. Its success depends on how well a multifaceted running game, led by running back George Odimegwu, performs. The Spartans’ defense lacks a superstar, but quietly played well across the board.
Watch to see who wins the turnover battle here. The winner probably gets a second-round matchup with Page.
Franklin (6-4, 213/160) gets an unenviable draw at Cane Ridge (10-0, 393/189). But there is a scenario whereby the Rebels could pull an upset. Franklin’s defense, led by defensive back Chapman Beaird (57 tackles, three interceptions, two fumbles recovered) and linebacker Khani Kelton (11 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries) allows just 201.4 yards a game and 4.1 per play, certainly gives it a chance.
The challenge will be generating enough offense. But if Franklin can control the tempo with running back Matt Gaca (5.0 yards per carry, 1,262 yards from scrimmage) and big-play wide receiver Chancellor Bright (27 catches, 494 yards, eight TDs) makes some timely chances, there’s a path to victory for the Rebels. The winner likely draws Ravenwood in the second round.