The Week 4 spotlight is shining bright on Mt. Juliet this week as the Golden Bears will welcome neighboring rival Wilson Central for their annual meeting.
It's also shining in Knoxville where defending Division II-A champion Webb awaits a visit from two-time Class 2A champ Friendship Christian in what many observers believe is a possible of this year's D-II-A BlueCross Bowl.
In a meeting which won't draw much notice from outsiders, Watertown will celebrate homecoming as the Purple Tigers welcome Red Boiling Springs, seeking their first win of the season at the midway point of their schedule.
Lebanon fans will get a first-hand look at one of the nation's top receiver prospects as Josh Malone and talented Station Camp visits Clifton Tribble Field/Danny Watkins Stadium.
And Mt. Juliet Christian will have a last-week home game to look forward to as Ezell-Harding will visit Suey Field in a matchup originally scheduled for the Eagles' Antioch stadium.
Wilson Central at Mt. Juliet
With a two-game losing streak and their starting quarterback shelved for weeks, the Golden Bears are facing more adversity than they've faced in several seasons.
Not that Wildcats coach Brad Dedman is buying it.
"It's still same old Mt. Juliet," Dedman said. "They're still big up front. They're still running the wing-T and running the misdirection stuff.
"It's one of those games you always have circled on the calendar. Both teams play well in the game and you throw the records out the window."
Mt. Juliet coach Trey Perry said of the Wildcats, "Dangerous football team with good skill players on both sides. Big up front, especially offensively. Senior leadership at the right positions."
Both teams are 2-2 for the season and 1-1 in District 9-AAA as the league and playoff races begin to take shape.
"It's definitely a big district game," Dedman said. "We're both 1-1. We both need a win."
"You hate to put that kind of pressure on the kids this early in the year, but for the winner's it's going to set the tone for the rest of the year," Perry said. "At 2-1, you're still in the hunt for the championship. At 1-2, you're going to be facing an uphill climb."
At least the road-weary Wildcats can see the welcome home mat. After a long trip to Portland and a much longer journey to Cleveland, they won't leave Wilson County again until the playoffs as they wrap up their season-opening five-game road swing. Their final five contests will be at Gladeville.
"We're looking forward to our home stretch coming up," Dedman said. "But we're doing our best to prepare for Mt. Juliet coming up.
"We're looking forward to staying in Wilson County for a while."
Both teams are coming off rough losses which Perry said may help them eventually.
"Blackman, in my opinion, at this time, is one of the best football teams in the state," Perry said of the team which whipped the Golden Bears last week. "At some point in time, that game is going to serve us well.
"Cleveland is a quality opponent. Both of us have had tough [opponents] already. That's going to play a factor as well."
While Mt. Juliet is without starting quarterback Nolan Chowbay with a broken collarbone, Central QB Jordan Roundtree is questionable with an ankle injury sustained at Cleveland.
"It's going to be the Red Cross Bowl," Perry quipped. "They got everybody hurt, we got everybody hurt, so I hear."
But on the addition side, Dedman said Central may get as many as six players back - running backs/linebackers D'Sean Osborne, Kaleb Butler and Braxton McFarlin, linemen Evan Juhnke and A.J. Underwood and running back/defensive back Cameron Thomas.
Station Camp at Lebanon
With Beech superback Jalen Hurd shelved for the rest of his high school career with a shoulder injury, Malone is District 9-AAA's marquee player. But he is one of many talented Bison on a Station Camp team looking to make a move in the district with a 2-1 mark, 1-1 in the league.
"I don't see any weakness in them," Lebanon coach Sam Harp said of the Bison. "We're going to have to play our A-game for sure and hope they stumble."
Harp, whose Blue Devils are 1-3, 0-2, said Station Camp is not all about Malone.
"What they do is a team approach," Harp said. "It's not just Josh. But when he gets the ball he's electrifying… He's the best receiver that I've seen.
"They're solid all the way around. Quarterback [Kyle Anderton] does a good job. He's a tough runner himself. You just can't key on Malone. Across the board, you got to read your keys and make tackles."
Meanwhile, Harp continues his rebuilding process with the Blue Devils, who saw a nine-point lead turn into a one-point loss over the final four minutes against Lincoln County last week. He said this loss bothered him more than earlier defeats to Mt. Juliet and Hendersonville as he felt the Blue Devils played hard from start to finish in those games and attrition took their hold. But LHS wasn't ready to play at the start against Lincoln County.
"Not taking anything away from Lincoln at all, but those are the games we should win," Harp said. "I'll certainly take the blame for it. It was disappointing in the least.
"It's a growing process and it's one of the lessons the young men and the coaches have to learn from it."
