For the first time since 2000, every football-playing Wilson County high school is in the TSSAA playoffs.
And it's the first time this county is sending six teams to the postseason as Wilson Central hadn't opened in 2000 and Mt. Juliet Christian hadn't started its program. Both were on the gridiron the following year.
So even though it's the postseason, it feels like the regular season in that just about everybody is playing. Friendship Christian is the exception as the Commanders drew a first-round bye in Division II-A.
But it's very different from the regular season in that no team playing this week is guaranteed next week.
Lebanon at Oakland
In actuality, the Blue Devils' playoffs began with "Round 0" last week as they came from behind to beat Rossview 17-10 in a win-or-go-home game.
"It was good to see our kids respond because they knew what was on the line," Lebanon coach Chuck Gentry said. "They responded in the second half and made the plays to win the game."
While the Blue Devils needed all five of their wins to make it to Ray Hughes Stadium this week, Oakland has seemed to have had its spot clinched since winning last year's Class 6A state championship. The Patriots have won 23 straight games and scarcely been challenged in any of them save for last year's 14-7 quarterfinal win at Mt. Juliet and a 10-point triumph against Blackman earlier that season.
"They've won a lot of games in a row," Gentry said. "They're the defending state champs. They're the team to beat until somebody beats them."
And Gentry said somebody can beat them.
"They're not unbeatable," he said. "They got some good football players. They're coached really well. They have a good mix of size, speed and ability. It's a good recipe for what you want in high school football, or any level of football."
Gentry said the Patriots have some Division I-caliber players and good high school players -- and not just on offense and defense.
"What really stands out is they're really good on special teams," he said.
Kevin Creasy is Oakland's coach and his playbook looks a lot like the one he used at Trousdale County.
"They're a wing-T team with spread principles," said Gentry. "they're going to run buck sweep and power about 90 different ways and they're going to get after you on (4-2-5 or 50) defense."
And Oakland's not just about its talent.
"(Creasy) does a good job with formations and personnel on offense," Gentry said. "He's one of the hardest people to prepare for that we play. He does a good job of managing his talent."
Lebanon is a heavy underdog, but that doesn't mean the Blue Devils are going into this just to get through it and go into the offseason.
"We're preparing like we prepare every week for anybody else," Gentry said. "We just worry about us ... We don't talk about the other team a lot. We try to control what we can control and go play.
"I hope we've built a culture where we're not afraid of anybody and we're not beat before we start. I don't think we'll have anybody getting on the bus Friday night saying, 'Well, we've lost,'. I think we'll go down there and fight and if that's not enough, so be it."
The winner will face the Riverdale-Mt. Juliet victor, with Oakland hosting or Lebanon going on the road.
Whenever the Blue Devils' season ends, it won't be over for Lebanon linebacker Daniel Davila and nosetackle Greyson Gregory, who have been chosen to play in the Toyota East-West All-Star Classic.
Wilson Central at Blackman
The Wildcats' season has been a roller-coaster; a four-game winning streak followed by a four-game losing streak followed by two to end the regular season.
"Very happy to go on a hot streak the last two games and hopefully we can carry some of that momentum into the playoffs," Wildcats coach Brad Dedman said.
But first, Central has to get past Blackman in a battle of 6-4 teams.
"They're big, physical and fast," Dedman said of the Blaze. "Start with their offensive line. They do a good job coming off the ball in run blocking and pass blocking. They've got athletes at the receiver spots and running back spots. They're built around speed."
Running back Antonio Malone is built around speed and power, Dedman said. And then there's quarterback Drew Beam, whose focus is more passing than running.
"Pro-style quarterback," Dedman said. "Does a good job of throwing the ball to his receivers and let them make plays."
Blackman runs a 3-4 defense.
"Very similar -- big, fast and physical," Dedman said. "Their front five guys are big. They come off the ball well and pursue the ball well. They're extremely physical.
Dedman said the Wildcats have gotten healthier down the stretch. Running back/receiver Zavier Ali missed last week's win at Station Camp but should play this week.
This winner will travel to Hendersonville or host Cookeville in the second round.
Tellico Plains at Watertown
The Bears, coming from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Monroe County (between Chattanooga and Knoxville on the North Carolina border), have the longest journey at nearly three hours. They'll bring a 3-7 record to Robinson Stadium to take on the 8-2 Purple Tigers.
"They're a spread offense," Watertown coach Gavin Webster said of the Bears. "They mix it up, run and pass, try to take what you give them. They'll try to motion and shift ... They try to mix it up and get you out-leveraged.
