Simply put, the TSSAA deserves to lose money on the high school football playoffs.
Tickets for the games are $8. A family of four gets hit for $32 as they walk through the gate to sit for almost three hours in near-freezing temperatures — and that’s without any concessions.
For $32, the whole family can go to a bargain matinee movie, popcorn included, and still have $7.50 left over for a snack at Taco Bell — all of that in climate-controlled arenas.
So guess what happens? Elizabethton and Happy Valley — big rivals located a few miles apart — meet in the playoffs and produce one of the smallest crowds of the season.
For the players and coaches who put so much work into these programs, it’s sad. But for the TSSAA it’s a smack in the face, and hopefully executive director Bernard Childress will feel it when trying to balance the budget.
Tickets should be $5. Period. Mr. Childress, quit gouging the parents and loyal fans.
n Unexpected things sometimes happen in the high school football playoffs, and Friday night’s first round was no exception.
Science Hill and Elizabethton were able to overcome some of those things and moved on to next week’s second-round contests in Class 6A and 3A, respectively.
Science Hill entered as a strong favorite, but found itself in a bit of a struggle against Knox Karns. As the game moved into the latter stages of the third quarter, the Hilltoppers were in an out-and-out fight to keep their season alive.
It wound up being a 41-32 victory by the Hilltoppers. But once again, Knoxville teams proved to be a tough sell for Northeast Tennessee.
Those teams see the tough brand of Knoxville football throughout the regular season while Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett usually have at least three games where even a modest performance produces a three- or four-touchdown victory.
Dobyns-Bennett didn’t have much trouble in a 37-14 win over Jefferson County, but the Patriots are not in a Knoxville league. Neither is Sevier County, and the Smoky Bears had all kinds of trouble with Knoxville’s Hardin Valley.
Even D-B has struggled against the Knoxville teams, going just 4-4 since losing Bearden, Karns and Campbell County as league mates before the 2009 season. The Indians’ record against everybody else in the last three years is 22-3.
Science Hill has only played two Knoxville teams since 2009, beating Karns and losing 34-7 to Maryville in last year’s first-round playoff matchup.
As for Elizabethton, the Cyclones looked nothing like the team that had built momentum heading into the playoffs. And Happy Valley was more than happy to take advantage, building a 12-0 lead and having possession for a chance to go up by three scores in the first quarter.
Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten attributed some of his team’s early game problems to nerves. That makes sense because Elizabethton had everything to lose and the Warriors had everything to gain.
And after the first good thing happened for the Cyclones, a 51-yard touchdown pass from McKenly Berry to Chad Pritchard, Elizabethton took control of the game. Eventually the Cyclones won, 38-18.
There were some major special teams issues for the Cyclones, who had punts of 8, 14 and 19 yards. The Cyclones had two extra points blocked, and missed two others.
That’s five critical special-team errors, and in the playoffs any one of those things could be a key factor in losing the game. Mistakes like those in the second round against Austin-East might be too much to overcome.
On the other side of things, Happy Valley’s season came to a close but the Warriors proved a few things. First, they showed they are willing to play hard under Larry Shively and they believe in him as a head coach. That’s an important intangible for a coach to have.
Second, Jaylen Simmons battled from start to finish and seemed to run with authority on almost every carry — even when the outcome was pretty much decided.
Third, Shively’s willingness to be flexible gave the Warriors a fighting chance. The offense he prefers simply wasn’t working with the current personnel, so he changed things to better suit his players and the Warriors were much more effective late in the season.
Look for better things out of Happy Valley in the future, and also look for Shively’s name to once again be mentioned if any area teams are looking for a head coach.