Part of the growing process is developing depth to help deal with the injuries which have plagued the Blue Devils all season. Fullback Adam Hokanson is questionable with a concussion, Harp said. He may be replaced by Chris McCathern, who might return this week from an injury. Tackle Dyllon Bohanon is questionable with an Achilles issue. Offensive guard Isaiah Moore is out with what is feared to be a broken fibula.
Friendship Christian at Knoxville Webb
This game has been circled by fans across the state ever since Friendship joined Webb in the D-II East-Middle District.
The Spartans are 1-2 in a bit of overscheduling with losses to larger-school state powers Maryville and Baylor before beating Christian Academy of Knoxville last week. Webb has a district win after Mt. Juliet Christian pulled out [replaced on the schedule by Baylor].
"In Division II it doesn't hurt you to schedule like that," Commander coach John McNeal said. "They've faced some pretty good teams. All three teams they've played have been in the finals the past two-three years and two of them have won two or three state championships.
"It's going to be interesting for us [having] never played them, and we go up there."
Webb runs a wing-T offense and a 4-3 defense. The systems may not be complicated, but the Spartans' make them difficult for opponents to deal with.
"They've got the [defensive back/running back Todd] Kelly kid, who's committed to Tennessee," McNeal said. "But they have a receiver and the other running back that's at the other slot who we think are just as fast, if not faster, than him. They've got some skill and they've got some pretty good linemen.
"They're like everybody who's in the same situation. They play 15-16 kids, and that's it. It's not like they've got a bench load of people over there."
Friendship is 1-0 in the district and 2-1 for the season. But the Commanders are coming off a 35-0 loss at Trousdale County which prompted the state's Associated Press voters to drop them to 10th in this week's D-II poll [Webb is ninth in the poll which covers both divisions].
"Our reputation the last two years and [Webb's] reputation the last two years has nothing to do with this year," McNeal said of Friendship's back-to-back state championships. "This year is a whole other team. It is for them and it is for us. We've got a lot of young inexperienced kids playing some key spots. We're going to have some rocky times early in the year. But we're going to stick together and we're going to get better.
"If people are looking at what we've done the last two years, we don't have those players. Our identity is totally different and we're going to have to figure out what we can do with group and this group will have to figure out what they can do on their own. We can't live on the last few years."
Star quarterback A.J. Long has missed the last two games for reasons McNeal wouldn't specify. The Syracuse commitment was at practice Tuesday but not dressed and is not expected to play this week. Sophomore Price Cochran took most of the snaps during practice last week and senior Michael Hawks has moved from receiver to take most of the reps this week.
"I would say he's another week and we'll see about next week when it rolls around," McNeal said of Long. "He was sick last week, but outside of that, I'm not at liberty to say."
McNeal said the Commanders are healthy otherwise.
Red Boiling Springs at Watertown
The Bulldogs have been a tonic, not to mention a homecoming opponent, for teams for many years. But they have something the Purple Tigers don't – a 2013 win.
RBS whipped first-year Sale Creek 47-6 and is coming off a 28-25 loss last week to Cannon County, Watertown's opponent next week.
"We're looking for that first one," said Webster, whose Tigers are going into their fifth game. "We got to do things better than what we've been doing them the last four weeks.
"It's time to step up. If we're going to get some wins, it has to be now."
Red Boiling Springs runs a wing-T offense and a 50 defense mixed with some Eagle.
"They're well coached," Webster said. "Defensively, they're aggressive. They fly around to the ball. They're a lot better Red Boiling football team and we'll have to be ready for them."
On the health front, Webster said freshman receiver Devin High should return, as should safety Austin Brown, who injured his knee on the season-opening kickoff against Cascade. Kendall Newcome and Logan Cherry are day-to-day.
Ezell-Harding at Mt. Juliet Christian
The Saints received a gift home game earlier this week when it was moved to MJCA's Suey Field for reasons coach Jake Roberts isn't sure of. But he'll take a sixth home game this year, even if it means only four next season.
"Our kids love playing at home," Roberts said. "They love our fans and they love playing at Mt. Juliet Christian, so I'm excited for them."
The Saints traveled a long way for their first win of the season last week, to Oakdale on the eastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau. But they lost senior running back Noah Wilson in the process with a torn ACL after he rushed for 150 yards on 10 carries. He was to undergo surgery today, Roberts said.
"We're just trying to maintain what we have," Roberts said of the Saints' health situation.
Mt. Juliet Christian is 1-2 for the season and Ezell-Harding is 1-3 with both 0-1 in the East-Middle District. The Eagles run a 5-2 defense and a multiple offense.
"As always, Ezell-Harding has athletes and good football players," Roberts said.
Week 4 games
WILSON CENTRAL at MT. JULIET
Station Camp at LEBANON
Red Boiling Springs at WATERTOWN
FRIENDSHIP CHRISTIAN at Knoxville Webb, 6:30 p.m. CDT
Ezell-Harding at MT. JULIET CHRISTIAN
Kickoffs at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.