Playing a recent opponent in a first-round playoff game can be a tricky situation — especially if the winning team played at a very high level.
“We almost played a perfect half,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten of his team’s 34-7 win over Johnson County in Week 8. “It was one of the best first-half performances in Elizabethton history. To repeat that performance will take a lot.”
The top-seeded Cyclones (8-2) will play host to the No. 8 seed Longhorns (4-6) in the opening round of the TSSAA Class 3A playoffs tonight at Rider Field. Kickoff is set for 7 o’clock.
In other Class 3A games, Unicoi County travels to take on Sullivan North, Chuckey-Doak visits Gatlinburg-Pittman, and West Greene is at Cumberland Gap.
In Class 4A, Greeneville plays host to Corryton Gibbs. As for Class 2A, Hampton plays host to Chattanooga Silverdale Baptist Academy.
As for Class A, Cloudland’s home game against Midway has been postponed to Saturday at 3 p.m.
When Johnson County travels to Elizabethton, it will be looking for only its second-ever playoff win. The Longhorns have lost eight straight postseason games.
Meanwhile, Elizabethton is trying to continue a good run that includes seven wins in its last 10 games. However, Witten said those historical numbers won’t matter after kickoff.
“It’s the playoffs and anything can happen,” said Witten. “I’ve seen a lot of first-place teams get knocked out.”
The Cyclones are led by power runner Ethan Thomas, who has 10 straight 100-yard games and 1,434 yards rushing on the season to go along with 12 touchdowns. Thomas is complemented by the running of senior Terrence Turner (706 yards, 9 touchdowns).
Johnson County will try to hit the Cyclones with 1,000-yard running back Patrick South (1,152) and 1,000-yard passer Warren Kerley (1,071).
At least the Cyclones have recent knowledge about Johnson County’s attack.
“Our preparation has not been real difficult because we know what they do,” said Witten. “It’s still in our players’ minds. But we know the game will be a lot different, and they will be a lot tougher this time around.
“Our defense has got to get off the field. We can’t allow them to control the tempo.”
Witten said he wants his team to come out strong.
“We want to get off to a good start, be solid, and not give up anything easy,” said Witten. “If we can find a way to jump on them, they may have to adjust their game plan. We will try to jump on them early.”
Unicoi County (5-5) at Sullivan North (9-1) — After enduring a 41-6 halftime deficit last Friday against the Raiders, things don’t look too promising for the Blue Devils.
The biggest problem for Unicoi is run defense. Already an issue for the Blue Devils, running the ball is North’s strength. The Raiders racked up 373 yards rushing last week.
Unicoi’s only hope will be a ball-control offense, loaded with heavy doses of running back Hunter Abbott, to keep North’s offense off the field.
Chuckey-Doak (6-4) at Gatlinburg-Pittman (6-4) — The Black Knights may have a shot here because of Bryce Malone.
The running back needs 117 yards to reach 2,000 for the season, and enters with 24 touchdowns. Doak has outscored Highlanders (340-279) on the season.
West Greene (5-5) at Cumberland Gap (7-3) — After losing to the Panthers in Week 4, the Buffaloes finished the regular season winning four of their last five games.
The only loss in that stretch was Greeneville. West Greene closed with three straight wins — including an overtime thriller over Chuckey-Doak — to reach the playoffs.
Therefore, turning around the 21-6 decision against Cumberland Gap seems to be within reason.
Corryton Gibbs (6-4) at Greeneville (7-3) — This seems to be a good test for the Greene Devils in terms of how far they can go in the playoffs.
If they whip Gibbs, it could be a long dance. If they struggle, it could be a slow fade.
Greeneville’s offense has been clicking on all cylinders since a shutout loss to Alcoa. Greeneville has averaged 50 points per game over the last five weeks.
Quarterback Zach Finchum and running back Tanner Stewart have evenly split 24 rushing touchdowns.
Silverdale (9-1) at Hampton (9-1) — It’s hard to imagine being 9-1 and having to play another 9-1 team in the first round of the playoffs.
Now imagine having to be the road team in that matchup. Now imagine having a 3-plus-hour bus ride to play that game. That’s the dilemma of the Seahawks, whose lone loss came against state-title contender Boyd Buchanan in Week 2.
Silverdale has averaged 39 points per game over the last five weeks.
Hampton quarterback Lane Smith has totaled 1,949 yards and accounted for 26 touchdowns — 13 rushing and 13 passing.
Midway (5-5) at Cloudland (7-3) — Forget the records and home-field advantage, the Highlanders may have a battle on their hands.
However, they can take solace in the fact the Green Wave enters having lost two of three games and having margins of 61-28 and 35-0 in those setbacks.
Cloudland boasts Taylor Whitehead, who has rushed for 1,605 yards and leads all of Northeast Tennessee with 161 points. He has scored 24 touchdowns and kicked 17 extra points.