The Pioneers, ranked No. 7 in the state in Class 5A, played lock-down defense the first three weeks, and have posted speed-limit 55s on offense in each of the last two games.
But now they face an undefeated team, Cocke County, that is looking to make a breakthrough statement in Region 1-5A.
“Our kids are always excited and feel up to the challenge,” said Pioneers’ head coach Hayden Chandley. “Going on the road in a hostile environment for our second conference game of the year will be a good test for our football team to see exactly where we are.”
In other area games, Daniel Boone goes across the Virginia state line to take on Gate City, Elizabethton travels to meet Grainger, Unicoi County is at Claiborne, Johnson County plays host to West Greene, Happy Valley is at home to battle Cosby, and Unaka plays host to Jellico.
This is Cocke County’s first Region 1-5A contest, but the Fighting Cocks are out of the gates at 3-0.
“Cocke County can flat score the rock,” said Chandley. “They are a well-oiled machine offensively, and do a lot of things really well on that side of the football. Most importantly they take care of the football and have done a great job winning the turnover battle.
“They also protect for the (Jarren) Ensley kid very well and their receivers run very crisp routes. Both backs run extremely hard as well. We will have to play extremely disciplined on defense and rally to the football.”
Crockett is 1-0 in league play and 4-0 overall. The offensive line has been a key part of the success.
“Our offensive line has done a great job for us, keeping No. 16 (Cade Larkins) on his feet,” said Chandley. “I tell our kids all the time it starts up front on both sides. We have been battling some injuries the past few weeks and have had to count on some other guys to step up and play well. It will be important for our kids up front to communicate, play with their heads up, protect our QB and open up running lanes for our backs.”
After a 38-10 loss at the hands of Class 4A power Elizabethton, the Trailblazers need a turnaround.
“We have had great week of preparation and are anxious to go play at one of the top football atmospheres in the area,” said Boone head coach Jeremy Jenkins. “We have really stressed being more physical in both lines of scrimmage.”
Jenkins said the Blue Devils, who have lost 14 of their last 15 games, have an attacking defensive style.
“Gate City is real aggressive on defense,” said Jenkins. “On offense they are going to run the option. You have to be a disciplined defense and take your responsibility as it comes. We don't see too many traditional option teams anymore, so paying attention to detail is really important.”
The Cyclones are rolling with four straight wins out of the gates, and now face their second Region 1-4A contest.
Grainger’s attack starts behind center. Quarterback Preston Owens carried the ball 28 times in last week’s 13-6 loss to Scott, including the first 17 offensive plays.
“Their strong point is their quarterback play,” said Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten. “I would like to see our defense continue to give our offense great field position.”
The Cyclones have outscored their opponents 56-0 in the first quarter this season. The offense is keyed by quarterback Carter Everett and a host of weapons, including Corey Russell, Bryson Rollins, Evan Perkins, Parker Hughes and Austin Outland.
“We have a combination of things working for our offense: spreading the ball around, making the defense defend the entire field, and the offensive line continues to get better with consistency,” Witten said.
The Patriots got their offense in gear after totaling just 14 points in the first three games. However, their defense allowed 41 points in the loss to Volunteer.
Union County doesn’t provide a pushover opponent despite its recent history. The team lost 27 straight games, and considering dropping the program prior to last year. Instead the Patriots brought in veteran coach Larry Kerr and won three games in 2017.
This year, Union County is 0-1 in Region 1-4A play — but that loss came against defending state champion Greeneville.
The Blue Devils stumbled last week against nemesis Happy Valley, but it didn’t affect their potential course toward a Region 1-3A title.
Claiborne is a league opponent, so the Blue Devils will have to get back on their game. Unicoi shut the Bulldogs out, 21-0, in last season’s matchup in Erwin.
Last year the Longhorns had their hands full with the Buffaloes, but things have been a struggle this year as West Greene is giving up over 30 points per game.
The Longhorns’ defense has also allowed some points, including 27 in a tight come-from-behind win last week against Sullivan Central.
A rough start to the season had the Warriors staring at a long year, but last week’s 27-14 win over Unicoi has turned things around.
Happy Valley is a strong favorite against Cosby, and the Warriors desperately need a Region 1-2A win after beginning league play with a loss to Hampton.
This is a key game for the Rangers, who are 1-2 overall and 0-1 in Region 1-1A.
The Blue Devils are winless and have scored only 14 points in three games. However, Jellico was also winless through three games last year, scoring only 30 points, but wound up whipping the Rangers by a 42-24 margin.