Ten games in 11 weeks of high school football have come and gone. Some teams have packed up their gear for the winter.
Others have entered the realm of intrigue called ‘the playoffs’. It’s no longer about just getting better or building momentum or bouncing back.
It’s win or go play basketball, wrestle, hunting or Christmas shopping – whatever football players do immediately when the season ends.
Playoff pickings in Wilson County are slimmer than normal over the past decade or so as only two teams – Wilson Central and two-time Class 2A state champion Friendship Christian – are practicing this week for games Friday night.
Their goal is to get back to the practice field next week. That means winning on Friday. Half of the teams [not counting those who have first-round byes] on the practice field today will be going through season-ending withdrawal by Saturday morning.
Wilson Central at Oakland
The host Patriots are 10-0 and the Quad 2 top seed. The Wildcats are the No. 8 seed at 6-4 and, quite frankly, aren’t expected to continue playing past this weekend.
But playoff history is full of 10-0 teams getting upset in the first round of the playoffs.
“I guess everybody is expecting us not to win,” Wildcat coach Brad Dedman said. “We preach to our team it doesn’t really matter what anybody else thinks. If our coaching staff and our players all believe in it, it’s the only thing that really matters.”
Oakland’s favored for a reason. The Patriots ran the table in the rugged Rutherford County-based District 7-AAA. They are big and physical.
“You watch them on film and they run to the ball well and they make good hits,” Dedman said. “They’re very sound on defense. Offensively, they have that same mentality on their offense as on their defense, so they’re definitely a physical football team.
“They’re talented on [the defensive] side of the ball. They do give us some things I think we can do that we can take advantage of, so we’ll try to take what they give us… Their linebackers run really well, they’re big up front and they take on blockers, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
Oakland’s offense hearkens back to the 1980s and ‘90s – pre spread – the I formation.
“They like running the powers and the counters, that’s what they bank on,” Dedman said. “They have a few other different formations. They try to get their athletes the ball in different ways. Their receivers are really good, so we got to guard all that type stuff.”
While Oakland has dealt with the pressure of preserving the ‘0’ in its record, the Wildcats spent their five-game homestand over the second half of the season trying to add to their ‘W’ column just to get to this point.
“We’ve played with our backs against the wall the last three weeks,” Dedman said. “We’ve had to win to get in. We’re not treating this week any differently from those three.”
Friday’s winner will face either Siegel or Antioch with Oakland playing at home or Central going on the road. The Wildcats will not have a game in Gladeville this postseason, though they would be the designated home team in the BlueCross Bowl in Cookeville.
Harding Academy at Friendship Christian
The Lions made the same trip to Pirtle Field back in August for Week 0 season opener and Friendship sent them back home to Memphis with a 35-6 loss. Harding went on to a 4-6 season while the Commanders endured a three-game absence of star quarterback A.J. Long to finish 8-2.
But coach John McNeal said his Commanders should not be thinking about the second-round game in Memphis against St. George’s yet.
“I can go over every year how many teams that lose the regular-season wins the playoff,” McNeal said. “We beat Trousdale a couple of years ago doing that.
“It’s two good football teams, so you can’t overlook it. And our kids won’t. It’s going to be a battle.”
McNeal said the coaches exchanged recent video, not relying just on footage from a game played nearly 2 ½ months ago.
“There were a lot of things that happened in that game, both ways,” McNeal said. “First series, we snapped it over our head on the punt, set up their first touchdown. They fumbled it a couple of times, too, that helped us.
“Both teams are definitely, and you would hope they were, better than in that Week . And it was first-game jitters. They’re big up front. They have a receiver as good as anybody we’ve seen this year. He got hurt in the second quarter against us. He’s back, but that hurt them in that game. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Friendship is on a roll, having won six straight since Long returned to the lineup.
“We’re still trying to get better,” McNeal said. “There are still some areas because of young kids and inexperienced kids where we got to work on those things and get better. It’s a work in progress.”
First round playoff games
WILSON CENTRAL at Oakland
Harding Academy at FRIENDSHIP CHRISTIAN
Both kickoffs at 7 p.m.