Tellico Plains runs a 3-3 or a 3-4 defense, "depends on what set we give them," Webster said.
The Purple Tigers finally clinched their second straight Region 4-AA championship with a 56-20 trouncing of East Robertson last Friday. Coincidentally, the Indians could make a return trip to Robinson Stadium for the second round if they win at Bledsoe County. But Watertown needs to avoid a huge upset first.
"We got to play with the same intensity this Friday night that we played with last Friday night," Webster said.
SEE PLAYOFFS/PAGE B3
Riverdale at Mt. Juliet
Golden Bear coach Trey Perry lost his appeal to TSSAA on Tuesday of his one-game suspension following his ejection from last week's Hendersonville game. Strength-and-conditioning coach will be the acting coach this week, just as he was after Perry was tossed during the second quarter of Mt. Juliet's 41-14 loss to the Commandos. Zac White will continue to call the offensive plays while Greg Abner runs the defense, as usual.
"I hope I never have to go through this again," said Perry, who was also subject to a $250 fine and a $50 fee for his appeal, which was non-refundable upon its denial. "I've got full confidence in this staff and team we're going to go out and fight for 48 minutes to continue our season.
"This senior class has earned the opportunity to write their own ending to this story, especially when you look at what they've done over the last four years. We're an angry football team right now."
Many coaches facing a suspension will go scout a future opponent. But since the Golden Bears aren't guaranteed next week, Perry said he will leave campus sometime before kickoff and keep track of the game through modern technology.
"I can't imagine any other scenario other than watching the game through a steaming service or something," Perry said. "And fight through traffic to get back here and see them postgame."
Riverdale will bring a 7-3 record to Elzie Patton Stadium/Mel Brown Athletic Complex to face the 6-4 Bears.
"The stat I read is they're four points from being 9-1, and the film shows a 9-1 football team," Perry said of the Warriors. "They've played (undefeated Oakland) closer than anybody else. It was 24-17 in the fourth quarter before a late touchdown. They definitely gave them their best game of the year."
Former Middle Tennessee State and NFL quarterback Kelly Holcomb is Riverdale's offensive coordinator and will run two quarterbacks. Senior Taylor Yancey starts but sophomore son Jameson Holcomb will come on in relief.
"They are a major RPO, quick game, utilize the run game," Perry said. "They do a ton of looking at what you do defensively, where they (look) at the box and get a plus-one advantage by either handing the ball off or making a quick throw, and they're really good at it."
Senior Drew Smith is a 1,000-yard rusher. Also a threat is senior tight end/H-back D.J. Moyers, who also starts at linebacker.
"(Moyer's) got a great awareness of getting open and using his body to do it," Perry said.
Though Zack Rayl is Riverdale's defensive coordinator, the Warriors' defense has a Mt. Juliet look to it thanks to head coach Will Kriesky, who coached the Golden Bear defensive backs when Perry was DC for his father, Roger, in the late 2000s.
"I'm torn because we're facing a good defense bur I'm also proud of my coach," Perry said. "You see a lot of the philosophy of how we do things.
"Very good up front with speed and athleticism. The word I think of is opportunistic, they've gotten several touchdowns on defense."
The winner will either go to Oakland or host Lebanon in the second round.
Mt. Juliet Christian at Columbia Academy
After sitting out last week's finale with a lower body injury, quarterback Christian Link is expected to return to the Mt. Juliet Christian lineup for the trip to Columbia Academy.
"He's playing this week," Saints coach Dan Davis said of Link, the triggerman of 3-6 MJCA's spread offense.
By contrast, 5-5 Columbia Academy is old school from the wing-T offense to 5-2 defense.
"They are a true old-school wing-T -- buck sweep, belly, dive, trap, waggle," said Davis, whose Saints have seen it this season. "We played Macon County, who ran a version of it, so we've seen it before. It's not fully new to us this year."
Three weeks ago, it appeared the Saints would get to play this week at Suey Field. But a late-season slide dropped them to the No. 5 seed out of the East Region. But the Saints, who only played nine games during the regular season, are in the postseason where regular-season results only set up the matchups and where they're played, nothing else.
"That's half the battle -- getting to this point in the season," Davis said. "We're here. We've got our draw. We'll get out there and try to walk away with a victory Friday night."
The winner of this game will travel to Friendship Christian's Pirtle Field next week to take on the Commanders, who drew a first-round bye by winning the East Region.