Looking at the TSSAA calendar, the Class 4A state championship football game is set for Dec. 7 in Cookeville.
It might be more accurate to say the title game is scheduled for tonight in Knoxville.
Something simply has to give as the last three state champions will meet in undefeated splendor at the Falcons’ field, with kickoff set for 7 o’clock. It’s a state quarterfinal contest between No. 2-ranked Greeneville (12-0) and No. 1-ranked Knox Fulton (12-0).
Greeneville won the 2010 and 2011 Class 4A titles, humbling Fulton 35-0 and 42-0 in the playoffs. Fulton won the 2012 state championship, whipping Greeneville 42-14 in the postseason.
This year, both teams have crushed all opponents. Fulton’s margin of victory is 54.3 while Greeneville stands at 47.3. And both of those totals are actually lowered by the mercy rule, which each team has evoked on a regular basis.
So does it all change tonight for both teams, or will somebody win in a rout? A close game seems to be in the cards, especially with Fulton struggling to beat Sullivan South in last week’s second-round game.
Both teams are explosive, and Greeneville head coach Caine Ballard said his team’s best chance would come from keeping the Falcons’ 20-plus-yard gains to a minimum.
“It’s the big plays, the game-changing plays, the momentum-changing plays,” said Ballard, who has a career playoff record of 17-2. “It’s tough to eliminate those completely, but you can’t have too many.”
One way to bog down Fulton’s impressive list of offensive playmakers — which includes running back Daryl Rollins-Davis, receiver Xavier Hawkins, and quarterback Penny Smith — is taking care of the ball and eating the clock with long drives.
“We have to possess the ball and get first downs,” said Ballard. “We have to stay away from negative plays.”
Davis is coming off a leg injury in the South game, but has rushed for 1,990 yards and has 40 total touchdowns.
“In my mind it starts with Rollins-Davis, but you have to know where No. 7 (Hawkins) and No. 2 (Smith) are at all times,” said Ballard.
Hawkins has 36 catches for 959 yards and 27 total touchdowns. Smith has passed for 1,643 yards with 26 touchdowns and only four interceptions, and has 2,008 total yards.
Fulton’s numbers are impressive, but Greeneville can counter. Quarterback Zack Finchum has totaled 2,755 yards with 2,023 passing. He has 29 touchdown passes with just three picks, and has rushed for 12 scores.
Quan Wilson and Desmond Dabbs provide a nice complement out of the backfield, combining for 1,104 yards and 22 touchdowns. Receivers Hays Culbreth and Trevor Wright form the combo package at receiver with 1,326 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“We’ve got to be very disciplined offensively,” said Ballard. “They are really fast defensively, and their three down linemen are big strong kids who play the run well. They have a big linebacker in the middle. The secondary plays a lot of man, and all of them can run.”
Overall, Ballard said his team is ready and isn’t lacking for confidence.
“We’ve played 12 games and forced the running clock every time,” said Ballard. “There are so many similarities between these teams.”
Notes: Greeneville and Fulton are also battling for a shot to set the all-time record for points scored in a single season. Greeneville holds the record with 748, set in 2010.
Fulton has 727 on the season while Greeneville has scored 649. …
Both teams have impressive defensive totals as well. Greeneville has allowed just 81 points all season while Fulton has surrendered 76. …
The Falcons have won 18 straight games. Greeneville has won 58 of its last 64 contests. ...
Fulton head coach Rob Black is 33-7 in three seasons. He is 9-1 in the playoffs, 1-1 against Ballard.