When asked what his reaction would be before the season if someone had told him the Pioneers would be 12-0 and playing in the Class 5A quarterfinals, the first-year Crockett head coach was quick to answer.
“I’d tell you that you were crazy,” he said.
But it’s not crazy. It’s true, and the undefeated Pioneers will put their perfect season on the line Friday when they play at Knox Central at 7 p.m.
“I couldn’t be more proud of what we have accomplished this season thus far and how far we have come since Week 1,” Chandley said. “I love our kids and I love how we have grown as a team, not only as football players, but as young men. God has blessed me to be able to come to work every single day with the greatest group of kids.”
As the importance of the games increases, so do the challenges, and Knox Central has been on a roll for a while. After losing their first two games, including a season-opening 19-17 setback to Tennessee High, the Bobcats have reeled off 10 consecutive wins.
They’ve outscored their last five opponents 221-20.
Chandley and Knox Central coach Bryson Rosser know each other from Chandley’s days out on the recruiting trail while coaching at Bluefield College.
“We have kept in contact and talked more frequently after I accepted the job here,” Chandley said. “He’s a very respected, honorable coach that cares about his kids.”
MR. FOOTBALL FINALIST
Crockett’s junior quarterback Cade Larkins is one of three finalists for the Class 5A Mr. Football Award.
Larkins has thrown 40 touchdown passes this season and has 3,728 passing yards. That’s the eighth-best total in Tennessee high school history. His 8,147 career yards rank him 10th all-time.
“No one deserves that honor more than Cade,” Chandley said. “He works extremely hard on his craft, day in, day out. He not only impresses on the field, but in the classroom as well where he carries a 4.05 GPA.
“We’re very proud of him and what he’s accomplished and how he’s represented our school.”
Knox Central (10-2) put a 49-7 beating on Crockett’s Washington County rival Daniel Boone in the second round. The Bobcats were too athletic for the Trailblazers, who led 7-0 after their first possession.
Central’s weapons were on full display as quarterback Dakota Fawver threw two touchdown passes to bring his season total to 21. They were both to Demetrien Johnson, who has seven this season.
In addition, Braden Gaston scored three times, on an 81-yard kickoff return and a pair of runs. Xavier Washington is one of the top safeties in the state.
“Obviously their athletes are tremendous and can be gone in the blink of an eye, but I’m impressed with their play up front and how they really get a good push from their offensive line,” Chandley said. “They do a great job of running the football to set up their passing game. Their backs run extremely hard and when their receivers get open, the QB usually finds them.”
WHAT CENTRAL SAYS
“We’re expecting a great challenge,” Rosser said. “It’s two teams that look very similar. Coach Chandley’s done a great job. They have some great athletes and he’s done a great job with them.
“I’m looking forward to it. They’re undefeated and we’re glad to have that game at home.”
The winner advances to the semifinals, where it will travel to take on the winner of Oak Ridge and Knox Catholic. The Class 5A state championship game is set for Saturday, Dec. 1.